Harrogate Lanes 2004

Pain, suffering and disappointment - and a tenner.

Phil Bixby, after the Harrogate Nova Lanes 25, 2004

I'm number twenty-four.

As I pull up to the start line number twenty-five is just about to be pushed off. "Have I missed my slot?" I ask, miserably. "Yes.. you'll get a one-minute penalty but we'll set you off at the next available slot". Bugger, I thought. Bugger, bugger.

I'd arrived at the start area as number nineteen was ready to start, and pedalled off to the end of the lane to keep warm. .maybe a two-minute round trip. I explained that to the starter. "Ah yes, but number nineteen was a late starter too.. setting off in the twenty-two slot" Well that explains that then. So I wait, as rain lashes down accompanied by a brisk, cold northerly. Nick Scull is off at 27. He sits, wearing a cape, next to the starter. "Keep it on? Take it off? What do you reckon?" he ponders. A withering "Depends if you're serious or not" comes from the dry interior of the timekeeper's car.). Off comes the cape. Off goes Nick.

28, 29, 30, 31. "32? No 32. You're on next".

I shuffle forward, by now shivering with cold and well on the way to being soaked. "3. 2. 1. Go!" I grind forward, trying to wake my muscles up, gingerly round the first corner and into the driving wind and rain. Up to something that passes for speed and settle down onto the saddle; sheets of water coming off the back wheel straight onto my backside. This is horrible. For the first half of the first lap I plough along trying to overcome the shivering and speed up; I try to just check my cadence without looking at the speed reading on my computer but I have a dark suspicion it's reading something like 20mph.

Halfway round the first lap the course turns away from the wind. Up goes the speed, and my body temperature creeps up too. By the long downhill into Boroughbridge the endorphins are kicking in and I'm almost euphoric. The start of the second lap sees a turn back into the headwind and the smile is quickly washed off my face, although at least this time around I'm vaguely warm, and the temper tantrum about the missed start has subsided a bit. The rain even eases off.. ..through yellow lenses it almost looks spring-like, though this still isn't good when it's only a couple of days off midsummer.

This relatively cheery frame of mind lasts until I spot my HRM showing my heart rate at about 75% of maximum. Pedal, you idiot! As the tailwind cuts in again I stick it in a big gear and puuuuuuush, looking forward to that final downhill blast, until cramps seize my left calf just as it appears over the brow of the road. A final blur of cramping, pedalling and swearing and it's all over. Past the chequered board, spin down, then back to the hall. I'm sure it's used as a cold-store during the week, as the shivers quickly return.

Times gradually appear on the board. Nick gets 1-05-something and pulls an assortment of faces, leaving the onlooker to guess from a variety of moods. My time gets initially chalked up as 1-16-something and I'm just considering the most painless way to end it all when it's spotted as a mistake and crossed out, replaced with 1-09-04 (including my ****ing one minute penalty). Could have been worse, but could have been A LOT better. As the skies are gradually clearing, Nick and I stay for the prizegiving. First, second, third, all heroes, the lot of 'em.

"And now we come to the er, .slower riders. ...best off a four mark. .Phil Bixby, if he's still here" I'm not sure if the last comment meant "if he hasn't topped himself" but I lunged forwards amidst spattering applause, a cheer from a fellow Cliftonite (may blessings follow you always, whoever you are) and took my glorious envelope.

A tenner! Pain, suffering and disappointment....but not for nothing!