turning off, there was a moment’s blessed relief
at the roundabout as we waited for the lights to change.
Taking a draught from my water bottle, I sneaked a
glance at my HRM and immediately regretted it. As
the lights turned to green it was like a drag race.
Backsides in the air, I latched onto someone’s
wheel and hung in close as we hit the ‘burbs.
Calls of “car left!” and “hole!”
rang into the night as we swooshed through neighbourhoods,
gears whirring and chests heaving.
this stage, I’d given up trying to rotate with
the other riders as I was having a hard enough time
just staying on. I felt an unspoken compact with the
peleton that as the only girl in the pack, it was
okay if I just clung to whichever wheel was nearest
and kept my head out of the wind. Occasionally, someone
would call back to me, “okay, Charlotte?”
If I had the breath, I’d wheeze out a reply
and let them know how grateful I was for the tow.
the turn in Weybridge, I could feel the power ebbing
away from my body and I knew that the journey home
was going to be even harder. The pace wasn’t
letting up; in fact it only seemed to keep getting
faster. Once or twice, I came off the back and started
to wonder if I’d be riding back alone, but just
as I started thinking thoughts of letting off and
spinning again, someone would fall back and give me
a tow for a mad two minutes back into the safety of
the group. There is a long, straight road from Hersham
to Esher and I was tail-end Charlie as we turned the
corner to face it.
knew it was coming and was almost looking forward
to it because I know that I’m stronger on the
flats than I am up the hills. Perhaps I’m built
for time trialling rather than circuit racing as I
can hold a good speed on the flat and I knew this
was where the boys were really going to drop the hammer.
I looked down at my speedo when I dared and saw the
digits increasing as the pace quickened. Twenty…
twenty one. Legs whirred and lights flashed. Twenty
two and it was just starting. Twenty three; watch
out for that hole on the left, that could have been
nasty. Twenty four and I could start to taste my own
I was giving
it my all and then I remembered the hill into Esher.
There wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going
to keep it up on that and I tried to call ahead to
tell someone that I’d catch them after it if
they eased off at the top. Touching the brakes for
the roundabout, we peeled round it in single file,
all hunkered down on our drops with Doug leading the
pack like Armstrong on point in a team time trial.
I knew that this was where their power and fitness
would really show and no matter how I pushed myself,
I saw the twinkling lights pull away into the distance
up the hill.
when I got to the top myself and turned left for Sandown,
I could still see the lights and with one last push,
I caught up enough to ride the roller coaster down
to Molesey. From the top of Sandown hill, you can
see for miles and miles and I caught a glimpse of
the arch at Wembley as I shifted up onto the big ring
for the mad, mad descent. Looking back at my speedo
afterwards, it must have been here that I saw thirty
six miles an hour. Round the right hand bend, I ran
wide, taking the fastest and safest line in the road.
I was back in the pack now and able to stay out of
the wind again.
At Hampton Court, the group
got split in the traffic, but all the way along the
river, we kept it up and got back together in Hampton.
Then came the final sprint to the green, where the
club meets on a Sunday morning and where there is
an unwritten rule that you ease right back and wind
it down through town to the church hall.
It was over. Twenty five miles
of lung-bursting, heart-pounding madness. The fastest
ride I’ve had in months and this morning, my
legs are reminding me of that fact.
expect I’ll be back next week for more.