The British National Road Race Championships 2012 are one of my favourite events of the season. The race is strange because I have no specific job to do, no pulling on the front, no marking, no driving the break and no one to let down apart from myself.
The first British Elite Championships I took part in were in 2008, somewhere in Yorkshire.
I went with the guys front An-Post, who helped me out a lot in getting to the race and finding a place to stay. It was an adventure. I drove on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for the first time up to the race in a van we had borrowed to get there.
Some parts of Yorkshire and very remote and I just didn’t believe I was in England when we forded a river and I lost mobile reception. It was amazing to find such a beautiful place in the England.
Most of my previous cycling experience in the UK involved trying to trace training routes round cities in the Midlands. I didn’t finish that race because I bonked, but I had been in the break with Rob Hayles who went on to win the race.
Since 2008 I’ve gone every year to the championships and had varying degrees of success; either in the break, or finishing respectfully.
My best year was in Pendle in Lancashire where we just went up and down a massive mountain for five hours. I remember just feeling I didn’t have that extra oomph to follow the ten or so guys of the front, but felt comfortable because it was a hilly race and there wasn’t much need to scrap for position in the peloton.
My bad luck began with the equipment. My team forgot to bring my race bike from the north of Portugal the previous weekend, so I was stuck with my training bike.
The wheels were still an issue, so the team had them sent down, however due to a problem with the courier these arrived late, really late. I had to go to the Algarve depot on the morning of my flight and more or less dig them out myself at 05:00 am when the depot opened and then rush to the plane which left shortly after that.
We arrived in East-Midlands, a place I’m really familiar with as I spent two years in Loughborough and even worked in a mailing centre, just a stones throw away from the airport. We got the little rent a car and followed the road north to York, to my cousin’s place.
York is a beautiful city. Its touristy, but kept well. It’s fantastic to see people making so much out of their heritage. It gave me heart ache to think how much historic and natural heritage is laid waste in the Algarve through a lack of vision and sustainable development.
I went out training that afternoon in the 10ºC and rain (quite a change from the 30ºC in the Algarve) and got three miles out when -unbelievably- I got a double puncture.
This wouldn’t usually worry me except I had no team to change the wheels and these weren’t clincher, they were tubs… I hadn’t punctured training since last summer, it had to be within 24hr of the nationals and it had to be both tubs.
I found a fantastic bike shop called ‘Cycle Works’ that was able to sort me out a fresh pair of tubs by Saturday evening, but even so, lingering at the back of my mind was the possibility of rolling one of my freshly glued tubs.
Needless to say I didn’t get to reccy the course before hand, as I planned to.
On race day, more luck followed as my handle bars loosened up as I passed one of those sunk drainage things at the side of the road.
The race was going slowly and I decided to go and get them tightened. There were no sticky spanners here however. I was handed a multi tool and told to fix it myself, which I did.
Meanwhile the peloton slipped slowly away over this little hill. At that point the race went mental and people began dropping off the back. The team cars car seemed to make deliberate efforts to abandon me to the wolves, accelerating away and leaving large gaps.
Usually there is an organised convoy one can find some respite on the journey back to the bunch after a mechanical problem or something.
Not in this race.
I had to chase for 30km. The fasted 30km I did in the race.
I wasn’t able to feed during the race also. This was my fault as I didn’t explain clearly enough to the people helping me how to hand up bidons. It seems simple to us involved in cycling, but to someone who has never done it before it’s difficult…
At about 100km in Endura hit the front of the race.
On those little roads and given the size of the bunch this was a nightmare scenario as it was extremely difficult to get positioned well and always gaps to close. I then found myself in a little group as I failed to close a gap.
I was disappointed and thought I’d make the most of my situation and get some training done, so I towed the little group around, with a couple of guys making me hurt on the climbs until I felt that I had done sufficient training. I think a couple of those guys went on to finish too.
It was so good to see a Endura team take such a stance.
Like I’ve always said: Sky riders have two legs, two arms like the rest and there is absolutely no justifiable reason the continental teams cannot -at least- put up a valiant fight.
The day after the race I went for a drive up to the North Yorkshire Moors which are exceptionally beautiful, full of wonderful road and tremendous climbs with 25% incline.
This was just a stones throw away from Ampleforth where the race was held. This is the type of setting the nationals deserve. Riding round those little lanes like we did doesn’t really do the race justice.
Despite everything, I had a wonderful time in Yorkshire. Maybe I’ll go there to live next season.