Guest blog by Sarah Hobbs, who raced her first cycle circuit race this weekend.
Yesterday was my first experience of a bike race! It’s something I’ve been wanting to have a go at for about a year and I found out about it via a Facebook group called ‘Ride Like A Girl’. British Cycling are actively encouraging more women to race and so are increasing the number of opportunities for women to try racing. I posted a query on the group page, if I was able to race, having had no race experience at all but the lovely Ian O’Brien replied, “You’ll be fine Sarah! Give it a go!” So with encouragement from Gareth too, I did! Cat 4, which is the category I entered, is open to all women of all ages and abilities.
As race day approached, I still doubted my ability to race in a group and wished I’d done more track sessions with Wakefield Triathlon Club. However, having done just one chain gang session last Tuesday and watched numerous YouTube videos. (You can learn how to do anything from Youtube right?!😂) I decided the only way to find out, was to just do it!
My aim for the race was:
Stay on my bike.
Don’t cause an accident.
Finish the race.
Bonus aim: stay in a group/pack.
There were 24 women in my race, including the speedy Libby Greatorex. She’s an amazing cyclocross rider and triathlete and is now introducing herself to circuit racing. She’s fast! So I knew there would be some very fast riders.
After a few warm up laps, we were brought to a stop, and set off to race on the whistle. I was quite a way back from the start but knew I needed to get myself into a group to preserve energy. One of the BC YouTube clips shows how to ‘race smart’ in a group, so once I’d settled myself into a group, I tried to start thinking about where I was placing myself, particularly for the corners (my biggest weakness).
On the inside or in the middle of the group is good protection from the wind but there is a risk of being squeezed. Riding on the outside, you’re more open to the wind. I experimented with both but most of the time I stayed on the outside but tucked in. At the chain gang, Ian O’Brien had told me to relax my hands as my wheel was twitching as I cornered, so I applied that and it worked! You’ve really got to trust your wheels and follow the line of the group as it corners. Otherwise, if you go wide, a gap appears as you come out of the turn and you need to catch up again! This happened to me quite a few times.
From then on it was a constant thirty minutes of thinking tactically and riding ‘smart.’ I really hadn’t realised how tactical it is. The riders at the front of the pack are obviously the ones working the hardest but there was no way I was going to attempt to ride up front during my first race! I did try and google ‘race etiquette’ to see if I should take my turn to lead, but found nothing but ‘racing smart’ and reserving your energy. Interestingly enough, Libby had been leading for a long time but dropped back for a while as she’d got fed up of doing all the work. She moved up later and came 3rd. So yes, very tactical and no room for day dreaming – which I’m a little prone to. Not yesterday though!!
As the race progressed and I’d – very surprisingly – managed to stay in the lead pack. (Two riders had shot off at the start but then we caught them up and swallowed them up!) I was now determined to stay with that pack until the end. My cornering was gradually getting better and there was less catching up. It was on the final lap, when the bell was rung, that things began to change considerably. The pace increased and riders behind me squeezed into gaps that just weren’t there! Suddenly there were a lot more riders in front of me and I was at risk of being dropped. The movement within the group was constant, all the riders trying to gain the best position for a sprint finish. As we approached the penultimate corner, a rider on my left pushed me out to the right and off the track (she apologised profusely afterwards, bless her). I lost my place but I kept going and did my own little sprint finish, resulting in 12th place.
I’m so chuffed I did it. I did wake up yesterday morning and think ‘FGS Sarah, you’re almost 50! What the hell are you doing?!’ But age is just a number right?
It is soooo exciting! So exhilarating and I’m going to do another!