Wedstrijdverslag van our man in Westhoffbos

Hierbij een stukje van Steve Ludford, een fietsmaat die ik ken vanuit het online racen op Rouvy (de “Muckers races” op dinsdag en donderdagavond, aanrader!). Steve wilde graag een keer een echte race rijden, en in Engeland is dat lastig. Na een weekend rijden in Nederland en checken van zijn skills is hij aangesloten bij de Trappist B-wedstrijd, gecoacht door Peter Giljam en heeft daar verslag van gedaan. (Ard van Straten)

My First ‘Outdoor’ Race.

To say I was anxious was an understatement. I was sat on the starting line with about 25 other cyclists about to start my first ever circuit race.

My fellow Muckers teammate Ard (online Rouvy racing), had invited me to join him on one of his clubs fortnightly race meetings at a closed tarmac track just outside Amsterdam. One lap of the track was approximately 3kms with three sweeping left corners and one sharper right corner. Lots of trees to block out the wind but also contributed to some fallen branch debris and dead ‘strimmed’ grass littered the apex on the corners. I would be joining the ‘B’ race which was 75 minutes +3 laps.

Ard knew I was nervous and was probably also slightly nervous himself that my performance, or lack of, would have repercussions on his reputation within the club. For context, my cycling experience is only 16 years, including large group club rides, and my racing experience is only Time Trials against the clock. Online races with The Muckers didn’t really count as close quarters action although some of the tactical knowledge did. I knew this was going to be a complete adrenaline shock and listened to every bit of advice offered by Ard and his friendly, well wishing club mates. Equally, I felt I had enough confidence in myself to take my place on the line without being dangerous or making any bold predictions.

Ard took me on a couple of practice laps to show me the course and racing lines, first lap was moderate then second lap was at speed, Ard would look back and I would be right on his wheel…then we got to the first sweeping bend, which at speed now looked too sharp, Ard now looked back after pedalling at full speed and I was suddenly 20metres back after freewheeling the corner. Second corner, the same. It was a confidence issue, I knew if Ard was taking the right line at full pedalling speed without grounding the pedals, then so could I. Corners 3 and 4 were better but my next corners would be in the race.

I received some great advice about looking further ahead at the leading riders taking the corner and that the cornering line would flow more natural, less looking at back wheels and more focus on helmets and shoulders, the best advice of the night.

Ard’s ‘A’ race started one minute before the ‘B’ race on the same track (theory being it would take a while to lap the ‘B’ race). The ‘A’ race paced at approx 25/26mph and my ‘B’ race paced nearer to 24mph.

We’re off. Slow start to the soundtrack of 50 shoes clicking into pedals then it picked up, it was fast but I was not too surprised by this. I had started at the back, nervous not to be caught out I rode down the side of the group into the top 10 riders, I needed to know I could manage this first corner in the group … the corner is now behind me, I’m still on two wheels and more importantly, so is the peloton, nobody shouted, it felt smooth, it felt safe, I’m in a race.

Time to test my legs, in the first 15 minutes I stayed top 10 and allowed myself to pull on the front about 5 or 6 times before falling back in. It was starting to feel comfortable but I doubted it was going to stay this way. I wanted to experience more elbow to elbow corners and find the best places to draft the group so deliberately placed myself in ‘the thick of it’. After 30 minutes the racing style changed from a constant tempo to a more ‘punchy’ rest then attack format (I know from online racing this can be my undoing). I was now at maximum concentration for the surges, riding line was now very natural and comfortable but watching the moves was intense. On a couple of occasions I felt riders made careless sudden changes of direction into my path, with more confidence I should have shouted but I simply handled the situation with least impact on the other riders still hoping they were confident in my presence in the bunch.

Then it happened, at 40 minutes (8 laps) I lost concentration, I thought more riders were coming through then realised too late I had missed the draft of the last rider, despite a desperate sprint I could not bridge back and my heart rate was souring. I was really disappointed in myself as I knew I could have gone at least a few laps longer but now I was working with one other rider and our 24mph average was down to 21/22mph average as we took one lap turns on the front. I was eventually lapped by Ard’s ‘A’ group after about 55 race minutes, almost ashamed he’d see me … dropped. My fellow ‘B’ rider jumped on the back of the ‘A’ group (naughty boy) and drafted away, so now I’m all alone just hoping 20 minutes would pass fast.

On the final lap of the 75 minutes, only 3 remaining laps to finish I rounded a corner to see all the ‘B’ riders stood by their bikes, except 5 riders who were lying on the tarmac with some very bloody faces and one with buttock/thigh gravel rash to make a Grand Tour rider proud. It seems a rider had caused the pile up, perhaps one of the riders I experienced earlier in the race. Suddenly, I was quite happy about being dropped, it seems crashes at these races are quite scarce and it was an aspect of racing I definitely didn’t want to experience. The ‘B’ race was abandoned and we rode a neutralised final lap to the finish line.

A terrific experience and I am really grateful to Ard for the invitation and the advice. Also thanks to all the Trappist club riders for a friendly welcome, additional advice and for trusting this British novice in the bunch. I would love to do it again but would do many things differently, today I wanted to experience everything and probably wasted too much energy in the process, but I would have regretted ‘not trying’ to spend a short time pulling the group. Red tape and administration make this a difficult opportunity in the UK so I may have retired from my racing career already … who knows?

Final bonus, I got to see how it should be done as I had a finish line view of the final 3 laps of the ‘A’ race, and Ard had no reason to be embarrassed as he took an early sprint and rolled over the line in 1st position. Kudos.

Steve Ludford