With the encouragement of Young Slayer, Iron Mike and The Wattmeister whose combined ages add up to 112, lined up for their first bike race yesterday. It was a category 4 event on the closed tarmac circuit at Hillingdon in Minet Park. The race was approximately 25 laps of the mile long course. The centre of the circuit is an oasis of meadows,gorse and wildflowers in an otherwise prosaic part of Outer London.
The Wattmeister is a goal-orientated individual. His humble, some might say unambitious, aims were: 1) Not to fall off. 2) Not to cause anyone else to fall off. 3) To finish with the main group.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse was quite relaxed, but mention should be made of the rider who chatted with the MHP boys before signing on. He was obviously nervous and caused a bit of a smile to cross The Wattmeister’s visage when he claimed that he was ” too strong for his warm-up rollers”….a line stolen straight out of TW’s book of gags.
Approximately 40 riders lined up at the start. A bitterly cold northerly wind buffeted the throng. Lots of young, thin, wiry types gripped their handlebars either to stop being blown away, or perhaps just out of nerves. There did not seem to be many riders who could be accused of having seen ‘Z’ Cars or ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ on the the TV back in he 1960s.
Slayer has experience of this kind of event, having developed a penchant for finishing in twelfth position in many previous races in 2014. He placed himself in the middle of the field.
Iron Mike projects a nerveless aura, which is simultaneously intimidating and inspiring. He took a place in the front third of the peloton. The Wattmeister, as we know, talks a good race in hindsight, so he plonked himself right at the back, ostensibly to see how the race developed.
Briefly, what happened next was a shock to the system. It seemed unfair and unsportsmanlike. They just sped off…without warning. The first lap was spent in a state of near panic, just trying not to get dropped from the pack. The track has a couple of very sharp bends which most riders seemed to have the knack of negotiating while pedalling. The Wattmeister still had not acquired this knack after 25 laps!
After 4 laps, the sense of panic abated. In truth, this was no harder than MHP’s forays to Regents Park or the Lea Valley Velopark, BUT the potential for catastrophe was increased due to the greater number of riders. With each passing lap, the experience and reality of participation became ever more a matter of mental drill rather than just one of purely physical performance.
The circuit was broken down into minute detail corresponding to those places where intense effort was required, and other places where perhaps a bit of recovery could be taken. All the while, another layer of consciousness was gauging position in the field, (mostly last), proximity to other riders, and how seemingly impossible it would be to go from last place to the head of the peloton due to the sheer number of riders.
These thought processes occupied the next 14 or 15 laps. At some point, one of the officials held up a board indicating that there were just 5 laps to go, the equivalent of 1 and a half laps of Regents Park. For this sign, The Wattmeister was grateful, for unless the squadron increased their speed dramatically, he would make it to the end. Meanwhile, the Slayer and Iron Mike were angling for a better kind of finish.
Over the last two laps, one or two of the youngsters dropped off the back, which extracted a primitive sensation of schadenfreude in The Wattmeister’s stream of thought. Turning into the home straight, and once again encountering the ferocious headwind, there seemed no point in sprinting for 32nd place, but up ahead, Iron Mike and Slayer were giving it their all for a mid division finishing position…and here is the crux, Iron Mike and Slayer were committed to the race, while The Wattmeister was merely involved.