My last race was at the John Muir Winter Festival in February and to be honest it was a race too far for me at the end of a long season. I had been feeling pretty run down at the end of the regular cross season and as a result hadn't done anything other than 'just riding around' since Mull. I had a fair idea what to expect but I was still disappointed by my poor performance on the day.
I had decided not to race the Crit on the Campus as I felt it was too early in the season and I wasn't ready to start training properly yet. A few weeks later someone mentioned a new race on the calendar to me, the Reiver Road Race, which was being organised by Berwick Wheelers. The course looked right up my street being reasonably hilly and finishing on a climb. For several weeks I procrastinated about entering despite knowing deep down that I almost certainly would. I knew that once I put an entry in I'd need to get on with the hard work of trying to get in shape for it. I finally entered at 11pm on the night the entries closed.
I had managed to get a reasonable number of miles in at the start of the year and after couple of good hard Sunday runs and a few sessions on some local hills I started to feel a bit better. At the back of my mind there was a bit of a fear that I would have another bad day and get blown out of the back early on. This was amplified because there are no longer any cat 4 only road races and over half the field were cat 3.
The day of the race was sunny and the roads were dry but there was a strong south westerly. The 18 mile course was dominated by a stiff climb in the first couple of miles and lots of sections exposed to crosswinds.
After a briefing where it was stressed that crossing the white line would lead to instant disqualification a full field of 60 riders rolled out from the idyllic village of Etal. As soon as the flag dropped half the field seemed to cross the white line and fight to get to the front. My half decent position in the bunch suddenly disappeared and I found myself towards the rear.
The effect of having so many stronger riders in the field was immediately obvious when we hit the first hill. The pace was furious. Fortunately there were a few gaps in the bunch and I managed to start making my way up on the steepest lower section. A split started to form about 10 riders ahead of me and I had just enough in the tank to bridge across to the front group. Almost immediately 9 riders jumped off the front to form the winning group. At points we were speeding uphill at over 30mph thanks to the strong tailwind.
A few miles later we turned left into a strong crosswind and all hell broke loose. I was towards the back of the second group as it split and over the next few miles 4 or 5 of us tried to ride back across. I got to within 10m of the group before I blew.
A group of around 6-7 formed and at first we worked fairly well together although it became harder after a couple of riders dropped off. Our progress wasn't helped by the fact that every time one of our number came through it felt like an attack. After sprinting down the line he would pull a 3m gap on the front man before rapidly slowing.
By the time we hit the top of the climb on the second lap we were down to 4 riders. By the time we reached the crosswind section two of us were pretty cooked. Luckily for us Peter Ward of VC Edinburgh who was easily the strongest rider in our group was going like a train. Unluckily for him we weren't in any position to help him. On the few occasions I managed to come through I'm sure I just slowed him down. I spent the last half lap clinging onto his wheel hoping not to get dropped. If I had I'm pretty sure I would have lost a lot of time.
As we approached the line our numbers grew as we picked up stragglers from the group ahead. Fortunately for me the finish was on a climb rather than a sprint into a headwind. I managed to put in a half decent finish to come in 25th and 9th 4th cat home.
One thing that was obvious is that is going to be difficult to pick up BC points this year. Only 3 4th cats scored points with top 15 finishes. The character of this race was quite different to the 4th cat only races I did last year. Instead of the pack getting whittled down through attrition this race was dominated by strong riders who split the race at the first opportunity.
Thanks to Berwick Wheelers for putting on a great race on a safe well marshalled course. I thoroughly enjoyed it.