Over the past 6 weeks or so a few club members have been making the trip to Ludgershall Army base near Andover to race in the Saturday Morning Winter Series organised by The Army Cycling Union. The races are run on an oval circuit of approx ¾ mile long lasting 30 minutes plus 3 laps.

Paul Ferguson and I began in January and have subsequently been joined by Giles “Kamikaze break” Prentice, Jon “Espresso” Fowles and this week by Mike “VCW Express” Young.

Back in January Paul and I anxiously turned up for what was the 1st ever road race for both of us, we were ready to take our step into the unknown world of racing. We had both signed up for the pre-race coaching course which is what finally persuaded us to stop thinking about it and start racing. The coaching was at a basic level and we picked up some good pointers and importantly it reassured us we may just be alright.

We both came through our 1st race unscathed finishing at the back of the bunch 26th and 28th out of 40 riders. It was good to know we could ride with the pace of the cat 4 peleton. We spent the journey home talking about the countless mistakes we had made and what we were going to do differently next week. That was us well and truly hooked!

Paul was as good as his word and in the next 2 races finished 4th and then 2nd earning enough points to graduate into a 3rd cat rider after just 3 races and getting the 1st points of the season for VC Walcot.

Saturday 2nd March saw all 5 of us at Ludgershall representing the mighty VC Walcot. Jon, Giles and I competed in the 4th Cat race with Mike and Paul racing with the 3rd Cats. After finishing 6th and 5th in the last couple of weeks I needed a top 10 finish to get the point required to join Paul and Mike as a 3rd Cat rider.

Our race was off first and started strongly with a couple of young whippersnappers from Southampton Uni pushing the pace for the opening laps. It did settle down with a few riders surging up the flanks but they were immediately marked and drawn back into the bunch. I could tell that Giles was below par as he hadn’t attempted any of his trademark breaks of recent weeks. However, Jon was taking on the mantle for VC Walcot and spent a lot of the race in the front 5 and succeeded in stretching out the field on a few occasions but couldn’t quite get away.

After a reasonably settled race 3 laps to go was called and the pace quickened slightly as riders start to jockey for position, the reluctance of riders to get on the front meant the surge in pace wasn’t too severe. With 2 laps to go Jon was in a good position 3 or 4 from the front and I wasn’t too far behind and happy with where I was. The last bend of this penultimate lap saw me choose the wrong wheel to follow on the inside line and I was pretty helpless as riders piled round the outside whilst I was boxed in. Going up the finishing straight with 1 lap to go it opened up a bit and just past the bell I saw 1 of the stronger riders cruising up the outside. I then made my best decision of the race and jumped out onto his wheel enjoying my good fortune as he took me past several riders round the top bend and along the back straight. Just before the final bend he kicked again so I got on the drops and pushed hard to hold his wheel, he gave me an armchair ride past the remainder of the field round the last bend. As we went all out down the home straight my cunning plan was to come out his slipstream and sprint past, I succeeded in coming out of his slipstream …….. still, more than happy with 2nd.

Jon finished strongly holding his own at the front of the pack sprinting home in 5th place and Giles finished in the bunch and was probably the best placed rider with manflu. Another 13 points for VC Walcot in the bag!

Next up was the 3rd Cat race featuring Paul and Mike, this was Paul’s 2nd race in this category and Mike’s 1st outing of the season.

Paul looked comfortable near the front of the peleton for large chunks of the race whilst Mike was also riding well a bit further down the pack getting a feel for racing again and benefitting from the shelter. During the 2nd half of the race Mike sprang into life and surged up the field picking up Paul along the way. The 2013 VC Walcot Express was born!! Mike and Paul hit the front with Mike driving a hard pace, the impact was obvious as the field immediately stretched into a long line.

The Express didn’t quite get away and reluctantly relaxed back into the pack to recover. With 3 laps to go the VCW Express re-emerged looking really strong at the bell. As the pace noticeably ramped up on the back straight Mike and Paul were hemmed in on the inside and couldn’t get out to the faster line on the outside. Both finished with the main bunch a little frustrated but made strong contributions to the race and launched the VC Walcot Express.

So far it has been a successful series for the club and we are currently sitting well up in the South regional rankings. There are 3 races left in this series and I am sure there will be plenty of racing at Odd Down in the summer. If you are considering racing I would urge you to pull on the green and white jersey give it a crack. I had been contemplating giving road racing a go for the last couple of years and now wish I’d taken the plunge earlier. I was pretty anxious about it but it was no where near as daunting as I thought it would be.

From my extremely limited experience it seems the main skills you need are riding in a group and holding a wheel, all things that you naturally pick up from club rides. The races aren’t that long so you don’t need to be able to ride for ages, my training off a very low mileage base has involved sprint intervals on my turbo and short fast lunchtime rides and that has been enough to compete at cat 4.

If you are considering it I would ride a couple of cat 4 races and my guess is that you’ll be hooked.