A4 is easy. At least that’s what I thought back in 2016 when I decided to pin on my numbers for the first time.
I was inspired by a life-long friend who had taken up racing and breezed through the category with ease. That previous year was spent looking on at his results with envy; a top ten here, top unplaced there, a podium, a win. I figured I’ll take it up, follow a similar trajectory and be racing side-by-side with this guy in a matter of weeks. 4 seasons later he’s A1, a veteran of 2 “Rásanna” and here I am still racing at the bottom of the ladder.
I didn’t take long to realise bike racing is not easy. A4 is not easy. It may be classified as a beginner’s category but make no mistake it is intensely competitive. Upgrades are earned not awarded.
There are exceptions to the rule. Every year there are stories of guys who coast up the categories. You know the type, never raced in their life but win their first race by a mile. They breeze through, have a brief stop in A3 and by the end of March are lining up against the countries best.
The rest of us prefer to earn our progress through months and years of hardship, experience and minor victories. In A4 I have ridden 45 races over 4 years. 45 times I have taken to the start line deluding myself that I’d be taking to the podium at the end of the day.
I always envisage the perfect sprint. The bunch parting at the right moment, providing a clear path to the line and allowing me to smash out the watts I’ve been cultivating on back roads (where I’ve also secretly been raising my arms in celebration). The perfect sprint still hasn’t happened, I’m still waiting on my lead-out train.
More often than not I have ended these days congratulating others through gritted teeth. “You’re A3 now. And it only took ye 3 races, delighted for ye!”
When I return home from races the “Victory Beers” that were put in the fridge that morning are cracked open for some frank post-race discussion.
“How did the race go?”
“Yeah, went well. Happy enough with my performance”
“Did you place”
If points were dished out for excuses, I’d be lining up in the pro ranks by now. “Got boxed in”, “Forgot my skinsuit”, “These wheels are shit”, “The wind changed….”
For this year’s early season races I’ve been rolling out one of my all-time favourites; “I’m using this one to get some speed in the legs” (Whatever that means?).
On Saturday I lined up and dished out this classic to lower expectations whilst secretly keeping my own hopes of winning sky high.
The race unfolded in much the same way as the 45 others that preceded it. There were a few attacks by the usual escape artists but the panic of missing out on precious upgrade points means most attempts to breakaway are shut down as quickly as they start.
The eager chase group meant that after 4 uneventful laps we were in store for yet another bunch sprint. The standard A4 sprint is generally about how long you can hang in there as the pace ramps up. A short climb to the line meant emptying the tank at the bottom of the hill and hope for the best.
Before the finish there was the mandatory A4 crash. Fortunately, this time it was behind me. A quick count of heads, the bunch had thinned out to 20 riders. As we hit the drag to the finish, not wanting to regret anything, I put everything I had in to my pedals.
About 200m to go I was third and my legs were screaming. One guy passed me, then another…. again…no, this can’t happen….the line is just there. I stand up, desperately trying to hang in there.
I reach the line, I’m sixth. Upgraded to A3. I can’t contain my delight and roar like I’ve just won. Slightly embarrassing but after 46 races I feel like I’ve earned this and I’m going to enjoy the moment.
I pick up my £10 prize money, just enough to buy some Victory Beers.