The crunch comes about half way through the race at the aptly named Burying Hill Road. It’s a short climb, but a decisive one. At its steepest point the road rears up to a 19% gradient.
Get dropped here and the race is over. Make it over the top in the lead bunch and you’re in with a chance for a high finish.
The first ten miles consist of a series of increasingly steep short pitches that culminate at Burying Hill. After that it’s a very fast ten mile downhill run to the finish.
Past winners of this 20 mile road race have finished in a time of around 48 minutes. To date I have never broken 50.
There is one slightly weird thing about this race. It’s an unsanctioned event and scoring is done via a timing chip. The placings are given on time rather than order of finish. That means that anyone starting at the back of the pack will trigger their chip slightly later than those at the front, thereby giving those riders at the back a distinct advantage, provided that they can make it up to the front before the pack splits.
Aware of this anomaly, I positioned myself at the rear of the bunch at the line.
The start was fast. Clip in, go hard for 400 yards and then hit the first hill. I’m very bad at clipping in under pressure but managed to stay with the main pack and started to move up the field on the initial climb. As we went over the top the first split occurred with a large group of 40 or so riders going clear of the rest.
The next few miles saw a series of attacks off the front but with the lead group keeping a high pace none of them stuck. I made a conscious effort not to get drawn into of these early battles. Stay out of the wind, keep the cadence high going into the climbs and save every ounce of energy for the big one at Burying Hill.
It came soon enough. It’s so steep that there is a danger when standing out of the saddle that a rider can be too far forward on the bike and lose traction on the rear wheel. I stayed seated and hung on.
Over the top and I’m still in the bunch but somewhere on the climb two riders have broken away leaving the rest of us racing for third.
Now it was all about positioning and not making a mistake.
Being an unsanctioned race the ‘yellow line rule’ was flouted liberally with riders constantly crossing the line to move up on the outside.
In an open course this can make things extremely dangerous. There were a few close calls with oncoming traffic but fortunately no disasters.
The final run in consists of three right handers each tighter than the last and then a left hander that gives into a 400 yard sprint.
I calculated that I needed to be in the top three for that final turn and to get there I would need to start moving up before the final sequence of corners arrived. I found my self boxed in on the right so I drifted back and across to regain position on the outside and started to move up.
Going into the penultimate corner, a very sharp right hander, I was 4th or 5th wheel in the pack.
As I hit the apex I first heard the sound of a crash behind me, then I felt something hit my rear wheel, for a moment it felt like I would hold it, then I felt my wheel slip, somehow I stayed upright, bunny hopped onto the far kerb, rode along the sidewalk and then hopped back into the race.
In that split second I lost perhaps ten places.
I took the final corner on the inside and hit the finishing straight with eveything I had left.
I made up a few places in the final sprint and was somewhere around the top ten riders to cross the line.
But there was one card still to play: the race was scored in time not placing.
I had a few seconds on the other riders on account of my slightly later start time.
In the final results I placed 4th with a time of 48:42.
Overall I was more than happy with the result. If I’d had a little more luck maybe I could have crossed the line in 3rd place – but given the crash on the penultimate corner perhaps I was lucky to finish at all.
[Video credit: Tom Morningstar]