Scottish rider Finn Crockett took victory on Sunday at the Rutland–Melton CiCLE Classic at Melton, sprinting clear of a small break of three other riders to take his first UCI road race win, with fellow Scot and team mate Stuart Balfour in fourth.
Ribble-Weldtite DS Colin Sturgess takes us behind the scenes and into the team car to hear all about the strategy and build up to this unique event, and how the team executed the plan on the day.
* * *
By Colin Sturgess, DS
The planning for this race starts a long way out, it always does. Previously, when I worked for the Metaltek team and we won the race with Dan Fleeman, Andrew Swain and myself were planning it in quite a lot of detail, a fair few weeks in advance; looking at sectors, taking video, preparing for things like the weather and the wind direction, what tyres we we were going to run and at what pressures, what gears, what bikes, what wheels and other equipment the guys were going to ride, and it was very much the same with Finn’s win.
We looked at things like the wheels we would need, do we ride 65s or 45s, do we need the Mavic SL’s or the SLR’s, what spares that we have and where do those spares need to be? We used both the Ribble Ultra SLR and the Endurance SLR bikes, it came down to rider preference. And simple things like we ran tubeless throughout with very low pressures and despite people saying ‘you need 100 psi’ and so on (you don’t), with the tubeless tyres we use now you can run some very low pressures and if you look at the data and look at the literature it’s clear there’s less drag, good handling and as it’s proven on the day there’s good results out of them too.
I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely meticulous preparation because you can never plan for everything, you can never legislate for everything. You know, I just had good old piece of A4 paper and every morning I would get up and add something else that I’d thought of, just going through .gpx files trying to create something, looking at VeloViewer and a few other things just to remind myself.
But I’m very fortunate as I know the roads around there pretty well, I ride on them and I train on them, and in fact I raced this race back in 2019 and that gives me,I think, quite a unique insight, I don’t think there’s many DS’s in the in the convoy that raced it as as as recently as that – I’m sure there are people that have raced it – but as I say, it gives that insight which I think is very important.
One aspect that I think a lot of people get hung up on (and I saw this a few times and I had to bite my tongue) was people absolutely stressing and getting really het-up and just fixated on the sectors, but it’s one of those races that the sectors, the real bad stuff, is probably only 10 to 12 km in length, that’s it, out of a 183km race.
Some of the smaller roads add up to another 20km so even if you look at it in the cold light of day, if you said 20km of the race is rough you’ve still got 160k’s of pretty ‘normal’ racing and that’s where the race is won and that’s what I instilled into the boys.
It’s very, very important (I hope I’m not giving away too many trade secrets here) but there’s a lot of racing in between those sectors and it’s how you ride between the sectors; you hit the sector and if you’re near the front you get to pick your line, you get to call the shots. You can ride at your pace, you can shut it down if you want, if you’ve got a rider up the road you can just block the road or slow it right down, or you can give it a little squeeze and make it a bit harder… but you race off the sectors as well because if you are rider number 50, 60, or 70 coming over sector and you’ve got some strong men like Finn, Stuart and Harry up front racing off the sector, well, they’re already doing 35-40mph absolutely ‘gassing it’ whilst you have some poor guy still on the sector struggling to do 30mph and it’s all a case of catch-up. So we took that into consideration, formulated the plan and executed it perfectly this time, I feel.
So we came into Rutland off the back of the Tour du Loir et Cher where the guys rode a very good race and where we could already see the ‘sparks of unity’ between the between the riders – and the staff as well, that was the first stage race some of the staff had done.
We’re now working with a Dutch nutritionist named Daan Hoogervorst who works for a certain WorldTour team and in his spare time he comes and helps us and looks after us which is great. We’re all learning and it’s fantastic to be able to sit and listen to somebody who’s at the top of his game and who is helping a Conti team like ourselves, it’s pretty amazing.
Daan has been instrumental in changing quite a few of aspects of our feeding and fuelling strategy which I think certainly helped us in Loire et Cher and definitely helped us in Rutland. It’s not just a case of chucking a little bit of energy powder in a bottle these days, it’s actually thinking about – per hour – what you need to fuel; we were using quite high doses of 80 to 100g, perhaps even a little bit more, of carbohydrates per hour and, well, it seems to be working!
We are thankfully sponsored by a great company in OTE and their products are magic, so between Daan’s input, the OTE products and our guys really embracing this approach, we’re not having those occasions where you get to 150km and the guys are thinking ‘Jeez, I need to go back to the car for a Coke’. There’s no need because they’ve got everything.
