Picking up my new club jersey the kit man offered just three letters of advice on the eve of my first race: PLF. Reassured by these sage words I zipped up, clipped in and headed off to the seventh race of this year's Crystal Palace Crits. The rain held off and by the time the race started we had glorious sunshine. The course is beautiful in the sunshine, a tree-lined 1.3km circuit winding through the park around the enormous bronze-coloured concert platform and lake. All very picturesque.
At registration I met a fellow Kingston Wheeler entered in the 1st/2nd category race. After a warning that I should be ready for a fast start to the race, we had one lap to warm up before collecting on the start line.
And we were off. Like the clappers.
The first couple of laps were among my fastest as I tried to keep hold of the group. It became rapidly apparent that my cornering is not what it might be, as I lost ten or fifteen places at each of the first few turns. The start of the race was about survival; I was spending a lot with all the extra acceleration out of the corners needed to keep up and five minutes in I registered my highest ever recorded heart rate of a completely unsustainable 192bpm.
Before long the bulk of the group was off and the rest splintered into small groups. After the initial rush I spent most of the first ten laps in small groups of three or so, but none of them were particularly effective and, finally managing to preserve some speed through the first corner, I pulled away easily. A lap or two solo proved not to be wise though, and I was tired when a faster group of five caught me. I clung on to them for maybe five laps before my legs finally gave up on the hill and I got dropped. For the last few laps I found myself again in a loose group of three. Before lap 23 we were told to come in next lap, and I was pleased to find I had a last push in the tank to pass them comfortably before the finish. Even if I was in the bottom end of the results it looked like there were plenty of people who'd stopped or been pulled out by that point.
Every now and then I'd get passed by a train of the E12 riders, who seemed to be going a good ten km/h faster. Guesses based on some Strava stalking show that I need to increase my power output by 50% or more to compete with that, but that's ok, one step at a time. More realistic lessons learned include that I need more practice cornering at speed. The first few turns, in a big pack, were terrifying – I couldn't hold a good enough line and match the speed of other riders, so had to waste energy by braking far more than I should have. By the end I was leaning much better into the turns and finding the apex much better, overall much more consistent.
My main goals today were not to come last and not to break anyone. I would have liked to finish the race but hadn't realised quite how many would be pulled off before the end, so that's not so bad. The next target will be to finish; that'll take a good bit of work, but at least now I have some idea of how far I have to go and what exactly is entailed in "pedalling like fuck".
Conclusion: racing is fun, but cripes it's hard work. I'll be back for more.