You Don't Need To Lead Much Of The Race As Long As You Lead The Right Bit

"You don't need to lead much of the race as long as you lead the right bit." I can't remember for certain who said that, but I'm going to attribute it to Emerson Fittipaldi, I have a vague recollection that it was him, and it does sound like the kind of thing he would say.

Road racing is a weird sport, I’m sure I will never properly understand it. I do a fair bit of it in my training, but this is almost exclusively time-trials, one at a time against the clock, a bunch race would be something of a departure for me, my first one since the Tayside road race of 2005 in fact.

The race I had chosen was the TLI Lincolnshire League event at Ashby de la Launde, this was chosen for no other reason than it was a nice sunny day and it was quite near my house. It was also my club’s road-race championship event. The race had a handicapping system, for which we were split into groups. As a relative novice I was in Group 2.

As we were called up to the start line I was introduced to others by Dennis as ‘Crasher’ and they were warned to give me a fairly wide birth, sometimes having a reputation (however undeserved!) can be a good thing. Actually during the whole race I only bumped shoulders with one of my fellow riders and had no other contact at all.

The race was run over 5 laps and 32 miles.

The start of road races tends to be very relaxed, everyone seems to just ride around together for ages and then sprint the last little bit. However, it became obvious on the first lap that there were only four of us in the group of about thirty who were doing any work at the front; Big Al, myself and two guys I didn’t recognise were taking it in turns dragging everyone else along. No-one else seemed to be that bothered about trying not to let the group behind catch us, they looked content sitting in our slipstream.

I accidentally made a break at the end of the first lap, there was a bit of a climb up to the start and finish line, I lead up here but looking behind me as we reached the top I realised that no-one else was anywhere nearby. If I was going to do all the work at the front I might as well just do it for myself so off I went. I was joined by one of the guys I didn’t recognise and we rode most of the next lap as a 2-up.

Inevitably when pursued by a group that much larger we were eventually caught again. There was still only the four of us doing any work, we weren’t quite strong enough to break away but our attempts to up the pace of the group didn’t go well, we even got told off by one rider for going too fast! Am I missing something? It is a race isn’t it?

After we had caught and passed Group 1 at the beginning of the fourth lap I had one more attempt to break away, I managed to get a lead of about 300 yards and held it for about 3 miles but when Group 3 caught and joined forces with Group 2 they quickly hunted me down.

This combined group was much faster, which just goes to show that the rest of Group 2 could have gone harder if they had tried. The roadies are a grumpy bunch though, some of them even getting all cross and shouty because the ‘through and off’ was going to the right rather than the left at one point. Does it really matter? I was keeping an eye on Big Al though, it looked it would be between him and me for our club championship title.

We were all together with about two miles to go, someone made a break as we went round the S bends at RAF Digby, I saw him go and attempted to go with him, I got 50 yards ahead of the pack but it wasn’t enough. I took the inside line for the final corner, but that was the wrong choice, the tighter line may have been shorter but it meant that I had to scrub off too much speed to get round.

Henry Thompson appeared out of nowhere, round the outside of everyone and shot off up the hill, taking the race win by about three seconds and victory in our club championship in the process. I finished somewhere just outside the top 10.

Overall it was a peculiar experience, and not nearly as fast as I was expecting, we only averaged about 23mph, although the last lap with Group 3 would have been a bit higher than that. It was good training, but for thrills I think I’ll stick to the mountain bike, the standard of competition is much higher there too!

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