Hillingdon gets a Cannibal
Like a shooting star bursting on the scene, blowing away the competition, our youngest Baroudeur wins gold in his first ever race. At the tender age of 9, Jude is growing into a stronger and smarter racer. As if it couldn’t get any better, the ‘Hillingdon Cannibal‘ does us proud by scaling the dizzy heights of the podium in no less than two of his successive races. Naturally, we decide that if we can’t beat him, we might as well join him; or at least try.
With two Baroudeurs finishing top 10 in the first race of the season, this was to be their second, and my first race so far. Additionally, one of our young Baroudeurs, playing for a youth football club, scored both goals to equalise against Fulham FC that same week. So no pressure then.
As I arrive, the car park is filling up quickly with racers. Everyone has come here to party tonight. Both sides of the circuit is bumper-to-bumper full of competitors and their supporters: mums, dads, girlfriends and friends. It’s a busy night at the races.
I spot a familiar Big-B and family of Baroudeurs nestled by the track. The fear of last year is long gone; now replaced with a hunger to compete. It’s time to have fun. The signing-in room is friendly and engaging. The marshals are willing to help and encourage you to get the most out of the night. A friendly rider from London-Pheonix says hello and tells me of his experiences the week before. Groups gather, and eventually teams split into their corners to discuss tactics and wish each other luck. The three of us go to the circuit to warm up and talk.
It’s a beautiful evening. As we rise above the first climb, the twilight sun is there to greet us. We then drop into a sharp turn, I realise this used to give me nightmares, but now I’m riding this conscious and unafraid. We manage 4 laps before we make for the starting line. It’s all about to begin. Butterflies start to kick-in and I lower my head.
The marshals talk us through the house-keeping and we’re off: 45 minutes, followed by 5 laps to the chequered flag. It’s like swimming with a team of fish through the pacific: one moment you’re safe within the group, another moment you’re spat out the back; having to work hard to make it back to the fold. Other times, you’re feeling strong and you risk going to the outside, testing both others and yourself. It’s as much about survival as it is to win.
Don’t let go
Awareness is key to everyone staying up. Shouts from riders either side of you yell out to remind you, you’re not alone. Most are civil, merely warning you of their presence to your left, right, or are coming through. Others are shrieks of warnings, as neo-racers move unpredictably into danger.
Just when you think the pace is as tough as it gets, whoosh, the elites ping around you. Thankfully, there’s a call of their imminent approach and the team banks to the right to let them past. It’s mesmerising to see, and the fantastic thing is you’re part of it!
As each bend, straight and hill approaches, there are twitches in you that tell you to ease-up or simply let go. Ben and Glen are consistently up the front and looking strong. I see a break and dream of glory by bridging to them and finally battling out for the line. It’s not to be, he’s a man too far, and I am quickly overtaken by the evening peloton. I realise it sounds crazy and perhaps a little romantic to say, but there are moments of meditative clarity as you race. I recall riding behind Germain Burton and remembering Stuarts observations: “See how Germain pedals so effiiciently.” Looking for a strong lead-out, I mimic GB’s talents and swoop to the outside. Moments later I find myself making a break and holding on with everything I have. It lasts for the briefest of times, but it tastes sweet to fly the flag.
Saved by the Captain
Not every moment is so sweet. My left calf cramps despite my attempts to hydrate regularly, resulting in me losing control and bearing upon the rider next to me. I clearly hearing screams! This could have been messy had it not been our Captain buffering my fall. It’s no surprise then, that I’m both embarrassed, yet thankful Captain’s been here before! Somehow he manages to lift both bike and me to safety. Together, we race on.
The final laps are called and everyone accelerates to secure a fighting position. I put my faith in the bike and hold on, hoping to ride with the team. I sense those next to me rise out of their saddles and we’re racing for the line. Glen first, Ben then I. We make the top 20.
As we set home, Ben turns to me and says with a smile, “It’s all about this now. We’ve trained hard all these years for this.”
Racing gives you a chance to put yourself in a position of vulnerability. One that needs to be experienced if only to break through the unknown. Satisfying that even when you come in second, or last, there’s a delight that you’ve come further than before and that you’re learning to win. My racing brother, Nathan Ong reminds us:
“There’s no point training if you are not going to race…. There’s no point racing if you are not going to train”
Challenge yourself this season, and realise what you can do!
Linked features: A Night At The Races