No not an encomium to the late 90s boy band of the same name (though given my questionable musical tastes this could be fairly expected) but more a reflection on today’s national B road race. This race, the GA Bennett, held just outside of Grantham is run off over 80 miles on rolling narrow roads, with no singular distinguishing feature other than the constant high speed on grippy country roads and the painful short climb around 1km from the finish followed by false flat that feels akin to trying to ride the famous “travelator” from the 90s TV show Gladiators (there’s a theme developing here, plus I’m showing my age…).
As the title suggests this is very much a step up from the usual regional-level crits and road races that we at Leisure Lakes Bikes have been racing this year: it is longer and the level of our fellow competitors is higher. All in all this adds up to a hard day in the saddle.
As usual I shan’t try to provide too much of a blow-by-blow account of the race suffice to say a break went early on and the bunch was shut down on the cramped roads as most of the big teams there were represented in the break. However after 3 laps the race exploded through the feed zone and start/finish and all of a sudden there were splits all over the road. It felt like the best part of a lap of suffering, jumping from wheel to wheel, pulling in the wind, scrambling to get on to the wheel in front before we had established a group of around a dozen that sat clear of what was left of the bunch but behind the early break. This group worked well for a couple of laps before the frequency of missed turns served to ruin the rhythm even though we had closed the gap to the break to under a minute. This prompted an attack of half a dozen riders to get away from our group (after we had been joined by a small group who had bridged from behind) who ultimately did bridge to the original break and fought out the win. I missed that split but part way into the final lap was able to break away with two others, we worked well and stayed away to the finish where I think (at the time of writing) I was able to secure 17th or 18th place.
Whilst this lowly placing bagged us a few more national points, to paraphrase Churchill, never before in the field of human bike racing have so few points been earned by so much effort!
As mentioned at the top, as a circuit this has no particular defining feature, there is no massive climb or series of climbs, but it’s fast all the time and when the wind gets up as it increasingly did during the course of the race it just gets harder and harder and harder…
This attritional quality was evident by the fact that there was no “main bunch” rolling in at the finish it was dribs and drabs as spent riders crossed the line, tanks empty, knowing that whatever they had they had expended today; I doubt anyone finished thinking they had more left to give, everything was left out on the road.
I am not sure I can do justice to the effort I had to make during those middle laps when the race had blown to pieces and I was trying to make my way across to the ‘front group’ (behind the break which by this stage had a lead of nearly 2m30). Anyone who has raced will know that feeling when it seems like you cannot give any more, the legs are burning with lactic acid, you can’t seem to turn the pedals any quicker, yet you need to go faster either to hold the wheel in front or move up to the next one. Everything in your body is saying stop, ease up, recover, apart from that one nagging voice in your head which says “come on, just a little more, get to the next wheel, then you can recover”. Today I guess I was lucky and the legs were just about able to respond the inner exhortation, back at Rutland that wasn’t the case.
So to return to my starting point, yes this was ‘another level’, but is it beyond us? Absolutely not, we’re nowhere near Boyz II Men’s famous “end of the road”, to square the musical questionable 90s music reference with which I started, let’s end with that classic from D:Ream “things can only get better”.