Southend Wheelers’ Chris Smith was the focus of much attention as he made his bid to win promotion to cycling’s 3rd Category at Hog Hill
Barely two months after taking the start of his first Criterium race, Chris Smith continued his remarkable progress at the weekend by clinching promotion from the sport’s 4th to 3rd category.
In stark contrast to the freezing conditions just seven days before, the riders assembling on the start line at Redbridge Cycling Centre’s Hog Hill course were positively basking in temperatures that rose to the mid-teens in the sunshine.
Smith’s burgeoning confidence, following a string of strong performances in previous rounds of the East London Velo Winter Series, was tempered by news that British Cycling (the sport’s governing body in the UK) had decreed that riders can no longer take a lap out to make repairs to their bikes, due to mechanical issues.
At a track notorious for punctures, this sent a ripple of anxiety throughout the bunch as they set off for nearly an hour of fast racing. Not least for Smith, who had two races ruined by tyre troubles.
The warmer conditions also inspired a greater entry, making the Rochford rider’s goal of finishing in 8th place or higher all the more of a challenge. Nearly fifty competitors formed the peloton - from the gun, the pace was high.
Supported by club mates Jamie Maidment and Dan Pugh, Smith started brightly but could feel the tempo was higher than normal: “I didn't get much chance to look down at my computer to see what the average speed was in the beginning, but I know it was blistering,” he observed.
“Perhaps it was a bit too much for Dan, who was bravely riding after having just recovered from a recent bout of the Norovirus”.
Indeed, on only the fourth climb up the gruelling Hoggenberg incline, Pugh’s pedalling style had begun to resemble a hamster on a hotplate and just a lap later he climbed off his bike.
The main bulk of the bunch had managed to stay intact but at twenty five minutes in, three riders peeled off the front and made a breakaway bid. Smith reacted instantly and bridged the gap to make it a quartet.
“I took my chances, joined up with them and thought we might have a chance. That was until I took a look under my arm to see the chasing pack breathing down our necks and that was the end of that. It took a few laps to try and get my heart rate to level out a bit, such was the dig I’d put in to try and make the break work. In the following few laps, there were several times when I thought I may struggle to keep up with the pack but I pushed on and we all stuck together.”
As the half hour approached, a fracture suddenly split the riders into two groups. Thankfully, Smith and Maidment had made the selection and were at the sharp end of things as the last five laps began the end game.
Now in a bunch of some twenty riders, Smith and Maidment were cheered on by their supporters and others, inspired by Smith’s panache. As he climbed the Hoggenberg, Smith stood tall on the pedals looking rather like a hipster meerkats, with a broad smile as his rivals grimaced their way up the gradient.
Again, an attack came as a rider rocketed away from the rest of the field. At first he looked to be creating a sizeable advantage as the peloton calmly allowed him to dangle off the front for two laps. As the chequered flag was readied, the chasing pack – led by the hard-charging Maidment - bore down on the lone escapee and soon reabsorbed him into the fold.
Having put in a mammoth effort to bring his team-mate back into contention for the final sprint to the line, Maidment dropped down the order, leaving Smith to surf wheels in the final dash to the line.
“After the bell, signalling we were now on the last tour, the pace quickened and as the (Hoggenberg) hill approached I managed to get myself into a good position, at about 4th wheel. Learning from previous mistakes, I was not going to be the first to go, so held back and followed a couple of other riders’ wheels. Towards the brow of the hill, I dug deep and kicked. The pain from the lactic acid was agonising but I persevered to snatch 5th and enough points to earn promotion to the 3rd Category.”
As he received the plaudits of his team-mates, fellow racers and spectators, Smith was already considering making his debut in the higher echelons: “There’s one more race to go in the series, so I will definitely be back to give the combined 2nd, 3rd and 4th Category race a crack next week.”
Photos by kind permission of Cliff Hughes / Hughes Art & Photos
|Chris Smith on his way to 3rd Category Status|
|Jamie Maidment providing excellent support for Chris|
|Dan Pugh may have made his come back a week too early|