I raced Sandown last night, for the first time since last year. And I mean last year ie last Summer. It was my first Sandown in about 10 mths and probably my first crit in about as long. The wind was well and truly out and about for the evening, hunting its way down the home straight making for a tough finish. Madam Hour had mentioned the surface on the home straight – it’s very rough, and so dead it smells. I don’t remember it being so hard and bumpy under the wheels. Combine that with the delicious head wind and you have a fun ride for a couple of hundred metres battling it out to the first corner on the track: a test of strength, endurance and tenacity. It was interesting to watch the home straight take its toll on all riders last night, as speed and endurance were sucked up by the road and wind each lap.
I rode D grade, for most of the race (more later). Speed wise, I had no difficulty keeping up with the bunch, endurance was good, but technical skills (aka cornering) were crap. After 4 or so laps, I lost wheels coming out of the final corner (as I did on every corner in the final bends) onto the home straight and couldn’t get back on with the wind blasting me backwards. 33kph into the headwind was not enough to breach the gap to the bunch that opened up off the final corner. I sat with a young guy for a lap, maybe 30metres off the bunch, then he charged away as we once more came through the chicanes onto the home straight. I rode another lap and a bit at around 30kph, watching the bunch slide way, then realised I should sit up (and I mean, really sit up) and wait for them to come through and pick me up. At that point they were 1/3rd of a lap in front of me. Seems several other riders from A and B grade had the same idea – we were like recalcitrant dairy cows waiting for the farmer to take us home. It took another lap and a half for the bunch to get to me, and as they came through I hooked on, and sat comfortably with them for another lap and a half. A lot of them looked unfamiliar, apart from one woman with a very funky floral pattern on her bike, but D grade was a sizeable field, so I wasn’t so worried. Once again, I was dropped on that final corner into the home straight. Knowing we had 2 laps to go, and a case of CBFs chasing into that wind, I pulled off into the pits. As I rolled past the garages, another bunch rolled slowly through below me, and the call for 2 laps was given – D grade. Seems I’d been riding with C grade! Oops! I should have ridden through the pit lane and jumped onto the back of D grade to finish off the race, but figuring that may get me DQed, I opted to sit and watch the end of the race. Turns out, on advice of one of the race organisers, it would have been ok for me to do just that, seeing as I would gain no real advantage from it.
Conclusions: I am fitter than last year, but still can’t ride at speed through some corners (ie the final corner into the home straight!); I am fitter than last year - I can stay with C grade, even when they surge up the back straight (well, for a lap and a half at least!); I am fitter than last year – didn’t feel tired afterwards (2 laps sitting up will do that); I am fitter than last year – wouldn’t have been lapped if I didn’t sit up for 2 laps, and I may have been able to grovel my way back onto the pack if I kept TTing, as the pace of D grade slowed significantly in the final laps. But then again, maybe not. The best bit – I had fun!