I have always seen myself as a racer although my age weighs against this as does, err, my weight. But recently my bike club organized a shortish race, the “Prix de la ville de Meudon,” on the flat. Even those not familiar with the mechanics of cycling will be aware that pedaling uphill is a lot harder if you are a somewhat overweight person as I have to confess I am. But the extent of the difference is hard to understate. The steeper the hill, the bigger the time difference between a lightweight climber and a heavyweight ‘rouleur.’ On the flat the balance actually tips a little the other way. Big riders are generally more powerful and can crank it up a bit more than the smaller climber. So much for the theory…
The course was 7 laps of an 8km loop around the local aerodrome on roads that were for the most part closed to traffic. Lots of mysterious administrative activity was involved, I needed a ‘carton course’ and a special stamp. Then followed directions to the start and waited for the off.
I think we were 50 or so in this the ‘GS’ category, the entry level of French road racing. In my mind’s eye I envisaged the race as a high speed chase, more or less flat out all the way. That is not how it turned out.
At the start the peloton accelerated leisurely to a cruising speed well below what I had expected. Even so, in the heat of the moment I forgot to hit the start button on my watch and as we got moving, I was so concerned about not colliding with anybody in the peloton that it seemed superfluous to fiddle around finding the rather trickily placed button. So the race went unrecorded – no speed, no heart rate. Anyhow I should think we were cruising at around 35kph for the first half lap or so. Right up until we came to the first proper corner in fact when all of a sudden, as if all had simultaneously taken fright, the peloton accelerated briskly. Well I am a rouleur, but not a great accelerator. So it took me a while to get up to the new speed (40kph-ish on a slight rise) by which time I had lost some ground. Fortunately, the sudden burst of speed burst did not last too long and over the next few hundred yards I pedaled my way back into the group. The same procedure for the subsequent sections – a lowish base sped along the straight parts and at every tight turn or slight rise a burst of sped.
The average speed of the peloton did increase slowly some and at one stage, we were careening past the pits – i.e. the place where the organizers had their tent and we were potentially being observed – when someone to my left turned around and made a rather expansive gesture to a colleague – and at the same time wobbled towards me. I of course wobbled slightly to my right and felt a sharp thwack as the pedal of another rider made contact with my leg – and an indeterminate part of my bike. There was by then quite a bit of serious wobbling going on and I had visions of a major pile up occurring behind me – but I just concentrated on staying upright and in preparing my defense. In the event nobody fell, there was no court case, although as I realized a week later, there was damage to my derailleur which explained why I subsequently was having trouble staying in gear.
Around lap five I was still hanging in with the peloton but each time the gap was opening a little more and it required more distance and effort to close it. I was royally bollocked by a rather impolite rider who railed against ‘the guy who couldn’t keep up’ as though this was an option. I later thought that I could intimate that I had been placed at the back by the lead riders to screw things up deliberately – but ideas are hard to formulate on a bike and harder to convey.
At the tail end of lap six with one to go the inevitable happened. After one acceleration, I lost contact completely. It is a curious feeling when you see the peloton moving away and you realize that you are just no longer going to catch it. The result was that I did the last lap on my own and came in at some distance from the leaders. I understand that there were a few who had lost contact before I did so I didn’t quite come in last. Better luck next time.