Not one of the guys came back to the car in Rutland. It’s not the sort of race that you go back to the car all that frequently anyway, but not one of the guys stuck his arm up for a bottle.
When they did get a bottle, it was from me, saying ‘Take it, just in case. You can always ditch it in the green zone.’
So the fueling strategy worked massively and that’s testament to Daan and OTE and the really good input we’re getting from them, but you know it’s really simple too; you go back to the car in Rutland and you put yourself out of position, straight away.
It was so noticeable, the amount of cars that were getting called up (on race radio) for feeding, and you think ‘Well, that rider is now at the back of the bunch, behind the commissaires’ car, behind the Race President’s car… while our boys are on the front of the bunch coming off the sector at full gas and that rider wanting a bottle just isn’t going to get back.’
Simple things like that, behind the scenes, that people don’t get to see and don’t necessarily think of are all very important.
My team talk to the guys beforehand was pretty simple; ‘We ride this race from the front – it’s the only way you can ride Rutland’. We knew Finn had phenomenal form from Loir et Cher where he finished 9th on GC. Racing five hard days back-to-back is only going to bring him on.
Unfortunately, we lost Alex Peters and Ross Lamb in the week prior to Rutland with Coronavirus, which was a real real shame but I don’t think it affected the the overall structure of the team, certainly not the unity.
We drafted Ollie Peckover in at very short notice and full credit to the young man, he shaped up. I gave him a mission; ‘Right mate, your role: early break, I need you there, I need you to drill it.’
We know in Rutland breaks can get six, seven minutes and still get brought back, that’s fine. So Ollie took a young lad from Spirit away with him, which was good, and they sucked up a few prîmes (and a certain amount of beer!) and a few other prizes which was really, really good, but the whole idea was to have Ollie – who’s a big engine – up there.
Ollie showed me some of his numbers for the time he was up there, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying; his 20 minute power was something like 396 – don’t forget this is within a race situation. In first three hours I think it was 334 average, which is, you know, ‘stepping on’.
It was good to have a big engine like that at the front so that we could leapfrog riders up which worked perfectly because we got Finn in a group, and then we got Stuart in a group, and then we had Harry Tanfield and Cameron Jeffers too.
Unfortunately we lost we lost Zeb Kyffin who had an early crash, then chased, but around the Wymondham circuit no cars were allowed so he couldn’t get in the convoy and he was literally in no-man’s land for the best part of 90 minutes, chasing, and then when he did get back he punctured again but at that point the race was on and I needed to get forward, so we had a very quick wheel change, but that was all I could do for him.
We had the guys up there and it just worked out really well, to have that springboard. Unfortunately Ollie had a mechanical as well, otherwise we would’ve had three in that very front group.
When it came together we had Stuart and Finn though, and that’s the nature of this race and the way we rode it; just squeezing here and pressing on there, giving it a little nudge at the right time… this is where Stuart worked perfectly; attacking where he could, not full-gas attacks but those sort of 90% digs which draw the other riders out, and Finn had an armchair ride firstly because we had Ollie in front, and then when it split down to the last four after Stapleford with Stuart looking after him.
Let’s give full credit to GB, they had four riders in the race and they had all four there in the final, which is absolutely phenomenal. We knew they were going to be a danger so we just wanted a bit of gas over that Stapleford Park section, the boys gave it and it shook out with four getting clear.
That group was always going to stay away, and then the Trinity rider Max Walker and the rider from Beat, Jens Schuermans, were chasing and we thought it was going to be six in the front… it was lingering at 16 seconds then it got down to 10, and then coming into Melton we were thinking ‘don’t let them catch our guys.’
We knew Finn’s sprint at the moment is very strong and Stuart played the role of leadout man/superdomestique, he just drilled it in the sprint for Finn, got fourth and Finn had a clear pair of wheels for the win, just absolutely phenomenal.
I’m one of very few DS’s to have had a double win at Rutland and there’s nothing – nothing – like hearing the announcement of your rider winning as you come up that home straight in Melton!
So I dumped the car, sprinted up the home straight myself – my legs are still hurting, I’m not much of a runner and my shins and my Achilles is absolutely killing me, but it was well worth it to see the absolutely beaming faces of the boys, and then just waiting for the other riders to come in.
Harry was there with me, unfortunately he had a mechanical and was out, but when Ollie rolled in and then when Cam rolled in as well, the whole team aspect of it, our team unity, it was amazing. It’s testament to the team as a whole, the staff and the management… it’s just a great team at the moment and I just want to thank all the sponsors and everybody involved with the team.