The boat slowly drifts away. Very slow at first, imperceptible but it’s moving away all the same. You can feel it. It feels like it’s not happening. But the more you think about it, the more you realise that it’s loose. Floating away. You throw a rope over to it, barely catching the back. It slows for a second, seemingly moving back towards you. Relief quickly disappears as you realise it’s caught its breath again, bobbing out of the water slightly to continue drifting away. Drifting out to the centre of the pool. The pool that slowly becomes more and more silent, save for the wind that has now picked up and tormentingly strokes your face as if to tease. You sing to yourself:

Sittin’ in the morning sun, I’ll be sittin’ in the evenin’ come,
Watchin’ the ships roll in and then I’ll watch ‘em roll away again,
So I’m just a sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watchin’ the tide roll away,
Sitting on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time…

Losing the back of the bunch in the BC West Thames League Rd #2 4ths at Hillingdon was alarmingly easy. Trying to get back on to it was exhaustingly difficult. Not once, not twice, but three times a sprint to the back was required. The dig got deeper every time. The body dipped lower every time. Sitting back in amongst the last riders then became a case of catching breath quickly before an inevitable surge forward. The fourth surge proved to be too much. Too many matches burnt when there wasn’t enough to burn anyway.

It’s an overriding feeling of loss. The Club jersey would now stand out even more, and for the wrong reasons. The next 3 laps would be a solo trial geared towards making sure the bunch wasn’t going to lap the back riders – and making damned sure that a DNF didn’t appear on the results sheet.

A DNF – surely the worst 3 letters on earth. Every walk of life has those ghostly letters. D. N. F… Every course. Every race. Everyday. Well… deep deep breath … not today folks. Not on your bloomin’ nelly. Those letters would now stand for Do. Not. Fail (to cross the line).

Solo and driving hard into the wind around a temperamental circuit like Hillingdon is soul destroying. For a first timer, even the faces of the onlookers standing next to the Club hut were difficult to look at. You can see it in their faces, ‘Wassup me ol fruit? Come on, get a move on!’

Team mate, Jamie Parkinson, racing in the 3rds shortly after the (never-ending) finish of the 4ths, provides some well-received encouragement from the sideline. Onwards.

The last lap is finally interrupted by the whirring and chattering sound of the bunch. They pass in seconds. The chase for the back of the pack is on again, if only to try and get some free speed. Too fast. They move past like the Orient Express, fast but relaxed. The last lap will be solo for sure.

The penultimate bend proves destructive for some. A swervy untrained rider has cut up the back of the pack. The bunch is long gone but has left two riders in a bad state; one motionless on the ground, the other bloodied and walking towards the finish in socks, shoes in one hand, bike in the other. Spillingdon earns its name again.

A marshall waves the last riders through and the finish line is soon in sight. No sprint. No whoop whoop. A sympathetic clap from some spectators and a polite Commissiare, but at least it’s done. No DNF.

Despite the result, the race proves to be a strangely motivating experience. If a baseline was required, that was it. A reality check.

The post-race chatter on the Road Race Team Whatsapp group is supportive, with stories-of-old surfacing to bring some light heartedness into the day. A welcome break from the silence of the last few laps of the 4ths. Jamie pulls in an inspiring and respectable 7th in the 3rds though. Great news to hear from the video judge on the line.

The next day, the words of Messrs Vye and Heyhoe echo over Sunday morning coffee. ‘Don’t get caught in the wind’ and ‘Russian steps’. The switch from endurance to race training begins.

On reflection, it was a day of lessons. The silence of the pool is best avoided.

Darren Roberts
Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club
BC West Thames League Rd #2 Hillingdon
Saturday 17th August 2019