Whilst that may seem an innocuous title, racing a bike at Kempton Park Racecourse would have never occured to me.
A background in horseracing (for those who don’t know – I rode and worked with racehorses for nearly 15 years) I’m fairly familiar with Kempton’s All Weather circuit. I’ve galloped (not a race, think of it as race training) a fair few around there – especially an obnoxious chestnut (ginger!) nicknamed Shantou. I’ve been racing there more times than anywhere else except Lingfield.
However, when I saw Central League were heading to here, I wasn’t going to turn down a 15 minute drive. Happy Valley was the London League venue in….. Brighton.
Ironically, I looked at the women entered and nearly put myself off. Had it not been for Fran Whyte, Claire Richardson, and Phil Booth, I wouldn’t have raced.
Self doubt is a wonderful thing. And I guess people don’t realise how badly a newbie to cx suffers it, especially one that hasn’t really done any training. Having these three just to say the right thing helped more than ever anyone could know.
Turning up, I’d stopped thinking about it and was more interested to see what they could do with a flat course. A fair few turns, the bumpiest ground I’ve come across and the inclusion of magnetic grass and a bank about a foot high. A warm up lap had me gasping for breath like a fish out of water. However the novice and vet 40s managed to smooth out the course a bit.
I had one aim. Not to let Fran Whyte lap me. I got stuck behind someone who couldn’t clip in at the start, and saw the field string out in front of me. Somehow I got myself in a workhorse rhythm and manged to reel in Claire Richardson after a couple of laps. Only to get passed by another woman who had done the same to me.
Tunnel vision. Focus, let the bike roll around. The more I rode, the easier I found it, swinging the bike through corners without a second thought. Loosing a fair few seconds remounting. Pulling inexorably away from Claire and realising after another two laps that I was on the final one. Tiring, with legs feeling drained, I forced my lungs to work harder. Then a glimpse of blue kit and the lead woman lapped me. Balls. Not far off the finish, I then saw Fran and Mathilde battling out 2nd coming up behind me. Only a few turns from the finish and they passed me before the small bank. A tussle and shouted words ensued as Mathilde tried to go up the inside on a corner.
Once again, I was able to hit the tarmac finish and move up through the gears to sprint on the drops. I finished happy but completely empty.
By far the best race I’ve had, although it’s all still dry. London League CX tomorrow is at a last minute change of venue now at Bethlem Hospital. But first my second visit this week to Rouleur Classic courtesy of Freestak!