The night before the first race in Navan, all my pre-race routines were being blatantly ignored by my better half. Bottles being filled in the kitchen, numbers being pinned on in front of the TV and even parking the bike in front of the fire as I swapped tyres was blanked out as if it wasn’t there. By the end of the evening, after dropping endless hints, I had to ask outright “How do you feel about me going back racing tomorrow?” The reply was blunt “I’ll be happy when you want to take up running instead”.
In all my eagerness to get back fit and ready to race I never considered if I still had the head for it. When asked if I was going back, I always said, “Yes, of course” without hesitation, without giving it too much thought. Perhaps that’s a coping mechanism. As much as my wife had been ignoring my hints, it turns out I’ve been ignoring all the obvious possibilities.
That evening I saw there was a crash in the season opener at Summerhill and those possibilities begin to creep in. Will I be comfortable in the bunch? What if someone else crashes and I get caught up in it? Do I want to put my neck on the line in a sprint? I haven’t thought about hitting the ground hard again. I tell myself to put those thoughts away, stop dwelling on the worst-case scenario and start thinking about how satisfying it will be getting upgraded.
Plus, I’d paid my sign on fee for Sunday and I’m a sucker for getting my money’s worth.
The morning of the Cycleways I was caught up in checklists, gear packing and bike strapping. There was no time to think anything but racing. I briefly check the weather on my phone; 100% chance of rain – “is that 100% of light drizzle or torrential downpours??” The radio was talking of a weather warning, “Probably somewhere out West” I thought. I had waited 8 long months for this race, it was definitely going ahead.
You could say it looked bad when you go for a warm up and come back colder than when you started. Also, being A4 you have the extra luxury of starting after all the other groups. This resulted in 50 wet and frozen cyclists refusing to leave a GAA hall until absolutely necessary. All of us deluding ourselves that it’ll be grand once we get going.
Eventually the race started, and the misery didn’t take too long to set in. The first 10km was through what seemed an endless river of farming muck washed down from the fields. A gritty shitty shower of road-spray from the wheels in-front straight into your face. Trying to breathe through your nose for fear of what might end up in your mouth.
With this initial soaking, it got cold, very cold and very quickly. At one point I was looking down at my shifters to see if my fingers were in the right place because I couldn’t feel them anymore. Wet carbon wheels and numb hands meant braking wasn’t working out too well either. Not ideal for someone already stressed about the chances of crashing.
At the turn for home the cold rain turned to colder sleet. The bunch sprinted out of the corner and I made a half-arsed attempt to remain in contact. All motivation was gone. I rolled off the road at the end of the first lap and bailed into the nearest car where I sat shaking like a shitting dog for a good 20 minutes before any warmth got back in my body. (Many thanks to Skane Wheelers finest!)
Voice shaking and well ahead of schedule, I had to ring my wife knowing she’d expect the worst when she saw the call. “I’m OK. I pulled out of the race. I’m wet, frozen and need clothes”. Not quite the way my glorious comeback had been planned out in my head.
I’d just got dried off and changed by the time the A4 race was due to come back around again. 14 grim looking survivors rolled in for one of the slowest A4 sprints in history. I stood at the finish line slightly warmer and content to have been dropped in my first race back.