National Trophy Round 3 - Point Made

One by one riders are called forward to take their position at the start. Iím nervous, more so than I have been all season. Foreign camper vans adorn the perimeter of the course, only adding to the discomfort in the pit of my stomach. The course has dried well, despite heavy rainfall in the week, and is considerably less sketchy than the practice session the day before. Final adjustments to tyre pressures have been made, bikes primed and ready for the infernal onslaught that will ensue. I slow my breathing, trying to relax. More riders are called forward as another row is filled. The once perfect blue sky on the horizon is fast becoming all but a painful mirage of multicoloured skinsuits, filled with the staunch aroma of freshly lathered embrocation. Eventually my name is called. I have no idea why Iím still so eager to find my place on the last row of the grid. Like I needed reminding, itís the 13th day of the month. Hell on Earth, this is going to hurt like wrestling a Rottweiler with rabies.

Thirty seconds until the all consuming hit of adrenaline instantly intoxicates every butterfly in my body. I fail to get my foot cleanly into the pedal and fumble to find momentum as the leaders take the race up to full speed. A barrage of elbows and arms, I bounce around like a pinball being flipped by a paddle as I try and find the invisible gap thatís forever opening and closing in front. Thereís little time to think, the first lap being ridden on instinct and split second reactions until I find my place in the line. Now itís survival, a desperate few seconds needed to recover from the initial shock of going from dormant to near death.

The first time I have a second to focus on the lap board I see that it reads ď7 to goĒ. ďOkay, there's time, thatís good for youĒ I think to myself. The technically demanding course features a deceptive amount of energy absorbing drags that would surely take their toll as the race unfolds. For a while Iím sat in the top thirty, seemingly losing as many places as Iím gaining each lap. By mid distance I feel that I have a good measure of the circuit, where to work especially hard and where to keep things under control. Each rider ahead has an imaginary cross-hair scribed to their back, as if looking through the sight of a Savage 110 BA sniper rifle. It takes some time to find my race-rhythm but once there I feel perfectly at ease. The course transposed into nothing more than a playground of flowing bends and cambers tamed by a thousand tyres.

Joy. I can barely believe the speed Iím catching those ahead. A feeling of pure pain and pleasure with every revolution of the cranks. Body, bike and mind all working together in equilibrium as the clock continues to count. With three laps to go Iíve broken into the top fifteen. What appears to be an insurmountable gap only heightens my concentration as I see the seconds being drawn back to another rider. The distinct red and yellow livery of Andy Hargroves, back on home soil from a winter of racing in Belgium, comes into view. I wish I could freeze time for just a few minutes, or add another couple of laps. I catch Andy without a pause for breath and move up into eleventh. This is what racing is all about, fighting all the way to the end. The bell rings. In the distance I spot the current U23 National Champion, Luke Gray. Not convinced that Iíll have enough time to catch him, with only one lap to go, I put that thought to the back of my mind. Itís now or never.

Over the hurdles for the final time, I concentrate on pinning the off-camber banking and pull back more metres on Luke. By now the long drag past the start line is a best friend. Rolling a big gear to full momentum as I cut back towards the centre of the course and into the copse. A dab of the brakes through the technical and Iím back out into the open. Hard left past the pits and up to full speed, the screams of encouragement consume my heart and soul. I latch onto Lukeís back wheel as we exit the final switchbacks, no time for pleasantries, Iíve got one more climb to make myself hurt on. The pain feels so good, like therapy from the working week. Two more bends and itís all over. I cross the line in 10th place, with four more riders within 30 seconds. If only, if only, if only I had more time. The satisfaction lasts but a moment. Who knows how the race could have played out with a slightly better starting position?

With UCI points available thereís little wonder why a strong contingent of Belgium riders hopped across the Channel to try and clean up. Iím not greedy, tenth position earns me one precious UCI point. It may not sound like a lot, easily dismissed as nothing. But to those in the know it means everything. An immediate gateway to a higher ranking and, in some cases, the difference between starting on the seventh row (along with first-timers and dog walkers) to starting with a clear track ahead. Itís worth more than a whole season of wins in regional races and will hopefully make life that little bit easier in the future. Enough said, point made.

1 Floris de Tier Baboco Cycling (Belgium U23) 1h 02m
2 Jelle Brackman Van der Vurst Cycling (Belgium) @0:17
3 Xandro Meurisse Baboco Cycling (Belgium U23) @0:29
4 Paul Oldham Hope Factory Racing @0:49
5 Jody Crawforth Hargroves Cycles @1:11
6 Kris Lapere Mez Cycle Team (Belgium) @2:01
7 Kristof Cop Cycle Team Kessel (Belgium) @2:01
8 Crispin Doyle Swindon RC @2:30
9 Jack Clarkson Hope Factory Racing (U23) @2:40
10 Michael Cotty @2:51

Gallery by Deborah Malin. Title photo by British Cycling (13.11.11)


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