Although I had raced the Tour de Terra Cotta beginner category last year, this was my first legitimate, licensed road race. Racing in the M3 category (over 35 years of age, and the slowest category), I felt I had a reasonable chance to stay with the bunch even though past races were in the 38-40 km/h range, quite fast unless I’m on a TT bike. The distance was 36 kilometres.

I told my coach at the start that my goals in order of likelihood were:

  1. Don’t crash.
  2. Finish with the bunch.
  3. Try an attack.
  4. Win. (Ok, you always have to have a stretch goal, right?)

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His advice was fairly straight-forward: Stay up near the front so you don’t get dropped or caught behind a crash. The M3 category is rather notorious for crashes, particularly on this course that is rather tight and technical, with an off-camber corner 1 that comes off a long tailwind straight.

My race lead up wasn’t exactly what I had hoped. The plan was to do the London Centennial Wheelers learn to race program through April, followed by a couple of Tuesday night crits. However, all the learn to race nights were canceled for rain, as were the crits other than nights when I was away for work. This meant that I was going into the race absolutely cold. Oh well, the whole point was a learning experience and a good interval workout.

I lined up near the front, and in no time we were off. Out of the gate I was out of my comfort zone in terms of how crowded things were. By corner 2 I had drifted much of the way back as I sought some elbow room and to settle into a rhythm. By the time we came around to the start/finish straight I had got my head together and started to work my way back up the pack.

Then carnage.

A bunch of guys went down at the start of lap 2 in that sketchy corner 1 and I was caught behind them, navigating my way around downed bikes and riders while the pack went away down the hill at 55 km/h. The back straight was a head wind and I fought to get on (unknowingly towing about 8 other guys who were happy to sit on me). After the whole lap we were just getting close to get back on when:

More carnage.

Sure enough, at the start of lap 3 at corner 1 again two more guys went down, this time with a guy breaking his bike clear in half. I had to come to a near dead stop and watched the group that was still 15-20m ahead now go completely away.

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The rest of the race was a slow death. A few of us worked together to try to hold the pace, catching the odd straggler coming back off the pack, or working with the odd person who got back up to us. However, there were really only two of us with any legs in the group and just looking at our average speed I knew it was only a matter of time. One of the guys asked a volunteer what the gap was and he laughed and said, “A lot.” I pointed out that we weren’t chasing back on, we were fighting not to get lapped.

By the end of lap 11 I heard the moto coming up behind and sat up and got out of the way. So, first O-Cup race result was a DNF. Oh well, I guess I achieved goal 1 for the day. Although I also learned a valuable lesson that Coach Art from Kallisto-FCV is always right.

So, the go-forward plan is to get in the LCW Tuesday night crits now so that I’ll have more experience going into the KW Classic race in early June. As always, thanks to 3SIXTY5 Cycling for supporting me this season. Most photos by Jeremy Blue Photography.

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