Welcome back, hopefully I’ll manage to keep this month’s blog post update reasonably brief for once as there’s no real drama to talk about.
Instead, I’ve just had a solid month of pretty consistent training and racing, with one or two decent results thrown in for good measure. The form has been a little bit patchy, with a handful of days of slight fatigue balancing out periods where I had great legs, but on the whole it has been a relatively successful month.
With no racing for me on the first weekend of July, I have three races to report on: the Stockton Velo29-Altura Grand Prix (the second round of the HSBC UK Grand Prix Series – a.k.a. a Premier Calendar event), the London Dynamo Summer Road Race (a National B event) and the Hoops 3 Day Stage Race (a National B event comprising four stages).
Stockton Velo29-Altura Grand Prix (51st place)
After travelling up late the night before, I lined up feeling good and hoping for a decent result, but it turned out the course was far more unselective and in favour of a bunch sprint than I had realised.
There was a 8 km stretch of main road out of the city centre, taking us onto 10 laps of a 13.3 km circuit that was ‘rolling’ at most, before returning along the same main road back into Stockton for five technical town centre criterium style finishing laps – 180km in total.
After an early break established itself, the race was tightly controlled throughout by JLT Condor, who rode on the front all day setting a steady tempo.
Aside from a couple of crashes in the bunch, it was a pretty easy and uneventful three hours around the large circuit, and it was just a case of eating and drinking well and rolling round for me.
As we hit the last lap of the large circuit before the run back into town, the pace began to be lifted more and more, a trend which continued all the way to the finish.
Having been fairly relaxed towards the back of the bunch so far, I moved myself to the front and tucked myself in amongst the lead out trains that were forming, and held position in the top 20 riders or so throughout the last lap and the incredibly fast and furious run back into the town centre.
With lots of roundabouts and big roads, coupled with a reasonably strong tailwind, it felt like we were inside the last 5km going full gas, but were in fact just fighting for a good position going into the town centre finishing circuits.
As the bunch began the finishing circuits and closed in on the remains of the breakaway, I slowly began to slip backwards unfortunately, despite having good legs.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not the best at criteriums, both in terms of my physical attributes and skills/experience, and this was being demonstrated. Hopefully it’s something that will improve and I’ll get better at this discipline with time and more experience (I’ve never done a National A level criterium before, and only a few National B level ones).
In the end, I rolled in at the back of the bunch sprint in 51st place, a little disappointed especially as the legs still felt fresh and I didn’t feel at all like I’d just emptied the tank racing a Prem!
I was, however, pleased with how I fought for and held position near the front throughout one of the most intense and challenging parts of the race where it was crucial to be in a good position, even if I didn’t hold it through towards the finish. Every race is an experience gained, even if there’s no result to write home about.
London Dynamo Summer RR (8th place)
I’d had a few days of feeling quite tired leading up to this race, and on the day my legs felt pretty horrendous. This wasn’t a course to have bad legs on; having raced here two years previously, I knew just how hard the steep finishing hill was, especially when wet which makes it very hard to keep traction on the back wheel.
I spent a large part of the race at or near the back, really struggling to move up, and having to chase back on or close gaps on numerous occasions.
Luckily, however, as I predicted before the race, a strong headwind on a long straight section of main road after the decisive finishing climb meant that any splits or attacks that tried to go away on that part of the course were coming back on the main road every time, so I wasn’t too concerned that I was going to miss a move my being positioned further back in the bunch.
As the race went on, my legs didn’t improve. Whilst they felt sluggish though, through this I could feel that I wasn’t really actually tiring over time, and I knew the other contenders had been burning matches all day trying to get away up the road, whilst I had been sitting in just keeping an eye on things, reasonably confident that the bunch should stay more or less together despite the selective course.
I knew that I had a chance of a decent result if I saved myself and was able to get out a single strong finishing effort on the climb.
Approaching the finish for the last time, there were a couple of riders still dangling just up the road who had chipping off the front earlier. I managed to fight my way towards the front on the drag into the steep part of the climb, and as we neared the foot of the steepest part, I found myself in perfect position. Max Stedman was the first to jump, and as George Wood followed I slipped myself into 3rd wheel, with the two leaders within touching distance just ahead.
From here, it was about 30secs to the crest of the climb, before about 200 metres or so downhill to the line, so it was a case of going all in on the climb, getting on top of the gear over the crest, and then hanging on for grim death to the finish!
As George began to let Max’s wheel go slightly having been active all race, I came round and launched my sprint to the top, passing Max as well who I think got bogged down slightly just before the top, and so I led the bunch to the top of the climb in pursuit of the two riders ahead.
With 3rd place more or less in the bag (I’d say the nature of the finish meant that the order at the top of the climb was the order at the finish – it was difficult for anyone to come around you after the crest), it was at this point that I royally ballsed it up!
