Chuck into the mix some of the foulest weather I have ever ridden a bike in (icy rain and a little bit of snow right before the off), plus my general nerves about racing for the first time, and it was always going to go badly.
After a couple of laps to recce the course, I took my place pretty far back on the starting ‘grid’. In truth, there is no grid, it’s just five lines of riders trying to nose their bikes as close to the front as possible. And then I waited for some sort of safety briefing, like you’d get at a sportive where they bang on about it not being a race, to ride sensibly, obey road laws and so forth. Except this was a race and the bloke charged with giving us the briefing seemed more than happy to just let us crack on.
“Welcome to the sixth race in our winter series here at Hillingdon. Good luck. Go!” was about the size of it and then we were off.
Having checked out some other riders on Strava who’d raced here the week previous, I knew speeds would be somewhere around 38kp/h average for the 40 minutes + five laps we’d be racing. Now that sounds fast, but the drafting effect we all know from riding in a paceline is amplified massively by being in a 40-strong bunch. The speeds, although high, were really pretty comfortable and I was even able to have a cheeky, short-lived dig off the front once things had settled down after the first few turns around the circuit.
One of the things I hadn’t been prepared for was just how much yelling there is in a race. Seemingly, there is never not someone shouting the word ‘Line!’ Usually this is an attempt to remind the person ahead or to the side of you to stay on the same course throughout a bend, but equally I think I saw it used more as a warning before the yeller performed a particularly chancy manoeuvre of their own. If in doubt, shout “Line”, seems to be the rule of thumb.
Of course, after a few laps I just joined in, yelling “LIIIIIINE!” frequently and indiscriminately, and peppering in a few “STEADY!” and “WOAAAH”s for good measure. It seemed to be doing the trick until we neared the end of the allotted 40 minutes of racing. With the sight of the first lap board approaching, the tension clearly ratcheted up a level.