VCI @ Annaclone GP

With restrictions eased, Saturday 24th April 2021 saw the recommencement of open race cycling in Northern Ireland with the Travers Engineering Annaclone GP – and the first opportunity for newcomer Pete to take part in his first ever cycling race! We asked Pete few for a few words to sum up his experience of the club to date.

I joined VCI in August 2020, having previously played amateur league football. I’d been a keen enough leisure cyclist for a few years and since July 2020 I had been enjoying getting involved in club runs and using these as a good tool to build up my bike fitness. Then on Boxing Day came yet another lockdown but I was determined not to let this get in the way of my cycling. I continued to put a lot of solo miles in over the winter, got a couple more kilos off and felt fit and strong – but with having never raced before I wasn’t setting myself any goals or great expectations. I just wanted to experience what it was like to race in a large group, learn some race craft and get a good, safe finish under my belt.

The days leading up to the race I had countless messages offering guidance and advice from fellow VCI members…I cannot thank them enough for this and I was like a human sponge taking everything on board.

Race day arrived and with it the expected nerves as I pulled into Annaclone GAA to park up. I couldn’t have asked for better weather as the sun shone brightly. I went for a short warm up ride before making my way over to the start line on the Ardbrin Road. Nerves were settled slightly as I spoke to a few fellow competitors who I know from neighbouring clubs.

1058 hours and riders were called to the start line. I felt it best to get quite close to the front so I lined up approximately 3 rows back.
1100 hours – 5,4,3,2,1… and I was off! Nerves suddenly disappeared as I fully concentrated on getting up to pace and maintaining my road position with competitors to my left, right, front and back, like a swarm of bees! The pack managed to negotiate the first proper turn without any incident and we made our way up through Annaclone and onto the drag up to Mays Corner. I found the pace up the drag very comfortable and suddenly found myself near the front of the race. As we made our way towards Katesbridge and back onto the Ardbrin Road I decided to move to the front of the race and held a comfortable pace over the line to complete lap 1. I then started to recall some of the advice I had been given – “no prizes for sitting on the front all race and then get dropped in the final sprint”. With this in mind I backed off slightly to allow half a dozen riders past me and settled into a comfortable race pace for the next couple of laps, never dropping beyond the top 10-12 places and even taking another turn or two on the front. Any attempts at a breakaway were quickly quashed and it soon became apparent – it’s going to come down to a sprint finish.

On the final lap, as the pack made its way back onto the Ardbrin Road for the run home, you could sense the urgency in the air as the pace started to crank up and riders jostled for road position. 500m to go and I suddenly found myself in the middle of the road but boxed in. I still felt strong but I couldn’t see a path out. I took a deep breath and kept telling myself “don’t panic, don’t panic”. Then with 200m to go some riders went for the sprint. Again I told myself not to panic as I felt they had went too early. Suddenly the road opened up in front of me and with 100m to go I decided to go ‘full gas’. As some of the riders in front began to fade I knew I had a chance. I dived down the left hand side of the road and kept pushing down on the pedals as hard as I could and crossed the line in a close 3rd place finish.
Wow! I have to say I never in a million years expected to be anywhere near the podium in my first ever race! I was absolutely buzzing with that result and it has just whet my appetite for more! Roll on the next race…I cannot wait!

In the A1/A2/A3 race we also had Pete Batey and James Dane, who both finished in the bunch. Always a ‘race of attrition’ that’s a great start to the season and one which will certainly give them both a boost of confidence for the following races.

Well done to all our riders who represented our club so well!

Thanks to Sharon McFarland for photos and of course to Banbridge Cycling Club for putting the race on at such short notice.

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