On Friday I left work as promptly as I could, picked up Chris from his work and we headed off to Wemyss Bay to catch the ferry to Bute. It was the weekend of the Bute Wheelers‘ Cycling Festival, otherwise known as the Rothesay Weekend. An entire weekend of cycling, with five races in total.
Saturday saw a leisurely start, before we headed off to the bottom of the Serpentine Road for the hill climb. I hate hill climbs (based on coughing my lungs up for 3 days after the Stirling Bike Club Wallace Monument climb last year) so I was very happy to ring a cowbell and yell encouragement at my club mates and friends.
In the afternoon it was time for the 2-up time trial. Chris and I were both doing it, but not together! I had paired up with a clubmate, Beth, and together we powered our way round the 20 mile loop of the island. I was very pleased with our average speed – 20mph on an undulating course – and despite only having had 2 practice sessions, and it being my first ever TT, we worked really well together. Unluckily, Beth had a puncture about halfway round so we lost a bit of time, but I didn’t mind. Suffering a puncture in a race has been a fear of mine so now I can safely say that I’m confident I can change a tube under pressure in a race. CO2 canisters FTW! Or at least FTNL (For The Not Last).
I love the big smiles on our faces in the above photo, taken by Chris! (I have also noted my rubbish aero position compared to Beth – time for a bike fit??).
Beth then went on to smash the cyclocross race on the Saturday evening, coming second overall woman and winning her category easily. Going to have to get some lessons from her!
The first race on Sunday was the individual 10 mile time trial. I’d decided to sit this one out, figuring one race a day was enough! Chris (who had entered everything but the cross) finished it looking strong.
There was a bit of a furore at the time about a competitor doing what was, by all accounts, some pretty blatant drafting of his mates’ car – apparently it was claimed they were filming him. Okaaaaay…
By now I was getting pretty nervous because it was nearly time for the big event: the road race. I hadn’t realised that the 20 mile novice RR was open to women as well as men, so I’d entered the full distance, 40 mile event. I was pretty terrified – I don’t much like being in the middle of a bunch, particularly while cornering, but I was also worried about the opposite extreme of getting dropped by the pack and having to solo the entire race. Given that’s what happened in my first crit race, this was not an unrealistic possibility!
You can just about spot me hiding near the back in the above photo, as the pack rolled out of Rothesay on the first lap. I don’t even remember Chris taking the photo – I was totally fixed on Christine F’s wheel in front!
The group split into two on the first climb, and I managed to get away with the second group. I was pleased with this, as that group contained a couple of friends – Brenda from Stirling and Christine B (formerly of Stirling, now riding for Cult Racing) – who are significantly faster than me. I stayed with the second group for most of the first lap. We lined out and took short spells on the front. On a steep wee climb one lady, Lorna, clipped a wheel and went down. She shouted that she was ok so we continued without slowing down. Eventually, after about 15 miles, I slid off the back on a climb and couldn’t get back on the group.
I rode alone for a while, seeing the group in front but not managing to catch up. Then Lorna, and a lady from Bute Wheelers, Vicky, caught me up. The blessed relief of getting to sit on Vicky’s wheel for a couple of minutes to recover from my solo efforts was amazing! We worked together as best we could but kept splitting up on the climbs. Eventually we lost Vicky, and then, about 10 miles to go, I slid off the back of Lorna’s wheel and saw her disappear into the distance, shouting encouragement to me as she went.
Then it was a matter of getting my head down and soloing the last 10 miles. The final climb took me a full minute longer than it had the day before on the 2-up – I was knackered! But eventually I was flying along the sea front, back into Rothesay and the very welcome sight of the finish line.
Apparently the first two groups had actually been directed the wrong way on the second lap, with even the lead car going the wrong way! This could have been really dangerous – racing along unmarshalled and unsigned roads – but the race finished without incident. I feel really bad for the marshal who sent them the wrong way! Those of us chasing the mean groups had no chance of catching up anyway, so it didn’t make a difference to the results. Those of us who finished on the correct course got a small prize, which was a nice gesture – I assume just in case any of us thought we could have caught up!
The road race was amazing. It was tough, but very rewarding. I love how interesting bunch racing is – all the tactics and cooperation, trying to get on the right wheel, stay out of the wind and be seen to be doing your share! At one point I was struggling to get back on the group and Christine B dropped in to the space in front of me and towed me back on. Now that’s teamwork!
I need to get stronger on hills – it’s amazing how being in a race takes the effort to a whole new level. I always think of myself as a reasonably strong climber, but it was the climbs that were my weakness on Sunday. Having said that, a year ago I would never have stayed with that second group for so long, and I’d probably have been last. My improvment in cycling has been slow but steady and it’s very rewarding to look back on how far I’ve come.
After cheering Chris over the line in the men’s race, it was time to make a dash for the ferry and head home. The kit is all washed (although the bikes still need cleaning) but I’m reliving the memories while they’re still fresh. It was an amazing weekend and we will definitely be back!