Ras de Cymru: Stage 2. Damp Squib
Hail so hard it makes your arms bleed... not the ideal racing weather!
It’s traditional for cyclists at stage races to moan about hotels, I’m not going to! But I will say that I didn’t sleep well last night. My EPO mini fridge kept juddering noisily into life and waking me up for a few minutes of shuffling about on a sticky plastic mattress.
I woke up before my alarm, sweating with a dry mouth. Morning hydration checks (having a pee) suggested that I was going to struggle, and struggle I did. Fortunately I wouldn’t have to pay the price for not drinking enough the night before. Matters were taken out of my hands.
Me and the guys had breakfast nice and early and drove up to the start with plenty of time to spare. Once there, we entered the familiar pre-race routine. You walk slowly around HQ, soaking in the aroma of warm up balm and fear, before going back to the car and making a dozen changes to what you are wearing according to the weather at that particular second.
101 riders lined up for the start and the pre race briefing, which largely consisted of warnings about things we should look out for and be sure not to do. All the usual stuff; don’t cycle into anything, look out for cars, don’t urinate in public, let’s have a nice clean race etc. After which Glyndwr is officially presented with his yellow leader’s jersey, applauded by 100 cyclists all plotting how they were going to tear it off his shoulders, then off we go.
Out of the start and into the 5-mile neutralized zone, the bunch is nervous. Brakes are being touched all over the place and that horrible concertina effect begins to happen as the riders at the back (myself included) have to sprint and then brake, sprint and then brake. I have a very bad habit of sitting with the rear of the bunch at the start of races as it always takes me ages to warm up. For some reason I seem to sit there until my legs respond, then I move up. It is a habit I’m going to have to stop! From now on, I am warming up properly before the start of all races and getting involved sooner.
The speed behind the car was high as we approached the first hills, no problems and no crashes though. All was safe and well. But I was worried already. My mouth was completely dry and drinking didn’t make a difference, not what you need at the start of a race, especially the first road stage of a multi day event. The race rolled on despite my issues.
From where I was sitting in the bunch, you couldn’t see when the car pulled away and the flag dropped on racing proper, but you felt it. It’s an instant surge in the bunch as riders shift up a sprocket and hunch their shoulders over the bars in an effort to find power in their core muscles. Some riders went out of the back instantly. I knew that I had to spin some life into my legs or else I would be one of them. I hung on to the bunch as we rolled around the course for the first lap.
It was somewhere around this time that the rain started. At first it was light, just inconvenient but then it got heavier and spray started to fly upwards from the wheel in front, making it hard to see. The pace seemed to slacken a little. I was cursing myself for not wearing a cap to shield me from the weather. I love cycling caps and have far too many. I always wear one. Apart from today. Idiot!
I’d been unsure about the weather at the start so had packed some mitts into my jersey pockets with the energy gels. I hate riding with gloves, but in the rain the extra grip they provide is very useful so I sat up on a descent to put them on as the rain got heavier and heavier. Then came the hail stones. Not just little flecks of ice, but big chunks of the stuff that smashed into bikes and bodies, actually drawing blood from exposed arms and legs!
At this point it all got a bit silly; we were descending almost completely blind. I genuinely couldn't see a thing so was drifting off the back of the bunch, alternating which eye I looked out of so as to prevent blinding by giant hailstones. To be honest I am glad that I wasn’t caught up in a big group as it was outright dangerous. The fact that nobody crashed is a miracle! The only casualty of the day was one of the escort bikes, which broke down because it was so waterlogged.
We carried on riding in these conditions, through the winding back roads and onto the main road section. I had backed off significantly so by this point was a long way back from the splintered bunch. I could see the orange lights of the bike outriders in the distance so chased hard to get back on, picking up riders on the way and churning through puddles that were laughably deep, stretched across most of the width of the carriageway.
I regained contact with the bunch just before they turned left and promptly stopped! All that work chasing had been for nothing! Good fun though.
After a bit of a wait at the side of the road it was decided that we would neutralize the race for a lap to look at the condition of the roads and carry on from there. So off we went again. This time the neutral car really wasn’t hanging around. It felt like we were racing again by the time we got to another stretch of road deep in standing water and slick with mud. We stopped again before it was decided that the stage should be called off.
If I am brutally honest, I’m glad it was stopped. I was feeling rubbish anyway, and the stopping and starting had completely messed my legs up. I get the feeling I would have lost a big chunk of time today. The ‘sensations’ just weren’t good.
The bunch rolled back to the start under grey skies, miserable and wet. We all got into our cars and drove back to HQ, where the sun was shining mockingly on us. The rest of the day was beautiful. Welsh weather is very strange!
Today feels like a write off. Clearly some riders are itching to get the proper racing underway, some of them were even out riding this afternoon as I had a cheeky nap and drank too much coffee. I will leave the cycling until tomorrow’s split stage thank you. I like riding my bike, but not that much!
After dinner there was a special treat for us. A talk from cycling journalist and author of It’s All About the Bike, Rob Penn. He gave us a really interesting insight into cycling history and his motives for riding a bike, then graciously answered our questions about his lovely Brian Rourke bike. It is a testament to the frame builder that despite the great talk Rob was giving us, my eyes and mind kept drifting to that stunning bicycle. Massive thanks to Rob for coming over to the race.
Tomorrow is going to really hurt! Hilly road race in the morning followed by the Team Time Trial in the afternoon. Bristol Road club are due to start 4th at 15:42. It is going to be a painful day!