My first bike race since my tragic fling with bike racing in 2015. I forgot Toby’s advice of ‘one coffee is never enough’ and had exactly zero coffees. But rocked up at ‘The Bowl’ feeling fairly energetic and high off adrenaline and nerves. All the other girls were on their turbos next their cars warming up… I assumed they must be pros at this and looked forward to being dropped on the neutralised lap (again, it was 2015 all over). As I didn’t bring my turbo (more of Toby’s advice that I ignored) I did a few lunges and felt good to go.

At the start line we were told that there had been a few crashes in the previous race and that they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Unfortunately there had been two broken collar bones, on the same person! Once the circuit had been cleared we were allowed to do a few warm up laps before race briefing. Due to the late running, our race was reduced to 50 mins (including the neutralised lap and the last 5 laps), this was fine by me. Of the ~35 starting about 8 were first timers. The race started and we followed the Skoda Superb Estate for two and half laps, to my delight I did not get dropped. The circuit is peanut shaped with a short up hill and downhill. The fast girls attacked a lot on the uphill and I had to work quite hard to stay on. I tried to stay in the first 16 but struggled as I didn’t like being in the middle of the group. I found that I didn’t need to peddle for a good third of the lap as the momentum of the group pulled me round.

By now we had dropped a good portion of those who I had previously considered ‘pros’. I felt good and knew I could stay in the bunch for the finish. Unfortunately there was a crash about half way through and two girls went down. I took a moment to reflect on my life choices and the benefits of time trialling. Then the adrenaline kicked in and I thought why not attack? So I did. And got caught by the group quite quickly. Frustratingly Rory failed to capture that beautiful moment on camera.

With 5 laps to go the board went up, the pace didn’t change so I stopped worrying. There were a lot of strong girls and two teams in the mix, so I didn’t stand much chance in a sprint finish, but I was going to try! With two laps to go there was another crash. I considered my life choices again and decided against moving up to the front and stayed in the ‘safe zone’. At the final sprint I gave it my all and brought up the rear of bunch with a respectable 16th.

I had fun and I would definitely do it again. The pace was comfortable, although my heart rate data says otherwise. It was exhilarating travelling at 35kph round corners and I cannot wait to do it again. I will work on my sprint but I feel that will come in time. In the evening I received an email saying that I was the first 4th Cat to finish and I got a £10 prize transferred into my bank account (that makes me pro right?). The field was really strong but I like that, it is very inspiring to race with such a strong group of girls.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Crit racing isn’t as scary as I thought, or as bad as people say (it’s what you make of it)
  • Its ok to get dropped, the girls who got dropped in this race formed their own group and raced that. In my crit race 2 years ago I got dropped in the neutralised lap and rode with a group of girls who were a similar ability, it was a valuable experience.
  • It’s not about the bike, really! Some people there were on many thousands of pounds bikes. They still got dropped.
  • Don’t be intimidated by people shouting, it is important you know where everyone is etc.
  • I know it’s a race but I felt safer towards the back, for me I want to get more experience before I get my competitive head on.
  • Bring turbo next time so that I look pro too.

- Rebecca Layland