When I first spotted the Woodstock Classic on the British Cycling calendar it really grabbed my attention purely because it sounded like a music festival not a bike race. Several clicks later and I was delighted to discover a stand alone women’s road race for 3rd and 4th cats only. Yep you read that right. I’ll repeat. That’s a women’s road race for 3rd and 4th categories only. Woohoo. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, to my knowledge there is only one other women’s 3/4 only road race in existence and that is the Bedford Classic (a race I highly recommend for any fellow 3/4s). A few more clicks. Goodness me. Like the Bedford Classic it turns out to be over a sensible distance as well. I entered immediately – I didn’t want to be the reason it was cancelled due to a lack of interest because I hadn’t got round to pre-entering.
As race day… 10th May…. drew closer, more and more wonderful things were revealed… a challenging and interesting-looking course, almost 50 others on the start list, Nicole Cooke giving prizes and best of all I finally seemed to be getting some fitness back. Frustratingly the Monday before the Woodstock Classic I was wiped out in a crash at another race, so it was looking like I wouldn’t be able to race. I think that’s a prime example of Sod’s Law as by reducing my training load I finally seem to have cracked the constant cycle of bi-monthly colds (touch wood) that have plagued me since I got all serious. Anyway. I digress. Fortunately by the Thursday I’d rallied a bit and felt well enough to go out on my local chaingang so knew I was OK to race. My gammy leg was still excruciatingly painful at times and uncomfortable on the bike, but nothing I couldn’t cope with. I didn’t want to let this race pass me by and add yet another blooming DNS to my extensive palmares of DNS’s.
Saturday afternoon we packed the motorhome up and headed south leaving wet and gloomy Derbyshire behind. On arrival in sunny Woodstock we drove round the course and it was revealed in its full terrifyin glory. I’d already had a scoot round on Google streetview, but that really didn’t do it justice. I discovered a long section on a straight wide main road, then a tight gravelly left hander onto a beautiful single track country lane. The lane steadily climbed before turning out of view… this was bound to thin the bunch out and was also perfect for an attack as you’d be out of sight almost immediately and the steep descent would allow time to recover. From the descent the course forked left and immediately on to a reasonably steep climb, this didn’t look too testing providing you could maintain your speed out of the descent, good positioning in the bunch would be critical to keep safe, save energy and avoid being held up by the less competent bike handlers. The course then lulled you into a false sense of security over a nice rolling section before being confronted with what looked like a tarmac wall, so steep it would make some of my local
Derbyshire climbs feel quite inadequate and not good enough. Another steep descent, some wiggly bits, another climb then back on the main road. There was no doubt that this was gonna be a tough race and for
me, injury or no injury.
We found a nice level spot for the night in the car park of the school which was to be race HQ the following day and I was tucked up and fast asleep by 9.30. Sign on opened at 7.30… I hate to think what time everyone else had to get up as I was up at 6.30. As I went into the pre-race briefing the attention to detail of Jan Phillips – race organiser became apparent as I was able to drop some spare wheels off with neutral service. In the main hall a screen was rigged up
showing a film of Nicole Cooke racing – I went a bit weak at the knees when I spotted her stood in the corner. Jan told us she had given out race number 50 that morning, we all cheered! Nicole then gave us a motivational speech and we discovered we’d be racing under her watchful eye as she’d be sat in one of the cars. Eeek!
I made sure I was at the front ready to roll out over the neutralised section – I’d learnt the hard way in one of my first road races that it’s almost impossible to move up the bunch when it’s neutralised and then it’d been race over shortly after the flag dropped as I’d got caught behind a couple of crashes. I knew I needed to keep myself toward the front ready for the tight turn off the main road onto the country lane. Trouble was I kept a bit too close to the front. Sure, I’m not daft (or strong enough) to sit right at the front and tow the bunch along but what I did was almost as energy sapping and daft in that I kept myself second wheel. Oooopsy! I should have hung a little further back and then moved forward just before the turn. Next time. I got over the testing, tough, tricky part of the course without incident, slipping down the bunch on each of the climbs, but moving back up. I had to work vomit inducingly hard at times to keep in the bunch, but I knew if I didn’t do this I’d be dropped and on the positive side I’d have the main road section to recover.
I found myself at the back coming on to the main road. I knew I had a bit of time to move up and I’d need to be toward the front ready for that pesky turn on to the country lane. I kept an eye out for anyone else with the same idea and managed to hitch a lift to the middle of the bunch and then a second up to almost the front. Bingo!
Unfortunately I felt my elastic start to go as we hit the first climb and by the time we reached the last I was out the back with nothing left to rescue the situation. Drat! The prospect of three more laps alone at time trial effort didn’t exactly fill me with glee so I was relieved to see a couple of other dropped riders behind. I worked with them until my legs packed up and was then able to slot in with a group of 7 and we did through and off until the finish. Goodness only knows how I managed the final lap without falling off, let alone staying in with my little group as every time I tried to put any effort in my legs started cramping up. Annoyingly that meant I wasn’t able to contest the sprint for minor placings, I did try, but quickly sat back down. I limped over the line grimacing in pain. Botheration!
We all rode back to race HQ en-masse for the prize presentation… another touch of Jan Phillips genius as not only had she got Nicole Cooke to present the prizes but she’d also laid on free tea, coffee and home made cake for everyone. It made the whole thing feel really relaxed and friendly. It transpired this was the first ever race put on by Bicester Millenium CC… what a cracking club! I understand putting on any kind of road race is a huge, risky, time consuming and expensive undertaking, but making your first ever race a stand alone women’s only race for 3rd and 4th cats?! Now that takes some serious vision, foresight and guts. That is a bold statement.
Despite not getting the bunch finish I so desired I had a fantastic day and I can’t wait for the 2016 edition of the Woodstock Classic. It was incredibly well organised, very well marshalled and felt really safe. I can’t help thinking with the growing numbers of women taking up road racing (massively helped along by wonderful opportunities like these) next year’s race will be even bigger and better.
All that is left is for me to send out a huge thanks to Jan Phillips, Bicester Millenium CC and Nicole Cooke…. you guys ROCK (far more than the original Woodstock festival did in 1967)!
Text © Elisa McDonagh