In England we drive on the left. I mention this because every 8 year old does basic training in ‘cycling proficiency’ a kind of cycling drivers ed complete with a test administered in the schoolyard while a stern faced probable paedophile examiner looks on and because it means every english rider is trained to stop and start with her left foot down. I'm not sure why. Something to do with leaning to the left at a standstill and thus if you failed to get going OK you’d fall on the sidewalk, not in front of the number 10 bus.
Anyway, this habit stays with you, even in the face of living in a country that clearly drives on the wrong side of the road. It means that left pedal and cleat takes far more abuse, and it means that this is the pedal I look down on in dismay as I roll up to the start of the Miller Energy Criterium. It's broken.
I was having trouble with a weak feeling clip-in and adjusted the tension up and now, seconds from the start, the hinge is busted on one side, the ‘advanced carbon composite’ cracked and fallen off, leaving a really weak hold. Shit, what to do. I’ve come a fair way, and its not completely broke, it feels like it will hold as long as I don’t pull up hard or rotate my foot (laterally). So I’m doing some mental recalibration. Spin the pedals, no lugging. No getting out of the saddle - at all - period.
Unfortunately I’m racing a field of all category 35+ riders, and some of them look very much like serious cat 1 riders. We are also racing on a vast science park with evil crosswinds that promise to allow no passengers to sit in. A quiet safe ride in the pack isn’t going to be an option. Screw it, I’m starting.
We are off, and I take the first lap fairly delicately, dropping to the back. 3 go off the front never to be seen again, nothing I’m doing about that, but I am able to keep up the revs and stay with the pack. A couple of fast laps and I’m starting to relax and move around a bit. The run to the line is epically fast with a tailwind, then there's a tight turn and wham, the crosswind is against you and the pace slows, riders bunch around each other. Then the attacks go off.
One noticeable thing about these cat 1/2 racers is the aggressive way they make moves. An attack isn’t just speeding up and going off the front, its a brutal acceleration, coupled with a violent swerve across the track. Only a pre-warned teammate or a truly quick witted rival can latch on. Someone who can’t get out of the saddle and jump has no chance. A handy looking attack of 4 goes on lap 6 and I decide I have to get on it. I bridge over with a big effort, then we hit the headwinds and it all comes back together. All for nothing.
Two laps later, same thing. This time I hang back for a reaction from the pack. There is none and later it comes back together. Ha, I’m learning.
Two laps to go and this elite field is putting together the moves that they will end their race with. A group of 4 attack and I’m ready, and apart from gapping as I change down and spin up the revs I’m with them. Hauling down the finish straight past the bell I’m bridged and with them and we have 30 yards on the pack. Clattering around turn 1 at full pell-mell velocity and the front guys are still working hard into the wind. I’m totally gassed. Then the real poker game begins. We all have an advantage, we are 40 yards up on the main field, but this has cost us all in matches burnt. However, nobody wants to pull the break around into the finish straight where it will be a tailwind assisted mad lunge for the line.
The pace is slowing, lead riders are calling for someone to work and swerving about. The chase is closing. Somebody do something….. eff it, I’ll do some work. I hit the front, but I’m not so naive to think my fellow four will necessarily agree, help out and then at some point at the top of the course declare ‘I say chaps, been jolly good working with you, but we should put on a show, make a race of it what?’. So I’m simultaneously dying, waiting for an attack for the line, panicking about broken pedals and tapering my effort to coax some help.
Predictably the attack not the assistance comes. Its too violent and aggressive to latch on to. The lead rider swerves the entire roadwidth, and unleashes an epic surge. The other two are on him. I’m more than gapped, I’m left behind to try and solo in. Just to rub in my tactical witlessness a couple of the chasers roar past on the finish straight too. 11th of 24 but second placed cat3 and this race is a big enough deal that 11th has me in the money plus a free beer mug, for this mug.