27 Oct 2011

Chasing a cat...

My main season objectives being to improve my ten and twenty five mile time trial times, to start road racing for the first time and to try and get points and get my 3rd cat licence, also to try and improve my hill climb PB’s and go to the national hill climb again.

I started my season in early March with two hilly time trials and a crit race. I managed to PB on both hilly time trial course by five minutes on each and scored my first season road race points by gaining a 8th place in the crit.

My training was still geared towards time trials aiming to be going strong in may for the interservices, and towards the end of April I PB’d over ten miles doing a 24:30 a PB by 20 odd seconds. I arrived at the Inter Services time trial in good condition which is more than can be said for the weather which I feel was the worse winds I have ever raced against, I did a 25:09 for the ten which was a disappointment but then PB’d on the twenty five by just over three minutes so it was worth starting despite the conditions.

It was from then that I decided I would concentrate on my road racing as I was still chasing points after a few more races with 9th and 10th place finishes. I tried to train to be able to sprint just a little faster to be able to finish just a few places higher to get them all important points.

I entered a race in the South West a 4th cat only and felt that the course was to my suiting as it finished on a small incline, I had the confidence and the form and the belief of a win, after numerous attacks on the hills to wear the opposition down and break the group up it ended with a group of about nine of us so I was guaranteed points, however, my positioning was poor in the finale with people riding like mad men. I took a back seat as an accident was the last thing I wanted, subsequently I started my sprint from eight back and finished second and was gaining the whole time on first but ran out of road this was a valuable lesson and a season defining moment.

I had my 3rd cat licence and it was only may, I had achieved all my objectives apart from the hill climbs by May, this is where I decided to adapt my objectives and aim towards my 2nd cat licence , I knew it would be a hard task but I needed something to aim at rather than giving up in May. By getting beat in the sprint I realised that yes I was fit, yes I can ride a bike but I was just not aggressive enough, over the next few races I concentrated on how the better riders moved through the pack and asserted their authority on the race.

My next points came at a 3rd and 4th cat race in Brentor a very fast but lumpy course finishing on a hill, I knew who the people were to watch a I rode a good race a small group got away the 2nd to last time up the hill, but still a key rider remained and on the next hill he attacked everyone who was strong jumped but I was the only one that managed to go with him but as the hammer went down the other side I just didn’t quite have the legs to go with him again and was left in no mans land, turns out the guy was luke gray apparently very handy at cyclocross and a sponsored rider, so no disappointment there. I filtered back into the pack and with an uphill finish I positioned correctly into the final corner and with 200 metres to go went as fast as my legs would carry me and I managed to win the bunch sprint and got 6th, yet more points.

I was growing in strength and experience and awareness with every race that passed. Which lead me to the race where I was beaten in the sprint in a 4th cat race, I returned for a 3rd and 4th cat race with the ambition of winning, I rode a tactically good race and was fresh on the last lap, had a good wheel for the sprint and I jumped early to surprise everyone knowing I had the fitness to climb strong in the sprint, and with twenty metres to go I was still leading I look back and I had gone, no one was coming back at me now, apparently I kicked once and got a gap and as they got back onto me I kicked again and went away all I remember is pain, pain, pain and then the joy of crossing the line first. My first win and yet I still wanted more I knew I had enough to get my 2nd cat licence if I kept trying. Again I returned to the same circuit two weeks later tried the same plan and it so nearly came off I finished 2nd just piped in the sprint but still yet more points towards my 2nd cat. In the meantime I had had poor performances at both Interservices and RAF road races with my tactics and the wind playing havoc with me, it was a very steep learning curve.

