Just two more points
will lift Southend Wheelers racer into higher category
Just six races into his road racing career, Southend Wheelers’ rising
star Chris Smith could well clinch promotion from cycling’s fourth
category to the third if he finishes 8th or higher in next weekend’s
seventh – and penultimate – round of the East London Velo Winter Series.
The 24-year old from Rochford again teamed up with fellow Southend
Wheeler, Jamie Maidment, to brave the arctic conditions at Redbridge
Cycling Centre and try to bag more points in his bid to win automatic
promotion in his maiden season.
As the pair prepared for the start of the race snow was settling around
the course, adding jitters to the riders’ shivers. Indeed, although
thirty competitors had entered for the race, only eight had presented
themselves at the popular Hog Hill track thirty minutes before the race
was due to get underway.
“At that point we were both thinking, ‘are we mad to be here?’” said
Smith. “It seemed most people wanted to stay in their lovely warm beds
instead and I have to admit it had crossed my mind all the way up to the
start and most of the race itself.”
Twenty eventually took the gun, but the conditions ensured that the
early pace was far more sedate than usual.
“One brave bloke thought he would be able to break off from the front
for the whole race,” observed Smith, adding “He didn't, but the bunch
left him to hang in front for a few tantalising laps before he was
reeled in. To add to his woes, he was dropped later on.”
The initial nervousness and lack of pace could be put down to the riders
waiting until they were fully warmed up. Smith admitted to battling with
the effects of the extreme cold and wondered if he should abandon: “I
just couldn’t feel my fingers and they began to swell up. It was
agonising and I wondered if I would finish the race without suffering
from frostbite. In fact, I began to wonder which ones would need
Grim as they were, Smith refused to be bowed by the conditions and
doggedly soldiered in the lead group. However, as the race neared its
halfway mark, Smith realised that his teammate wasn’t with him: “I
turned round to see that Jamie had been dropped. He later told me that
he simply hadn’t been able to find his rhythm.”
Moments later, a lone rider peeled off the front of the leaders and made
a break for it. This produced an instant reaction from Smith, who has
developed a reputation for being an attacking rider in his own right.
Despite working well together and sharing turns at the front, the
peloton galvanised itself into action and chased them down, their lead
lasting just over a lap of the full course.
Smith swung back into the bunch after being caught and bided his time,
looking for another opportunity to animate the race.
“In the last few laps, I felt good and had kept a decent enough position
at the head of affairs. I’d not upset the guys around me by doing my
share of stints on the front, but never doing more than was necessary.
In the final lap I toyed with the idea of making a break but thought it
best to just sit back and wait for the bunch sprint to the finishing.”
The plan worked well until, with the final selection of who would
contest the top ten placings, Smith launched an ill-starred early dash
for the chequered flag.
“At the bottom of the Hoggenberg hill, I was feeling fresh so committed
to an attack. Annoyingly though, I hadn't dropped anyone and instead
towed several riders up the steep climb in my slipstream. Still, I was
vying for a good placing but then got boxed in during the bunch kick for
the line. I had to swerve around someone and managed to nick seventh on
He added: “It took me a good twenty minutes to stop shaking afterwards,
despite having changed into warm clothes. Still, I was pleased to have
stuck at it and bag another few points which have now put me in touching
distance of promotion to the Third Category. I just need two more points
now, having accrued a total of ten so far. Here's hoping the next couple
of races bring better weather and those vital points.”
Maidment may have returned home to Maylandsea feeling frustrated but
showed the grit and resolve that have made him one of the Wheelers’ best
time trial riders. The following day (Sunday 11th February), the 27-year
old chef was again braving the harsh winter conditions in
Cambridgeshire. Taking part in the appropriately-named Ely Hardriders
25-mile time trial event, Maidment opted to ride a standard road bike
rather than his specialist TT bike and posted the 21st-fastest time of
one hour and eight minutes, a whisker shy of an average speed of 22MPH,
in temperatures of just two degrees, while also enduring a stiff
easterly wind and sleet.
Not to be outdone by the men, Southend’s Hannah Kane bravely took part
in Maldon Cycling Club’s Cyclo Cross event at Battlesbridge, also in
tough conditions but completed the distance in 39th position.