I attended the women's road race in Sudbury on Sunday 23 August, my first road race ever writes Emma Flattery. I had managed to get to Cat 3 by doing four crit races in Hillingdon of the winter series, but 45 minute cat 3/4 races are quite different to a 50 mile road race for which 50 women had signed up. I was a bundle of nerves driving from London to Sudbury after an early wake up call, not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately this meant that I couldn't manage to eat the breakfast I normally would before a ride - lesson number one, just make yourself eat!
The race was all categories, so there was one elite woman, with the majority of the riders 1st and 2nd cat. There were a few third cat like myself and even less of the brave 4th cats! Although not everyone that had signed up actually turned up to race, there was still a strong field of around 35 women. After an attempt at a short warm up (having left less time than I had anticipated), we assembled for the debrief in which we were told we would wait for the men's race to pass the start before we would be started.
The start was an interesting experience. We rode the neutralised section to the start and pulled off to the grass verge. We waited and waited, eventually finding out that the men's race had been neutralised for ten minutes due to a tractor on the road. When they eventually went past, we then had to wait for our race cars to pass, but the experienced girls were already trying to lobby for a good position. When the race actually started, I think it caught the less aggressive people at the back (including me...) by surprise, and what followed was a furious fight for survival as the leaders set a cracking pace to try and drop as many as possible. I made my way to the front pack, and managed to stay there for half of the race. At one point, we had an unfortunate delay with an oncoming camper van. The whole peloton had to halt and wait, which elicited calls for the following group to be neutralised. This didn't happen though, and girls from the following group caught up, to their delight and everyone else's annoyance.
In the second lap, I lost the group and the following car went round me. I decided that was a bad thing so I dug in and caught back up to the peloton- the feeling when I passed that car and caught the group was awesome. However, my inexperience and lack of food caught up with me at the 25 mile halfway mark. I lost the group again and this time there was no getting back on as I had lost the legs and the will. I had an energy gel (too late), and chewed on some energy bar, feeling nauseous and realising that I was in no-man's land. I had no idea how far behind any other groups were. I did a whole lap on my own, trying to get the will to at least give it a good effort but not doing a good job as I watched my average speed drop steadily from 38kph. A short time after I passed the line for the last lap, the car leading the chasing group told me over the loud speaker that a group of five were coming up and would sweep me up soon, which was a bit of a relief in some ways. Once they caught me, we formed a working group and I got a second wind. Over the last 10km, I took the front and although I realised they were letting me do the work so they could finish strongly, I knew I didn't have a place so I didn't really care, and in the final stretch I let them sprint past me and rolled over the finish line, relieved it was over really.
Although it was a tough experience, a lot of lessons were learnt. Looking at the results, the majority of the women that beat me were Elite, first, and second cat racers, so I don't think I did too badly. Our group was eight minutes and five seconds behind the lead group. Definitely something I'll try again, and I'll be a bit smarter about fuelling next time!