I now needed just six points for my 2nd cat and only three more road races planned, I wanted to get it out the way so I could concentrate on my hill climbs. I turned up to a crit in cornwall hoping for the best , 3rd and 4th cat crit but we got stuck in with the elites and 1st and 2nd cat because of falling light, this was going to be tough but I knew I was strong and a result was possible if I could just stick with the elites for a bit I assumed the majority of 4th and 3rds would get dropped meaning good points on offer as although we started with the elites 1sts and 2nds our points were separate, now it has to be said with two elite riders and numerous 1st cats this race was possibly the toughest I have ever done, and hang on was all I could do but that’s what I managed to do an elite rider broke away and won but I finished in the chase group with 1 elite, two 1st cat riders and a few 2nd cats and only two of us 3rd cats managed to survive the onslaught I was confident in the sprint and so I should be I had won a few recently, with the prospect of a win and my 2nd cat I laid everything down beat the 3rd cat and a 1st cat rider and won my race, but also if I had been in the elites race etc I would of got 5th, that to me against that opposition meant more than my win, it said to me that I had deserved my 2nd cat and all the hard work put in was worth it. So from 4th cat to 2nd in a season finishing with fifty four points , now all I had to do was put the icing on the cake with the hill climbs.

I've never hurt like I did in training for the hill climbs I just prayed it would be worth it, with my local club hill climb being my first of the season and my form was building I knocked nearly twenty seconds off my PB and was ten seconds away from the course record in horrible conditions, I moved onto the Shropshire championships with the win being my objective, I gave it everything and won by a huge forty seconds and only sixteen seconds outside the course record, I am Shropshire hill champion and a nice trophy is on its way.

I had to enter an open to qualify for the nationals, with work being busy I needed to have a good ride as I didn’t have time for a 2nd open event. I chose the Warwickshire two stage hill climb knowing some good opposition always attended. I was disappointed Matt Clinton, Tejvan Pettinger and James Dobbin were in attendance, the first climb I didn’t get a chance to ride before the race I went in blind and I don’t think it went bad but it wasn’t perfect I was disappointed until I got back to HQ and saw I was 7th overall out of fifty odd riders , I was shocked I didn’t think I had gone that well , I was buoyant for the 2nd hill climb, Dovers hill I had done this at nationals last year and suffered and wasn’t overly looking forward to the prospect again but 7th overall I knew I had to try. I've never pushed so hard in my life the pictures show it , Pain like never before but when I looked at my result I was 50 seconds quicker than I was at the nationals and was 9 seconds outside James Dobbin time (ex National Hill Climb Champion) , I had secured my 7th place by a big margin , that is possibly my greatest achievement so far , yes its no win and yes its only 7th but against my opposition and looking at my times in a single year I had progressed so far it really was an achievement to show just how far I had progressed even got my name in cycling weekly for the first time. And then the following weekend I did a local 10 and PB’d with a 24:26 on a poor day.

Now just one race left the national hill climb, now since my hill climb heroics I've been on exercise for three weeks with no bike and no training and unfortunately it shows I've tried my best to arrive at the national ok so I'm not laughed at but I don’t expect too much from it to be honest I'll go there for the enjoyment and experience and maybe next year I'll shine more there. I got 109th last year if I break top 100 then I've done a good job. If any of you are passing by feel free to stop at the Nationals and give me a shout of support or abuse, either way anything to mask the pain .
So all objectives for the year achieved and smashed. After the nationals a well earned rest, but not for too long. I'm also looking to start cyclocross in the winter, just to maintain a little more fitness for spring, so I don’t go stir crazy.
A few thanks I would like to say, one to all at RAF Cycling who have welcomed me at races, sorted out administration for me to race and accommodation etc.

The biggest one to Mark Griffin, frankly without him, I wouldn’t have achieved what I did. He coached and mentored me through the winter and early season; setting me up for all I have acheived. Massive thanks to him for his depth of knowledge, he was always there at the end of the phone for advice and morale and it certainly made the difference, I owe you one or maybe a few.

One final thing, as I'm the only RAF representative at the Nationals, does that mean by default I'm RAF Hill Climb Champion, again?

Dan Watts