The last time I was at the Millbrook Proving Ground it was the early 90s for a fun day test driving Vauxhall cars. We were told we would be red flagged if we exceeded 110mph on the 5 lane banked 2 mile oval high speed test track, needless to say there was a lot of red flags that day. My abiding memory was as I was returning from putting a Senator through its paces on the hill circuit to see my mate Paul entering the track in a pick up truck, of all the cars available he chooses that beast :)
But today it was my legs that had to do the work, and on arriving I was struggling. Tired and cold I did not really want to leave the van as the rain lashed down. My legs had not reacted well to the increased training over the last few weeks and I had doubts over my fitness and ability to continue to push myself. Every year past 40 it seems to take longer and longer to recover. Nowadays Davina has to push me up the stairs at night and lift me out of the bath! Still that keeps her fit :)
I eventually get out to warm up on the circuit but I am feeling very stale and sluggish on the climbs, and things don’t get any better once the 60km race gets underway as the rain continues, the circuit and especially the turns are very wet and greasy. At the end of the first of 8 laps I am keeping safe and out of trouble at the back of the field. Approaching a roundabout one guy in front of me loses it and hits the tarmac hard; it’s a horrible sound rider vs road. So now I’m even more cautious on the second lap, leaving a gap between me and the last rider in the peloton. As we go down a dip before a climb 4 riders fall in front of me. An expensive day for them as the sound of mangling carbon is unmistakable. I needed that safety gap (sod wheel sucking today) as I swerve around them. Unfortunately my safe approach means that, on entering the oval 2 mile track on the next lap, I am dropped and on my own with the peloton already up to speed. I sprint off in pursuit to catch up, luckily no one at the front wants to push it in the wind so the main pack eases up and as I carry my momentum around them I see two riders off the front trying to get away. Do I crack on and see if a break could work? Yes it might be safer out the front.
My breakaway chums are immediately keen to work as we nail it together to increase our lead. Through and off is easy on the oval but as we leave the track for the hill loop with 5 of the 9km circuits to go it’s harder to work as a team, the turns are treacherous in the wet and neither want to push it hard up the inclines. So each lap I set the pace up the climbs. At this point the important thing is that we stay away from the peloton for as long as possible, on leaving the hill loop I take a look behind, our gap is only 25-30 seconds, so I’m hoping we blast the 2 mile oval together on this next lap. We do but at the end of the lap with 3x9km laps to go, one of the guys sprints off for the prime to bag the cash on offer. Not helpful, it disrupts our speed and we take time to get back together, safety in numbers when you’re in a breakaway. It’s annoying, eyes on the main prize gents, come on let’s make this work. That’s all said in my head though because during our time together we have said nothing, always a good sign, we are here to put the power down and stay away.
Another hill circuit and I lead it up, but legs are feeling it now and on the faster downhill section I am dropped, but entering the banked track for the penultimate time, they ease up slightly to let me back on. They know that 3 is still better than 2 at this stage, sharing the wind together we stand a better chance, as the whole field is still only 30 seconds back. Visibility in the spray is rubbish as we max out inches from each other’s wheel, as fatigue and tiredness sets in, I know I have to concentrate hard, I don’t want to touch wheels and bring us down. Now the hills for the final time, I throw my half full bottle at Davina, no point carrying any more weight than needed up these tricky ramps. However I fear we may be caught, so I see my job as getting the breakaway up the final sets of inclines ASAP, then we can fight it out nearer the line. Halfway up the climb I hear a spectator say, ‘slight gap on the other two’, wow they’re not coming with me. I dig deeper and by the top another helpful onlooker says ‘you’re clear, that could work’. I don’t look back, I just need to red line it to the finish, but with 5km still to go, no more climbs just downhill, roundabouts, turns and then 2 miles on the windy track, I feel very exposed and vulnerable, but I am fully committed now, no going back. Onto the track and head down TT position and floor it. The first km is super hard solo, lungs and legs working beyond the limit. It’s at these moments the mind looks to the pros for inspiration, and as I pass the 1km to go sign I think of the heroic finish by Iijo Keisse in the Tour of Turkey recently, never give up…. fight…..fight….fight. Now the finish line is in sight, my motorbike outrider gives me the thumbs up and I allow myself a look back, I’m clear as the other two sprint for second. Job done, a fine day at Millbrook and as always 2 wheels have been much more satisfying than 4. Now all I need to do is search for Davina for the hug that makes it all worthwhile.
1. Mike Simpson GS Henley cat2
2. Ed Clemens VC10 cat2
3. Will Hayter London Dynamo cat2