We get a first hand account of this season opener from Worx Factory Racing’s Paul Hollingsworth. Its fast, frozen and flat out, take it away mate!
One would be mistaken for thinking that the fact this race is only 46 miles long, and takes place in early February, means that it is just an early-season jaunt. One would be very mistaken indeed. Perfs pedal has a bit of a reputation for being absolutely savage, and the 53rd edition was no exception.
For Tom and Matt, this was their first experience of the annual form tester, the so-called “curtain-raiser” for the domestic season, being the first National B race on the calendar. This was my second time racing Perfs, with last year’s race over pretty quickly due to my unpreparedness for the relentless brutality of the first 10 minutes.
After a hearty breakfast, a drive down to Portsmouth and collecting our race numbers, the three of us got a good warm up in, including some “red mist” efforts that provide a rude awakening to the muscles early doors on a cold February morning.
On a slight side-note, having raced cyclocross for the first time this winter, the similarities with Perfs were apparent…a bunch of bonkers guys squeezing into skinsuits with the temperature too close to zero for comfort, in the knowledge that this would be full gas from the off, no gentle easing into the race.
After a pep talk from our coach Tracy Corbett (TC) and our arch-rival (and best friend) Stu Spies of CHAINGANG RT, a slight delay while the roads were cleared of a traffic accident, and we were off.
With everyone racing aware of exactly how the race would unfold – that is to say, the professional team Canyon-Eisberg would engage in a team time trial the first time up the climb in order to split the race into a thousand pieces (well, 85 riders) – there was a lot of jostling position on the opening stretch down the B2177.
Shouts of “ho hey”, “easy” and “fucking hell lads” from all directions
There was barely a few moments for riders to reacquaint themselves with riding in a bunch before all hell broke loose. Shouts of “ho hey”, “easy” and “fucking hell lads” from all directions as riders shot up the outsides to wrestle for a spot “on the bumper” of the lead car, while others slammed on their brakes to avoid a touch of wheels.
I was around mid-pack, not where I wanted to be, but not awfully positioned. I could see Matt up ahead, while Tom must have been somewhere behind me.
A few deep breaths before we turned left into the narrow lane, sprint out the corner, find a wheel to jump onto and try to move up where possible. The road is wet and riders take the s-bends cautiously, before making the transition to the first time up the climb.
I find myself moving up as we ascend, some riders already appearing to be breathing out their backsides, gaps opening up left, right and center. I appear to be among the last few riders latching onto the back of the lead group, heart and lungs exploding.
As we continue up and over Portsdown Hill, and make the left hand turn at the roundabout onto the descent, we make contact with the front group. But I’d had to burn several matches in order to close that gap in the crosswinds, which would cost me the next time up the climb…
Meanwhile, Matt had positioned himself nicely, and was still up in the front group, shown here alongside three Spirit Tifosi riders (with number 36 finishing second overall)
Matt stayed with this group while Spirit and Canyon-Eisberg launched off the front (how you attack a race of this pace is still beyond me). Meanwhile, on the second time up the climb I lost contact with the front group, and found myself in no man’s land for a lap. After being caught by the second group on lap three, I wedged myself near the front, trading turns with a Latchem Sunwise rider and a Southdown CASCO-Pet rider in order to drive the pace on. Splits were still occurring, so it was clear there were many tired legs.
how you attack a race of this pace is still beyond me
Then I made a massive mistake…in the space of about 30 seconds, I went from being at the front of the second group feeling comfortable, to off the back and unable to close the gap. On the descent back on the B2177, I drifted back through the group as a paceline was beginning to form. As I got to the back, a big gust of wind blew me across, which had me wrestling for control and not pedalling momentarily. This let a gap of a couple of meters open up off the back of the group. I fought to try and make contact, but just couldn’t quite close the gap. I ended up in a two-up for the rest of the race, eventually pulled before the finishing circuit.
Tom had similarly been caught out by gaps opening up on the climb, and once you miss the train, that’s basically race over…
Meanwhile, the monster that is Matthew Owen was holding his own in the front group, conserving energy (where possible) for the finish.
Two riders emerged over the hill first, Alex Paton of Canyon Eisberg, followed by Rupert Graham of Spirit. Then the gallop of what was left of the bunch. I could see Matt near the front, a bit boxed in, but very much up there. After a lactate-infused sprint, Matt crossed the line in 13th place, an outstanding performance in one of the hardest races of the season.
Overall, this was a lesson in positioning. It’s still extremely early in the season, and to still be able to be up there in the thick of it at this level is encouraging. This was the hardest race I did last year and no doubt will be up there again this year.
Now time for a few Surrey League and SERRL races to snare some points before smashing a few more National Bs.
Footnotes: Thanks to coach TC, Stu Spies, Peter Owen for their support at the race.
© 2018 Paul Hollingsworth