During the sprint, I’d tried to focus on keeping my weight as far back as possible without pulling a wheelie, but just before the crest I think I got a bit keen and shifted it too far forwards as I tried to pick up speed as the gradient levelled.
My back wheel completely slid out from underneath me and I lost all my momentum, almost coming to a complete stop and having to unclip. Other riders had been having some bad back wheel slip on the previous ascents of the climb, and I fell foul of the same problem at the worst possible moment.
I managed to get going again in the saddle as quickly as possible, but five guys passed me on the crest, and I rolled in 8th place. Pretty frustrating and disappointing to say the least, but it was completely my own fault and is probably something I’ll never do again now after that experience. It was nice to know I was comparatively strong on such a hard finish at least.
Hoops 3 Day Stage Race (2nd overall GC, 3rd stage 1, 2nd stage 2 TT)
I managed to get a last minute entry for Sarah Hooper’s 4 stage / 3 day stage race based around Milton Keynes, and drove myself up there for the weekend, staying at a friend’s house near Cambridge overnight.
Stage 1 (Friday): What should have been a 70km ‘kermesse’ on the Cranfield triangle (20 laps) starting at 7pm, but was shortened to one hour due to heavy rain and fading light.
Bad traffic meant I arrived just over half an hour before the start – not ideal. No warm up, but just enough time to get the Velotoze on to save myself from having to endure damp shoes the next morning. The legs felt terrible as they often do when I don’t warm up thoroughly, and I found myself once again at the very back of the race, chasing on and closing gaps… not a great start all in all.
However, my legs seemed to get going a bit towards the end, and I moved up during the last three laps, chipped off the front with a couple of km to go, and grabbed myself a two second time gap over the bunch and a 1sec time bonus from 3rd (there were two riders just ahead).
Not a bad outcome considering the start! That left me 3rd on GC @ +10secs, with an 8sec gap to Dan Bigham in 2nd place, and a 3sec advantage on the rest of the field.
Stage 2 (Saturday morning): An 8.8 mile out-and-back individual time trial, using only race race equipment. I was off at 10:54. Once again, horrendous legs which meant the power was very low and the pacing not great, but I got myself as aero as possible and got everything out of the legs that I could.
I completed the course in 18 mins 29 secs, which was 2nd place just 6 secs slower than the race leader, Dan Bigham.
Stage 3 (Saturday afternoon): A couple of hours for lunch, and it was back on the start line for a 90 minute criterium around the Milton Keynes bowl.
More terrible legs, more riding at the back. I was really under pressure this time, with moves going off the front yet I didn’t feel like there was anything I was able to do, especially as I was in the race alone with no team mates who could ride for me and control the front of the race.
At one point, quite a large breakaway group formed and began to gain a decent advantage on the bunch. With it containing several riders who posed a threat to my position on GC, I decided I couldn’t afford to let the situation get any more dangerous, and so brought it to heel.
I rode hard on the front on my own for several laps, bringing the gap down to less than five seconds before looking to others for assistance which allowed the gap to creep out again.
By the finish, the group held on to a small advantage, and the race leader, Dan Bigham, also succeeded in chipping off the front and grabbing another handful of seconds on me.
To be honest, a combination of a bad race by me and being isolated without team support cost me seconds on this stage, but I was lucky to limit my losses and hold on to my 2nd place on GC. Bigham’s teammate Si Wilson had closed in to just 1 second behind me in 3rd place on GC, going into the final stage the next morning.
Stage 4 (Sunday morning): The final stage, and it was all to play for during the 128km road race on the Astwood circuit. I would need to find 19 seconds on Dan Bigham to win, but also keep an eye on numerous riders in the top 10 on GC who were all a stone’s throw behind me in terms of time.
Thankfully, once my legs got going (which still took the best part of an hour!), I felt really good on this stage and was able to keep myself at the front throughout.
Whilst it was mostly a case of sitting back and letting Bigham’s Brother NRG Pro Cycling team control the race, I remained active and alert, making efforts when I needed to and putting in a few attacks to see if I could catch Dan out and put him under pressure.
Unfortunately, as a lone rider I was outnumbered and it just wasn’t possible to gain any time back on Bigham.
I successfully defended my 2nd place position on GC, and the stage ended in a bunch sprint. As the only rider in the final top 17 to be in the race without teammates, I think I’ve got to be happy with that, even if it would have been great to win overall.
Not a bad weekend out all in all, and a good confidence boost going forwards.
Coming up, I have my big season target of the Ryedale Grand Prix (Nat. A) this Sunday, before the Islington CC RR (Nat. B), South East Regional Championships (Nat B.), and the Victor Berlemont Trophy (Nat B.) during the rest of the month of August.