DS Andy writes.
The build up to any race has its pressures. The more you’re submerged in it the less stress it creates. Normality takes its course, riders and managers know the drill until, that is, you get a place in one of the UK’s toughest, most respected elite one day bike races: The Rultand CiCLE classic. This race is a British take on the Spring Classics from Europe’s heart of cycling, Belgium. Rolling terrain, with the addition of some tough off road sectors. Yes this was a different league.
Some of the team had previously raced the CiCLE, it’s description of “Savage” “Brutal” and when you hit that first off road section “carnage” “Bodies and bikes litter the sides of the track” made me feel slightly uneasy. Hell, what were the riders feeling?
As race day loomed, the texts and messages started to roll in. If I drop my wheels in can you just have a quick look over them? What tyres to run? Should we have this? That? The other? Has everyone got kit? Meeting times, places. What the heck are we doing? Have you seen the start sheet? Team Wiggins, One Pro Cycling, Madison Genesis. We really are very small fish in a bloody big ocean. The team ethos from day one though, create a professional outfit, one that wouldn’t be out of place at a higher level, make something of a race, well this was our chance, no going back now.
As well as looking after bikes, there’s the social aspect of looking after a race team that has equal importance. From day one the bond between us all has been good. Entering an event such as Rutland is a massive ask of the guys, like sending the troops “over the top” to almost certain death. The responsibility of keeping morale high is one not to be taken lightly. A few late nights at the shop with banter a plenty sees those wry smiles, and laughs still shining through. Yes we’re asking a lot, but the feeling of respect for what we’re trying to achieve is mutual, and flows between racers and management.
Tyres chosen, spare wheels sorted, kit and team wagon loaded, the management part was done, relax. All we had to do was get to get to Catmose Campus, Oakham for 9:15 and get the Easi Up, and kit all laid out…… Then came the call.
“Bit of an emergency mate” “My gears aren’t working”
“OK in what way”
“I went out on warm up ride and something’s stopping the shifter from working”
“Bring both your bikes in, training and racing, that way if we need to switch a shifter we can do”
Like a dam that suddenly can’t take the strain of holding water back any longer, all the options and possibilities flooded my head. Best, and worst case scenarios swirled back and forth. Well at best it’s a cable, at worst we have to swap the drivetrain from his training bike to race bike by morning. We’ve overcome worse. The offending item arrives. A quick peel back on the hood reveals a snapped cable, right in the heart of the shifter. Cable removed is the easy part, getting the swaged end out of the shifter housing is the tricky bit. Fortune smiled upon us, all the old cable out, and new fitted. A quick check over of the bike raises the question. “Do you want those spare wheels, that free hub is rough as badgers mate”. “Nah no point smashing a decent set of wheels up on one of the off road sections” Not generally known for my religious views I still pray that freehub doesn’t let go.
Official sign on and managers meeting were the day before. Everyone met at the shop and headed over on mass. Emotions ebb and flow. Smiles and laughter replaced with awkward shuffles. Everyone is feeling the pressure now. Rich the team DS frets and fusses. I’m sure he knows though that the chaps have everything sorted. His managers meeting is later in that evening so we split after the last minute discussion of warm up tunes for the team wagon at the race village.
There was no need to set an alarm for Sunday morning. Lying awake counting down the minutes for it to go off. First stop the shop to get all the kit, Second stop Coffee shop to meet DS Anderson, and the media mogul, Mr Pugh. After a quick check that we’ve got everything we roll in convoy, Euro pop beating its drum in the van arriving to the hustle and bustle of the race village. Suddenly it all seemed very real. Our little van and easi up seemed very small fry to the team bus of Madison Genesis just across the car park. “Ah yes, but with money, and sponsorship comes the pressure to perform” says Andy. It’s a fair point, his cool persona rubbing off on us. As the stakes rise, racing can be less and less enjoyable, we’re pretty lucky at our level in some respects.
In the same way the Pros in their own circles catch each others eye, our familiar friends and faces mill around, and chew the fat. The discussion, more about the prospect of maybe getting to the finish as opposed to building alliances for that all important break, and where that might happen. Our team talk of dealing with the feed stations, I suspect very different to those sat in the luxury of the team RV. Warm ups done, bottles mixed, gels held to them with elastic bands, who wants what, when, we wish the guys luck, as they roll to the start line. We hurriedly packed our set up back into the van and look at heading to the feed station.
At the feed station the news of a crash and the racing having been stopped spread around. Until that point I hadn’t really contemplated the idea of a friend, team mate, someone I had drafted into the team, being involved in a crash, more importantly being seriously hurt. At our level, you still need to get up in the morning and go to work, pay the bills. Nervously we sorted the out the bottles, team jersey worn by me, while Rich held one high, a reference point for the racers to pick up replenishment. You’d think handing someone a bottle would be pretty easy, well it’s far from stress free. All the other teams jostling with their bottles, all trying to get to the optimum position. Gel to the back, hold it from the top, not too tight, you don’t want to bring the rider down, not releasing it. What if all 4 come through at the same time? What if they don’t come through at all? It didn’t sound like one of our riders that was on his way to hospital, but until you’ve seen them all, there’s that doubt dangling at the back of your mind. Here they come. The first wave of riders through, nope not in that group. Here come a few more, wait that’s Andy, he’s not that far off that lead group, he sees us, declines a bottle, looks “comfortable” though. Second wave come through, there’s Edd, again he spots us, but declines. Again Edd looks in good shape, and holding his own. Elliot’s up next, off the back of that group. He looks less “happy” than the other two, but considering the climb, and pace didn’t look like he was blowing either. Jono, Oh Jono, where is Jono? The broom wagon through we shelter back in the van, discussions as to how Andy could get back in that lead group, and Edd could, hold in that second group. Arm chair tacticians, we really should know better.
There’s Jono, quick shout him over. Relief floods through, all the team are upright and in one piece. It would appear that he got clipped, stayed upright but lost touch, the pace as it was, getting back on solo was never going to happen. Still lots learnt, and a great experience.
Second time through the feed zone, and it’s all go again. Jersey, on, bottles at the ready, the race is really strung out now. We wait, reveling in the excitement of being so close to the race. The phone call comes around the same time as the broom wagon. We’d missed the time cut off, and the 3 were back at the carpark. Some may say an anticlimax to the day, not I.
We jump back in the van and head back to meet up with the other 3. Tales of the race flowing, the relieved look on all our faces, everyone is safe and stayed the right way up. I have to say that I’m incredibly proud of our 4. A small local team mixing with pro teams from the UK and around Europe. We might not have finished but we deserved our place in that race. The theatre that goes with so many sports, we acted to the highest level. We stood on that stage, and we owned it. Getting to the very front of the race at the start line, Edd smashing it through Owston in the lead group, then breaking off the front in the first off road section, yes short lived, closed down in seconds, but for those few seconds, we led, we played our part better than the others, and for that I’m grateful these guys wear the Leisure Lakes jersey, and wear it with pride.