BBC Sportís Phil Sheehan is keeping a weekly 606 diary of his experiences of amateur racing as he attempts to make the step up from 2nd to 1st Category racing.
Following his 19th-place finish last week, Saturday 22 December saw Phil at Round 4 of the Hillingdon Winter Series.
Well, itís that time of year when itís a bit hard for us roadies to stay as svelte as weíd like. Apparently the average Brit will consume enough food around Christmas to fuel them for the entire Alpine (and in some cases Pyrenean as well) sections of the Tour de France. At least while Joe Public struggles to fit into their clothes after the festive period, we have a chance to burn off those extra calories by hitting the road. Iím already a kilo and a half heavier than I was about three weeks ago so Iím determined to stem the damage right there. Especially with a succession of races on Boxing Day, Saturday 29th, New Years Day and the Saturday after.
Talking of races, round 4 of the Hillingdon Series was the best yet. There were some pretty tasty top riders there Ė defending champion Jason Streather was back, Paul Pickup (aka The Motorbike), series leader Chris Moores, and there was a cameo appearance from one of the classiest riders I know, Matt Seaton, whose beautiful book The Escape Artist got me into racing in the first place.
Matt, incidentally, has been taking a different approach to me for his winter training by doing cyclocross, something I believe our own Alex Murray has also been indulging in. Itís a branch of the sport that involves mud, bunny hopping, and running with your bike. If you want to know more about this strange form of torture you can get a taste from his cyclocross blogs.
After a bit of a nightmare the previous week, when I felt Iíd ridden a strong race only to get boxed in at the end, I wasnít in the mood just to sit in the pack so I attacked often. The first serious effort was when The Motorbike and I got away for a lap around half an hour into the race. Nobody obliged us and we were reeled back in. A few more digs here and there came to nothing until Matt got a very good gap with another 1st cat rider, Ian Paine and Mick McManus. I sensed a move coming from behind me on the back straight and when I saw it was Colin Parry I shot out of the pack and both of us worked our socks off to get to the break.
As usual, snapper Dennis Sackett was there to document our pain (page 5, middle row, middle picture). Anyway, Colin and I bridged the gap after two laps and immediately started contributing to the work but we ended up getting caught.
The whole race had been very aggressive and my heart-rate monitor and speedo bore the evidence with some interesting spikes. In the end, a move by 3rd-cats Rob Jeffroy and Ian Lowe provoked a furious chase in the final few laps, the last two of which were totally strung out.
A great finish Ė a painful one Ė saw me take 13th overall and 5th in the 2nd/3rd Cats. Moores, Steve Golla and The Motorbike took the top spots, and just in case any of you looking at that Garmin data are wondering why I slowed down and then sped up in the final 60 metres, a couple of riders swung in front of me and I lost vital speed. Even so, the top three riders had the race in the bag. Chapeau! Chapeau also to Adam Currie, who grabbed a fine victory in the earlier 4th Cat race. It would be interesting to hear from him how he perceives the transition to his next race with the big boys.
Before I go, I would urge anyone who hasnít yet done so to read the latest edition of Procycling magazine, which is guest-edited by Tour legend Greg Lemond. Itís a cracking issue and his ideas on training are really worth a discussion Ė hopefully I can kick that one off for the first week of 2008.
In the meantime, merry Christmas to you all and thank you to all the race organisers who make all this possible for us. Happy pedalling!