Wearing national team kit as a road cyclist is always interesting as the races that require this are always somewhat out of the ordinary – racing for national pride, instead of a living. I always cherish these opportunities and love spending time with my fellow Namibians, especially seeing the great level of excitement which comes from riders and staff with a bit less experience.
The Commonwealth Games add an extra twist to this as the combination of teams present only ever happens there, every four years. The UK is broken down into possibly its smallest components and you stand on the start line wedged between riders recently returned from the Tour (Aussies, Kiwis, Brits) and developing riders from far flung places like Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Lesotho, Anguilla, Bahamas, Belize, Saint Grenadines (my favourite music-band-country) and of course Namibia – which I think is the widest range of abilities you see in any cycling race.
Due to the eclectic mix the race always starts in one way – flat out! Big name riders from countries like Australia don’t want to risk being involved in a crash caused by someone way out of their depth, so the only thing to do is to start as fast as possible and drop as many riders as possible. This is great from someone in my position as I can hang on and not do any of the hard work myself, but knowing that many of my Namibian team mates and African friends were always going to be the victim of this tactic didn’t feel good. Putting so much effort into getting all the way to Glasgow – only to be a part of five per cent of the race… not great.
Thanks to an extremely technical course (basically a criterium course with 40+ corners in every one of the 14km laps to be done 12 times) splitting the bunch up was easier than usual and within 3km (if I remember correctly) the bunch of 140 had already been whittled down to about 50 riders. Three Namibians were the only Africans in the front – mainly thanks to being ranked eighth nation and lining up near the front.
Speaking to people after the race I was pretty amused: from their perspective, behind the barriers – miserable and wet, or from the comfort of their couches in front of the TV, they saw things that I had no idea were happening. Whilst I obviously saw things that the TV never showed – mostly just a haze of pain (I did actually attack twice, not that I got anywhere…).
In the final quarter of the race, as things were really heating up I watched in horror as the last guy in the pack sat up. This was horrifying as I was just about to bridge up to the pack after having to jump around several riders popping out the back. On the edge I knew that it would be game over for me if I had to close one more gap. Still, I passed him and kept going; trying, with little chance of
success. This rider, who shall remain unnamed, is a good friend who had just done a massive amount of work for his team and as a spent force was drifting back, about to pull out of the race. He saw my flailing limbs struggle past and realised the trouble I was in.
Completely against any expectations he dug in one last time, gave me two lifesaving pulls, got me back onto the tail-ends of the very small pack and then pulled over to go and find a hot shower and a beer (or two, depending on who you ask). Mate – thank you, that will be remembered! And to any young riders reading this – that is why you need friends in the pack!
One lap to go saw me riding into a barrier. It seems this was shown on TV and is a main talking point where ever I went after the race. I have not seen the coverage but it appears one doesn’t see the young Welsh rider in front of me hit the barriers himself, leaving nowhere for me to go. I really wish I could have done more but as anyone who’s raced carbon wheels in the wet will know, instantaneous braking is not always an option in those conditions. Funnily enough, that was probably the softest run-in with road furniture I have ever had – but the resulting noise seems to have scared the life out of several onlookers. Back on the bike, part of the race was gone, never to be seen again and it was simply a matter of getting cross the finish line – which felt like a victory in itself.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve accepted a finishers medal when one has been offered to me but I can honestly say, had someone stood at the finish last Sunday and handed me some token of appreciation for finishing the race, I would have gladly accepted it, and cherished it.
I hope I don’t have to do another excruciating race like that again any time soon, but I certainly loved it in the moment. Racing through Glasgow, the support was amazing, but riding next to David Millar and James McCallum at times was particularly impressive as these two Scots received a special amount of support from the crowds I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed before. Scott Davies is probably a name worth remembering for the future and lastly, Peter Kannaugh went past me at such a speed when he attacked that I got the impression he does not even have to wait until next July to win a Grand Tour, he can just get on his bike now and win it.
For me, the next stop is back to France to train, then come the end of August, Spain for the Vuelta. See you next time!
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