Our pocket size British hero Neil Smithies took on the might of many at Sandown last night. It was his first venture into racing and what follows is his tale of improvement and a good result for a first effort.
Words: Neil Smithies
Pictures: Neil's partner
After a year procratinating in regard starting to race I got the impetus up after doing the Maling Room Ride on a regular basis. Many of the participants use it as a training ride for racing and tell me its good fun and i would go ok.
Races are graded from B to F so the guys suggested I would be ok around E grad; and being over 35 qualifies me to ride in masters class racing. So it's safe to say that I'm not going to get smashed by guys at the peak of their power, but maybe by 70 year olds.
Grade = sorted! I then decided to race where most of the others do at Southern Masters (southernmasters.com) who are one of the larger clubs with over 250 participants racing some days. The summer racing series of criteriums are on a Thursday evening at Sandown Raceway, Noble Park, and Sunday mornings at Crib Point, Cranbourne. During winter it's the road racing season which they host out around the south east of Melbourne.
The club is well organised; you can sign up online for your race entry and get your number in advance of the day and then just pay and pick up your number at the track side. It worked like a dream and I came up with E403 as my race number.
When I arrived the wind had picked up and I was thinking it was going to be a hard days racing given its a three km track with a long straight into the wind.
As I arrived early i had plenty of time to warm up and get familiar withe the track. The track is for motor racing so has a good surface but some of the areas are cracked or have joins in the tarmac that I wasn't so keen on. Towards the end of the lap are two sharp turns, the first 90 degrees which raised some concerns as I am not good through tight corners, especially with a big bunch rolling through around me.
I met up with some of the guys I know and find one of them is also in the same grade and in his first race so at least I will have some company.
We are third onto the track, around 30 riders in the elite group of E grade masters. The first lap is fairly casual and I wonder if I have chosen the wrong grade, so on the second lap I got brave and hopped onto the front and increased the pace, no one responded much and I work hard in the headwind.
As soon as the third lap comes the pace picks up and I have guys on both sides of me flying past. "Right so the race is on full pace" I think to myself.
From here I found the pace hard, but ok to stick with, 30 or so into the headwind up to low 40 on the faster back straight. As expected the corners were hard for me, I didn't have the confidence to go in full speed on account of coming off on a corner a few months ago, as a result I was swept out to the outer areas and everyone flew by on my inside. By the end I had improved but still not as good as I needed to be to be in with a shout of being near the front at the end.
After 30 minutes or so I was feeling my legs burning and was dropping back to mid pack and had to dig deep to stay near the front, lucky one guy was really tall and allowed me to get a good draught and a bit of a rest.
On the second to last lap another grade came up on us and we are meant to stay left and allow them past, however half of the guys did not yield position and we were split in front and behind the other grade, perhaps 150 metres apart. When the back straight came up the other grade were steady so I smashed my legs to get past them up to high 40`s and get back on the front half of my grade. Along the home straight we got the bell and perhaps 15 of us were together which soon strung out with four people clearly ahead.
My legs were toast and I could hang on but no way challenge the guys up front especially with the tight corners coming up. I didn't bother sprinting being so far back and rolled across the line just in the top 10. I guess for first time out it was ok and I know not to smash it too early next time. My heart rate sat on an average of 180bpm for just on an hour which is the highest it has been for a sustained time, so certainly put a good effort in.
Not sure if I enjoyed it or not yet, but I will give it a go at Crib Point over the next two weeks and see if the other track is better for me as it has no sharp corners but more curving sweeps.
Some more pictures of Neil and the race. The first one should be captioned "Who is that pocket dynamo and what is the kit he's wearing?"