I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand…

I was just outside Cowfold, as my homeward journey snaked its way along the A272, when I could resist no longer.

A single tear of pure frustration idled its way slowly down my cheek.

It wasn’t alright on the night.

The final Dunsfold 4ths race of the 2012 season scarcely needs extensive reporting from Yours Truly.  Thirty-four men rode their bikes around a windswept airfield for a reasonably lively but ultimately fairly nondescript hour and a quarter, after which thirteen proved to have more sprinting speed than I could conjure from my lay-off rusty limbs.

All the Ditchling Beacon PB-busting in the world means absolutely jack shit when I’m three miles an hour slower in a sprint (with a similar tailwind) than two weeks before, having already struggled with the scarcely explosive pace changes of a typical 4th Cat race… pace changes I’d suck up easily as a rule.

There’s a certain feeling I get when I try to accelerate and the old legs are not working; a kind of nagging muscular pain that’s not like the normal pain of cycle racing effort, coupled with a failure to deliver even the relatively piffling power I can usually call upon.  I remember it well during the South Nutfield handicap straight after Majorca and Friday’s race, while not quite as acute, was similar.

The winner… and this was about as close as I got to him all night… (pic: Glyn Durrant)

In a way, the race proved to have the worst possible outcome, and I mean this with no disrespect whatsoever to the worthy winner, Colin Stevens from the VC Meudon club.  For you see, his victory provides sufficient grounds for hope to keep me devoted to this stupid quest for success, long after most sane individuals would have abandoned it as a waste of time and effort.

Why?  For starters, while our paths hadn’t crossed this year until Friday evening, in the eight times we raced together in 2011 I actually enjoyed a five-to-three winning record over Mr Stevens.  Also, it’s not as if he’s some up-and-coming junior open to vast year-on-year improvement – according to British Cycling’s race report he’s five years older than me!

I didn’t spot that it was him on Friday night; had I done so I would of course have gone up to him and asked what has made the difference to turn a (relative) plodder into a race winner.  As he has amply proven, it can be done.  Now it’s up to me to find the magic missing ingredient, maybe also get some luck with my sprint positioning (it won’t be achieved through skill or bravery, that’s for sure) and have my best legs on an occasion when the rest of the field is below strength, something I feel I’ve yet to truly enjoy.

Hope springs eternal.  Hope that will no doubt have received a further pasting by the conclusion of my upcoming ‘three-races-in-three-days’ bonanza.  This hectic schedule starts with a Surrey League handicap event on Thursday, which I intend to use as pressure-free leg stretcher to try to get some race form back.  Then it’s over to Hove Park for the last of the Mitre crit series for 2012, followed by a Saturday trip to Cyclopark for a 4ths only Surrey League encounter that will be only my second weekend race of the season.

Cyclopark was a mud-strewn, unfinished building site without even running water when I was last there in November.  The tight course with its sharp hill suited me about as well as a bow tie on a chimpanzee and after a miserable DNF I swore I’d never go back.  But needs must.  The Olympic-related curtailment of Dunsfold and my perennial 4th Cat status mean there will be precious few opportunities to race locally during the rest of August and September, so I have to grab what action I can.

In any case, 2011 performance is not necessarily a good guide to this year’s likely outcome.  Just ask Colin Stevens…

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