Over the last few months I’ve come to know a good guy named Howard Botting. Howard lives in England and is like me – a cycling fanatic. We chat fairly regularly over email about all things bikes (debating the merits of Bradley Wiggins and the wonders of an ice cold Coke after a hot ride) and life in general. Howard is doing a lot of racing these days so I asked him to write a race report about one of his recent races.
Thornton Trophy Road Race report
As a cyclist I like to think I’m realistic about my limitations – I’m a 3rd cat club man who rides because he wants to keep fit and races because he enjoys dressing up and pretending he’s Fabian Cancellara on Sunday’s.
Every now and then though I get flashes of optimism, it’s moments like this that see me lining up for races like the Thornton Trophy Road Race, which took place last Sunday 29th July.
The Thornton Trophy is a race for tough guys! It takes place in Northumberland, England. This is Border Country, where England meets Scotland. The scene of countless battles between the English and Scott’s….Braveheart Country!!! It’s run over 60 miles and takes in 3 ascents of the much feared Ryalls. The 2010 British championships was run over this course and it took a certain Bradley Wiggin’s to tame this beast of a climb and be crowned champion.
After a difficult first half of the season I had got things back on track in recent weeks and my form was about where I wanted it to be. So I was hopeful of a decent performance.
Watching the Olympic Road Race on Saturday filled me with motivation. Eating rice pudding made to a secret recipe passed on by a certain Vicki Thomas filled me with energy…I was going to need it!
I got to the race in plenty of time to get my bike ready, sign on, make myself look good and chat to a few old friends. Warming up my legs felt ok. The rain showers that were forecast had held off, but there was a fierce westerly wind, which would make it tough.
The pace was fast right from the off, with a full field of 60 riders vying to get a good position at the front of the bunch ready for the climb. I started towards the back of the bunch (I always do) but was slowly inching my way to the front. The wind was pushing the bunch to the right side of the road, so I ran the gauntlet of sheltering from the wind and using the space on the left to move up. This paid off and after 8 miles I was right up the front, in the first 10 and sitting pretty.
A heavy shower of rain soon put paid to all my hard work. The wet roads were too much for my nerves and I slipped to the back of the bunch where I felt safer – don’t ask me why, I just can’t handle racing in the wet. Luckily it was an isolated shower and we were soon back onto dry roads. Only problem was we were almost on the hill…the dreaded Ryalls.
Taking a few risks I hit the hill about half way up the bunch, giving myself some much needed ‘sliding room’. The hill goes up in 3 sections, the steepest of which is about 1 in 6! Within seconds riders were all over place, it was every man for himself. Some going forwards others going backwards. Luckily for me I was going forwards, but not quickly enough to make the selection. A group of about 30 riders crested the hill together, with another 30 following in 1’s and 2’s.
Lady luck was on my side and the riders I was with soon got organised into a group of 6. All desperate to get up to the bunch (or what remained of it) we chased like mad for about 5 agonising miles. We were all on the rivet, pulling through and off as best as we could. There was no talking, we all knew what we had to do….just nail it until we get back on. As the bunch turned into a headwind section they eased just enough for us to bridge the final gap. Gasping for breath I shouted ‘nice work lads’, there was no reply, just a few nods of agreement for my fellow chasers….job done!
So, it was 1 down 2 to go. Once again we were fast approaching the climb. Enjoying some shelter at the back of the bunch I re-fuelled, taking on water and a gel. Once that was done it was time to get my mind ready for the next brutal ascent….’come on, you can do this, it’s only pain…anything to convince myself I wouldn’t get dropped.
The silence of the bunch was interrupted by the race commissaire who announced that the lone leader had a lead of 1 minute. In all the mayhem of our chase I hadn’t realised that someone had broken away. I wondered how he’d managed to do it…how fit must he be?
Once again I hit the hill about mid way down the pack, but as it was now down to 30 odd riders this was a good position and was holding my own. I glided over the first 2 rises with the bunch, but the gaps were slowly growing. My legs began to burn with pain and in a desperate attempt to regain lost ground I whacked it into the big ring on the short descent, before the final rise. By this time my legs were shot and I was now labouring where previously I was gliding. Within what seemed like a few desperate seconds the bunch slipped away and that was that, I was dropped again and facing another desperate chase to get back.
This time round the urgency to regain the bunch wasn’t quite there. A group of 5 of us got together, but where last time we automatically formed a well drilled pace line, we were all looking at each other to do the work. I put in a few big turns which were matched a couple of my fellow chasers, but others were sitting on. I shouted at them to work, hoping a few choice words would encourage them, but I was met with an equally robust tirade in return….I knew the score.
The final lap of the race was purgatory. At times we could see the race cars behind the bunch, in fact at one point I swear we were only 30 seconds down. But it was no good, we just didn’t have it in us. The wind had whipped up and it was murder battling into it. Our lonely group of 5 ploughed on, 4 working 1 sitting on for the ride – ‘team mates up the road’ he said when I challenged him….yeah!
My parents had come out to watch the race, so with a stubborn sense of misplaced pride I was determined to keep racing and try to drop my fellow chasers the last time up the hill. People tell me I’m a ‘diesel rider’ and luckily for me my tank wasn’t quite empty. I’m not sure if it was Vicki’s rice pudding, that gel or sheer pride but I summoned one last bit of energy to get myself over that damn hill. At the top my parents were there willing me on with a cheery smile, clearly unaware of the agony I was going through inside.
Glancing over my shoulder I was pleased to see that our group was down to 2, myself and a young junior rider from the Ferryhill Wheelers – a legendary club who have produced a long line of fine riders. We gritted our teeth and gave it one last blast to hold off the remnants of our group. Working well during the final 5 miles we managed to pick off a lone straggler from the bunch. The sprint for the line must have looked pretty ugly, but we both gave it all we had. The young lad beat me convincingly, but I didn’t mind. I was just glad to have finished.
That evening I watched Lizzie Armistead roar to a fine silver medal in the women’s Olympic Road Race. Sipping a nice cold beer I relived the day’s action, reckoning that even though I hadn’t come away with a medal I’d done myself proud and looked forward to doing it all again next Sunday…….
To read more about the race, visit this link: http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/road/article/roa20120729-road-Road–Norris-storms-to-Thornton-win-0
Thanks Howard for the excellent race report! It is always encouraging to read other’s account of racing and to realize that everyone goes through the same things mentally and physically while out there pressing down on the pedals.