Well I have just got back from a fantastic few days in Dorset racing the WXCRL tour of dorset. Despite not getting much of a result (more on that later) I had a great time. A few things really struck me about how much I love racing in the UK compared to all the other countries I have been fortunate enough to freewheel about on my carbon stallion;
- England can be really beautiful in the summer (Wales, not so much. It doesn't have a summer they have the rainy season and the bloody rainy season)
- I love the windy roads, with high hedges, you don't get those anywhere else (see the photos at grahamrobins.net)
- The village hall after the race, you can't beat a good bit of cake, a plastic cup of tea and some banter
- A race which actually has hills, and breakaways
- The bunch banter
- The amusing confusion about how many laps we actually have to go
- The fact that everyone isn't taking anything too seriously
This weekend was a bit of an adventure, I agreed to give a friend a lift down, saldy he didn't finish work until 9pm on Friday, so I picked him up from tesco and we headed down to glorious Axeminster to stay with the family Cox. Good friends of both myself and Tom, the Cox's had agreed to tolerate our sweaty and constantly hungry presence in their home for 3 days. Nathan had been planning to race but his coach laid down the kibosh as he had a big stage race in less than a week. We arrived at around 11.30, had a chat and inflated our airbeds. With myself, Tom and Nathan in one room a good long chat ensued resulting in Tom and I clocking about 5 hours sleep before the race.
We got up early and headed over to Wool in order to check out the tt course before the start, what I didn't do was check out if tom's tt bike fitted me, he was 10th off I was last man. He got back from his ride and I hopped into his shoes and onto his bike and straight to the start. I set off like a bat out of hell only to discover that as soon as I sat down (and I use the term sat in the loosest possible sense of the word, impaled might be a better phrase) I couldn't help but notice my elbows and knees were getting a little too close. This hampered my efforts on the flat tt bit, only when it got hilly (and by hilly I mean 42-25 grinding) did I manage to pass the minute man. I would later find out that he had properly bombed the tt and I was still fairly distant on GC. Tom did well, despite moaning about it being rubbish he got the yellow jersey. After a quick pint of fudge flavoured milkshake and a healthy portion of pasta we saddled up for stage 2.
Billed as 60 miles the race ended up being nearer 80 including neutral zone due to some lap board shenanigans which was to become a common feature of the race (basically we did 1 lap then we got the amount of laps we thought we were doing). With tom in yellow I tried to help as much as poss. A break slipped away and the bunch behaved like typical 3rd cat wheelsuckers. Much agitation saw a bit of through and off getting going and the gap reduced from 1.30 mins to 15 secs, at this point I was pretty buggered so I decided to sit on. Needless to say the gap opened again. A couple of lads got across; despite numerous forays up the road I did not. A couple of amusing incidents occurred during the race, perhaps most notable was coming around a 180 hairpin to be confronted with the sight of "dangerous" dave, lying in the middle of the road, upside down. Someone screamed "don't move" and dave lay there, with his bum in the saddle and his hands on the bars, riding his bike upside down as the whole bunch sailed by, and I mocked his bar tape selection. With 5k to go I was off the front with a few other lads, we got caught. With a kilo to go I kicked it off again and was surprised to find myself still there with 500 to go, and with 300 to go and with 250 to go, this patter continued until about 20 guys came flying past me within spitting distance of the line. I was pretty angry, and pretty tired after riding on the front and having a few digs in the last few kilometers. A nice cruise back to the HQ gave me time to calm down and by the time I had recovered car keys from the neutral service car I was ready to drink another milkshake and head back to Nathan's where his mum furnished us with a bucketload of pasta and we proceeded to stay up late playing pool on the computer- nice race prep.
Sunday saw the queen stage of the race, long hilly and windy, guaranteed to split it up they said. Well the day before was a guaranteed sprint and a break had got away so I wasn't sure. Predictably the bunch staid together with the monster headwind neutralizing the hill (which was another 39-25 knee popper). On the back lanes with 3 to go we weaved in between hedges and tractors on roads only wide enough for 3 riders. Somehow I managed to chip off the front with another rider and, to my astonishment we opened up a pretty good gap. Perhaps whomever had taken it upon themselves to shout "hup" every single time someone so much as twitched an eyebrow had taken his eye off the ball, wither that or he was too busy shouting "car down", which seems to be the rallying cry of the 3rd cat fat controller. Anyway, somehow they let two skinny guys escape off the front and we proceeded to work well together. Richard was an ex- elite rider coming back from having kids and he schooled me in the art of riding from gutter to gutter to get out of sight and avoid the wind. Soon a bloke called Stephen came across to join us and we proceeded to engage in some proper stem chewing, rivet riding breakaway action. The second time up the monster headwind hill we had about 30 secs, we got caught after that. By this point I was pretty, much breathing out of every orifice I had. Going up the hill had been a world of pain, and for the 25 or so miles that we had been away I had been to excited or in pain to eat or drink, thankfully Nathan had come to watch and he handed me up a much needed bottle. Having safely returned to the shelter of the bunch and amongst the familiar calls of "car up" "ride straight" and "hup hup hup" I received pats and congrats form many of my buddies. Along the way I had officially picked up more sprint bonus points than boonen did in the tour de France, now that is a claim to fame. On the finish (at the top of the hill, I pretty much saw the lights go out and engaged reverse. I just slinked in at the back of the bunch but only after throwing my bike for the line and then noticing the line was about ten yards ahead, smooth move.
That night tom and I constructed an amateur ice bath with a sack of ice from a sack of ice and Nathan's bath, I'm not sure if it worked but it was bloody cold and we both felt well hard. Having eaten more pasta and some pork rolls Nathan kindly yielded his bed to me and Tom slept on a mattress. Before going to bed we decided it would be quite diverting to send twitter messages to lance "pharmstrong" Armstrong, to be honest I was not impressed by the fact that he demanded such a fee to race in Ireland (allegedly) and then packed (definitely). Judging by the response on twitter, some people think that's cool. I don't, he rode like a chipper, I wonder if he shouted "hup" so he wouldn't actually ever need to do any chasing. We reflected on the nature of the tour of dorset, or as it was fast becoming know, the wheelsucker worlds – in reality about 10-15 guys were racing and 65 guys were hanging on or sucking wheel like a vacuum cleaner and using what little breath they could squeeze out to shout "hup" in order to neutralize attacks. Other prominent proclamations include "car" (this can be used at any time a motor vehicle comes into view, even if it has been parked there for the past 70 miles and we've passed in 6 times) "corner" (see above) and "hold your line" (this comes when someone in front has been so engaged in looking out for cars or attacks that they forgot to steer). Curiously you don't hear the word "hole" uttered often in the bunch, we'd rather leave people to disappear down some of the dorset mineshafts which the council have been tactically ignoring since the industrial revolution.
More on stage 3, the grand finale coming soon.