On Sunday 21st August, the London Chapter of the Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) held its second road race in the rolling terrain of Saffron Walden, Essex. Covering seven laps of a 15.6km circuit, this regional A event brought amateur racers together for a tough day of competition, including Rapha Pro Team marketing manager Ian Fleck. We followed the action from the chief commissaire’s car, and spoke to Ian about his first foray into the world of regional road racing.
“Everything’s different but everything’s the same”
Every local cycling race has an odd sense of familiarity, even for those who are racing for the first time. Be it a familiar face, sight, or a nostalgic nod towards something from the past – like most junior and amateur level sports, there is a dependence on family, friends and volunteers to make things happen. Attending the commissaire’s briefing, it quickly became apparent that organising a road race such as this was a mammoth task, involving an incredible amount of people, co-operation and meticulous planning.
The RCC encourages its members to race, and hosting its own road race gives the club the perfect platform to do so, while helping to grow the local cycling community. From the Rapha H-Van serving free coffee to riders and spectators, to members from the RCC Amsterdam chapter riding to Essex to cheer and offer some last-minute assistance, the day had friends and family at its core.
Taking the Plunge
“If you crush it first time you should have got into it sooner” – Ian Fleck
Entering this year’s race was Rapha Pro Team marketing manager, Ian Fleck. Ian took the plunge into racing at a local summer series in Essex, gaining solid results before earning his category 3 licence. The principles of racing on the road may be the same as circuit racing, but the approach is entirely different. Nerves can make even the most insignificant processes feel overwhelming. “This is obviously a step up from racing local crits. There’s all the things you generally don’t think about with local, shorter races; will my bike fit in the hire car, are my cleats tightened, have I got enough food.” The more you race, the more familiar you become with the local racers, and their reputations often precede them: “You see names on the start list and piece them together with things you’ve heard”.
As the riders get set to roll out, we asked Ian if he had a specific race plan. “I’ll see how it pans out after the first few laps, figure out where the wind is hitting the different spots of the course and see where I can make a move.” Watching from the commissaire’s car it was clear that Ian was sticking to his plan – surveying the race and moving up through the bunch as the laps went by.
Unfortunately, lap six would see Ian pull out as the riders crested the climb toward the finish line to take the bell lap. “I just knew it was going to get faster”, explained Ian. Results matter to most, of that there is no question, but more importantly for Ian, it’s about taking the leap. “Before I started racing I kept putting it off thinking I’m not fit enough. The truth is, you never are; the first one will always be tough”.
A Race of Attrition
"There's a group of deer coming from your left boys - just be careful.”
The view from the commissaire’s car painted a chaotic picture as the race unfolded. A rogue herd of deer ran parallel to the riders, almost mimicking the flow of the race as they went by.
Regional A level races always attract a strong field of riders. But with the weather being predictably unpredictable, the wind dictated that the group stay together. The relentless pace gradually took its toll though, with more and more riders dropping out. RCC member Neil Phillips, fresh from competing at this year’s Transcontinental race, also dropped out on lap six – as we drove past he said simply that his head and his heart were there, but his legs were finished. At the front of the race the decisive move came towards the end of lap four when six riders went up the road. As soon as the gap reached upwards of 40 seconds, it was clear that the winner was in that group, and Luke Hattersley of Richardsons-Trek would solo to victory.
An End Has a Start
“As soon as we rolled out into the neutralised zone I knew that it was going to be fast” – Ian Fleck
When the riders arrived back at Race HQ, the recurring theme was the pace of the race. The strength of the field had meant it was simply unsustainable for some, and their expressions on returning said more than words ever could.
Thankfully for them, home-cooked food prepared by the RCC team offered some consolation. As the dust settled on the race circuit, the prize-giving ceremony completed a fine day of regional racing. Days such as this unquestionably raise the bar going forward and the overwhelming feedback from the racers signals the RCC is doing things right.
More than 50 riders took to the start line, representing 25 teams from across the region. For those racing it was probably just another day at their weekend office. For those spectating, however, the RCC Road Race was as exciting and perfectly executed as many events on the professional calendar. The added bonus was being surrounded by family, friends and familiar faces, a thought which Ian echoed: “It was great having friendly faces around. It took some of the pain away.” It may have been a tough day in the saddle, but with that first road race ticked off, it’s onto the next one. As soon as you’ve taken that initial leap, more often than not, everything else will take care of itself – legs included.