Following his dream start to the East London Velo Winter Series at Hog Hill near Redbridge, Southend Wheelers’ Chris Smith had endured a rash of bad luck. Punctures and a lack of racing experience conspired to leave the Rochford rider empty-handed in successive outings, after his superb 10th place – and vital category point – in his maiden race at the east London venue.
Unfazed and undaunted, the plucky 24-year old again teamed up with fellow Wheeler, Maylandsea’s Jamie Maidment to contest round 5 of the criterium (circuit racing) series at Hog Hill on Saturday (February 4).
The starting pace from the gun was as brisk as the temperature, but, despite their rivals’ best efforts, the Wheelers duo refused to be jettisoned out of the back of the fast-moving pack.
“Halfway through Jamie annoyingly punctured but, fortunately, he was allowed to take a lap out and rejoin the bunch,” said Chris.
However, although they were back together as a duo, Maidment’s arrival back in the peloton appeared to signal a change in the race’s tempo.
Smith said: “After Jamie got back into the pack, the pace became pretty choppy and fatigue started setting in.”
With just five laps to go, the peloton split, with Maidment just off the back of the bunch in a small chain-gang and trying to haul himself back up to the main group.
Rather than work together to close the gap, Maidment’s co-pursuers appeared to prefer to fight him rather race for a top ten placing, allowing the lead group to escape further up the road.
“There was a bit of rivalry in Jamie’s group, which he ended up victorious in!” Smith reflected afterwards.
In the final lap, a breakaway rider launched his bid for victory with a surprise attack off the front. He opened up a lead of up to ten metres on the back straight with the notorious Hoggenberg Climb yet to come.
Smith added: “It didn’t seem as though anyone wanted to pull back to him. I certainly didn’t fancy doing any unnecessary pulls! With the hill in sight and then at the foot of the Hoggenberg, I was in a decent position and launched an attack.”
Wondering if he had committed too soon, Smith had no choice but to dig deep and go ‘full gas’ up the lung-busting ascent.
“As I clambered up the hill, I took a quick look under my arm and saw that I had a gap and rolled over the finish line in 4th,” Smith said, adding: “Hopefully, there will be no punctures for either of us next week and we’ll both finish in the top ten next week.”