People win British Cycling points all weekend, every weekend, they win them during the week, seemingly to a Category 4 rider such as myself, they win them in their sleep. It takes 10 points to move up from a Cat 4 to a Cat 3... 40 to move up from Cat 3 to Cat 2, 200 to move up to a Cat 1 and a whopping 300 to become an Elite... I now have one (1!) point! It might just be one point, but I'm pretty pleased with it. After being dropped in every race I entered last year, finishing in 10th in my first race of 2013 is a big difference to seeing the bunch disappear as my heartrate hit its max and my legs told me to shut up.
The Gifford road races are a test of how well your winter training is going to serve you over the coming season, this year they're later than their usual early March date, a good choice - there was no snow, the weather was mild and dry - great for racing! ERC organise the event, putting on a Cat 4 only race (that I was in) and an E,1,2,3, which featured some of the top names in Scottish road racing.
Gifford RR Bunch - © Iain Henderson
NEVER trust Google Streetview
Having never raced the course, I got their early with my mate Owen and we drove the course so I could get an idea of what was to come over the following 5 laps and 40 miles of racing. The result... a course that looked a lot hillier than my Google Streetview suggested when I sat scoping it out on Thursday lunchtime. There were a few places that were similar to other courses... courses on which I'd been pumped out the back and blown miserably whilst "breathing out of my arse" as they say.
Sign on, get kitted out, warm up. Clothing choice was a tough one, the weather's been cold in the mornings but milder later, the last thing I wanted was to be cold so I opted for longs, despite others wearing shorts. A couple of jerseys and a base layer kept my core warm and gloves/lycra overshoes sorted out the extremities. I stuffed some gels in my pocket and took my place at the line.
The first couple of miles were neutralised and as the lead car pulled away, I expected attacks to start coming thick and fast, but it never happened, the pace stayed relaxed and controllable through the entire race. Any attacks that happened only resulted in a couple of riders dangling up the road by a couple of hundred metres (one by my Stirling Bike Club team mate Wilco looked the most convincing) before eventually being reeled in. Average speed was 22.5mph (the A race was 24.1mph ave). There were sprint points and 2 laps when a KOM was awarded but I decided not to go for these, mainly because I wanted to save my legs for the sprint if I managed to get to the end of the race in contention.
The last lap
Halfway through the last lap and things started getting interesting, by interesting, the pace on the final climb was upped, but not enough to get rid of many bodies. There were big numbers going up the outside of the bunch trying to position themselves for the finish, many of whom pulled into the group and slowed, resulting in a good few shouts, some touched wheels, clangs of carbon as bikes clashed. On the run up to the final climb to the line someone on my inside pulled out on my, touched wheels, scary moment, shouts from the group about other similar situations, I stayed upright but was now on the other side of the road.
The rider who pulled out on me accellerated, he'd gone too soon and was quickly back in the bunch, more shouts, people launching their sprints. I stayed where I was trying to avoid what was happening to my right. This was an advantage in so much as that there wasn't anyone in front of me, but it was also a big disadvantage because there wasn't anyone in front of me! I'd selfishly hoped to get a better tow to the line but I had to start kicking from about 200-300m from the line. The good thing was that as soon as I started to go, I could see that I was passing quite a few people, the bad thing was that it was going on for too long and my legs were telling me that this wasn't going to last forever! I did what I thought was a track-style lunge to the line... in reality it probably didn't look so great. I had no idea where I'd placed, there were a bunch of bodies crossing the line at a similar speed to me, all none the wiser about their finish position.
Gifford RR Finish - © Iain Henderson (I'm the one with blue overshoes, 3rd from left)
Back to race HQ, get changed, scoff some food, drink some tea, see off the A race riders, wish friends good luck. Then hang around for the results to come in... nobody still any the wiser where they'd placed. Finally the ("excruciating" 15 minute) wait was over... time to see what actually happened in those last few hundred metres! First the women's results, then the sprint prize, then the top 10. First name... mine! I couldn't believe it, after the pain of last year, ok I finished a couple of races but I was well down the field, now my name was getting called - I was in the points! The point to be exact. One point for tenth, only 9 more to go until I can claim my 3rd Category race license.
3rd Cat in 2013?
My mate John asked me afterwards: 3rd Cat this season? It was via Twitter so my response was limited to 140 characters; I'd like to have had longer to ramble on about how I wasn't going to expect a lot and didn't know how I'd be for the rest of the season, I'd booked my holidays badly and they were falling on key races (all true). But my answer had to be "yes". That's got to be the point of the early morning training rides, going all out til you vomit (I've only done that once - it wasn't a great experience), thinking about riding your bike for most of the waking day.
All of this is a long way away from where I was a few years ago, 20 stone and struggling to ride the 3 miles home, stopping twice to hyperventilate by the side of the road, clutching my saddle to make sure my weakened legs didn't give way and leave me to crash ungracefully in a heap at the side of the road. 10th place is a small victory, but it's being celebrated, that's done now, on to the next. The Dunfermline Road Race next weekend, a 50 mile Cat 3/4 race, a race in which I was dropped last year. Next Saturday will be a challenge. I can't wait.