words: Ben Ryder photos: Nick Ryder
“He seemed amused to meet someone who would be riding his first race at the age of twenty nine” Tim Krabbé ‘The Rider’
At twenty-eight I’m standing at the side of Lee Valley Velopark road circuit. The purr of bikes on rollers and turbos echoes around me. The kids races are happening now and pushy parents shout support from the edge of the track. I’m nervously waiting to take part in my first bike race. The opener of the CC Hackney Primavera Series a category four criterium race.
As I chat with my club mate Andy the preceding junior race comes to a close and there has been a serious crash. I block this news out not wanting to let thoughts of suffering a similar fate affect my mental state. The delay in our start means the race will be shortened to forty minutes. As we step out onto the track I hear a boy behind me say ‘Mum, it was really bad, blood everywhere and he’s lost some teeth.’ I flinch, oh well best be getting on with it.
0- 5 minutes – After some warm up laps the race starts, everyone riding hard. The nerves disappear. I am actually doing this. I grow in confidence with each corner and learn the moves of the bunch.
5 minutes – I must learn to use rollers to warm up properly.
7 -10 minutes – People shout, people grunt, people ride.
12 minutes –The sun blazes down. I am hot! I need a drink, not sure I can get my bidon at this pace.
13 minutes – Riding through the home straight I sneak a welcome sip of water.
15 minutes – Coming round a bend there’s shouts of ‘Hold your line’ as two riders roll onto the grass before re-joining the track
17 – 19 minutes – A break forms ahead. The rider from Cambridge shouts ‘Two up the road.’ I’m not sure why, he seems content riding at the back with no visible team mates. The break is swallowed up shortly after.
20 minutes- I’m getting the hang of this; pacey, fun.
21 minutes – Shit, I swerve slightly to avoid some sketchy riding ahead of me and end up getting my first taste of contact. My shoulders brush the rider next to me and we both manage to stay upright. I apologise and we ride on.
30 – 33 minutes – Is that Andy in a break? I see him riding hard with two others but they are soon brought back. I look down at my Garmin. Ten minutes to go. I feel fine. Great almost. The cornering, the speed.. I’m a racer! All those training rides have paid off. Each corner I take I’m more confident in my ability. The familiar pedal.. brake, lean, pedal hard, brake.. pedal hard.. It’s almost simple in it’s repetition.
34 minutes – Fuck fuck fuck fuck … The screech of carbon on tarmac.. a crash in front of me as riders tumble down screaming. I take evasive action, brake hard and roll onto the grass. The bunch rides off round the corner at speed as I come to a stop.
34 – 36 minutes – Shit, I’m riding on my own. Why did I think this was easy? Sprinting. I must get back on. I must finish this race with the others. Lamenting my thoughts from a few minutes previously I’m riding hard just to join the back of the bunch.
36 minutes – I’m back on. That was hard. Thank god for that, I’m exhausted.
36 – 38 minutes – I ride at the back now simply content to finish with the bunch. An Italian from Dynamo complains about the lack of climbs in the race. I smile. The bell rings out. The pace increases as the race reaches its crescendo.
40 minutes – I join in the sprint and cross the line safely in the bunch. First race done, Andy seems to have fared well in the sprint but we’ll have to wait for official confirmation.
I’d done it. I’d finished my first race. I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone and enjoyed (almost) every minute. After that first taste more races are booked and hopefully next time I’ll have more of a role to play at the business end.