On Sunday 14th June I (Will) returned to the Sunshine Coast in Eastbourne for the 4th Category Criterium. I went to University for my first year here so know the town pretty well and was excited to make my return. Setting off from my home in Lympne it took approximately 1hr 40 so it was a chance to relax and breathe in the rest of the journey.

– The View from Eastbourne Pier. It looks muggy and cold but it was a very hot day with humid conditions.

After unpacking a short walk from the course, I set-up the bike and road over towards the starting village. After paying my entrance fee, I had pinned on number 24. With around half an hour to go I decided to take in some early accelerations of the initial slopes of Beachy Head. Luckily I had some company from riders of Crawley Wheelers, so we did a couple of intervals and enjoyed a pretty windless day (rare for Eastbourne). After a while, we were allowed to ride around the course. Starting from the top side, the course has a 300-400 metre straight section twice before being apexed with some tricky corners – complete with potholes…

On the startline came the information from the race officials. I had a good placing up the front and was ready to race. The neutralised lap started and we followed the motorbike, albeit with some clip in-clip out sagas happening around me. The pack was pretty strong and there was some competition from Big local teams, but I just stuck up the front until the gun went down. Although there was a neutralised lap, the pace was on from the gun, and a testing alley-oop corner near the finish line sapped all your momentum, forcing a sprint out of the blocks. By the first lap I was around 6-8th and had a good placing, but was distracted at times by riders bombing down the inside lines on the corners which is not only dangerous but pretty illegal. Such is bike racing. By the 3rd lap and the sprint prime I had slipped down to around 16th but the front group had formed and I was a part of it, which was my goal today. Riding for around 25 minutes in the pack at a fast pace was hard and my average heart rate reflected that – 183bpm. Due to the fast pace it was hard to catch a wheel so a lot of the work was done by myself to catch back up. My inexperience led to several other riders drafting hard behind but refusing to work when flicking the elbow.

– Battling to get into the front group.

Along with the pacing and splits in the peloton came some close calls, and a couple of riders stopping due to mechanicals. To compare a criterium to anything else is quite simple; Imagine a scenario where loads of newly passed drivers are given Ferraris on a tight circuit. That’s a criterium. Add in 4×15 second intervals on each lap and you have a mentally and physically exhausting race. By the 7th lap I was pretty exhausted from reaching the front group and couldn’t get any of the riders to work up to the group with me so burnt my matches pretty early on, causing me to retire. I was super happy to be in the front group and certainly believe I have the pedigree in a couple of years to be a contender which is good news!

– Racing from the 2nd group.

Following the race I relaxed and ate some food in the town centre. On the 15th June I re-evaluated my VO2 max at the University of Kent and came away with a score of 68ml/kg/min which I’m extremely happy with, almost a 10% increase which I attribute to hard training and racing in the Pyrenees. I finished up the day with a quite spin around Fowlmead, capping off a hard weekend for me.

I’m going to continue with Time Trials this year but am certainly looking to progress in the Criterium discipline.