Criteriums, a man of my acquaintance describes criteriums thus; ‘a bunch of guys turn up, they ride round in circles for an hour, one of ‘em wins then everyone goes home.’
Very true, but a night hanging over the barriers in a nice borders town under the spring sunshine with your amigos whilst catching up with old friends sure beats watching the soap operas.
Usually the first task at any pro race is to critique the hardware, but on this occasion we were under strict instructions that we had to visit the CAMS-Basso bikes ladies team.
A spanking new replacement Pinarello; so naturally John wanted CAMS ‘bigged up.’
I can’t argue with that.
‘Out’ go rim brakes and tubs.
‘In’ come disc brakes, wide section tubeless clinchers up to 28mm and ‘aero.’
Virtually every bike in both the men’s and ladies’ races was on discs and most were running tubeless rubber.
As for ‘aero,’ the Ribble Weldtite team are at the forefront with their Ribble ‘Ultra Road’ which they claim is one of the most aero bikes in the world, complete with direct mount brake levers and ‘Star Wars’ handlebars.
Finn Crockett’s is a little scraped but our Mentor, Vik always says that a bike isn’t a bike until it carries a few battle scars.
Stuart Balfour prefers his less aero but lighter climbing rig – both machines look the part and wouldn’t look out of place in exalted World Tour company.
Like Chris Froome, we’re not convinced that we really need discs – but the industry certainly is, they need to sell those bikes…
The Galashiels course didn’t need a lot of heavy braking but last year at the Tour of Britain, Dave and I were chatting to a pro mechanic chum of ours and he told us about a wet crit he’d worked at where many of the field was left brakeless as the continual braking ‘cooked’ the brake fluid.
My Ribble has discs and so too will John’s new Pinarello; you know, that Italian company who said they would never resort to disc brakes…
Tubeless, they are lighter (no inner tube) and have better rolling resistance. It’s just that gunk you have to put inside them that worries me, albeit that injecting a ‘self-sealing compound’ into a tyre is not new.
‘Back in the day,’ Dave and I would skoosh half a cupful of milk into a tubular with a slow puncture and if the hole wasn’t too big the solids in the milk would seal the hole.
It did work if it was a really slow puncture but if you punctured subsequently the mess – and smell – was terrible.
Dave punctured once in a road race and one wag was heard to observe; ‘Christ, his back wheel has caught fire!’ as Dave sprayed himself and half the peloton with curdled milk.
But I digress, it’s not just the tubeless revolution, there’s the tyre width/pressure epiphany.
In our racing days narrowness and high pressure was everything, in time tests I used to run Wolber 18mm tubs at 200 Psi.
Now it’s 25mm front/28mm rear at not even half of the pressures I used to run – I can only shake my head.
Maillots: if you grew up with Brooklyn, Faema, Molteni, Peugeot and Raleigh then your bar is set pretty high; we liked the Ribble orange and blue jobs but some of the rest…
I know, we’re dinosaurs…
* * *
But to the race, one hour plus five laps of a technical but not too treacherous circuit taking in Gala High Street.
The format for the Tour Series is teams-based, so the leading team all wear pale yellow jerseys, which is a bit confusing.
And whilst I know it’s not trendy anymore, what was wrong with shoulder numbers?
Most riders now have their numbers on the seat post, making it difficult to identify them, especially given the size of the glasses they wear these days.
The pace was fast from the off but within half-a-dozen laps it went ballistic. There was a big split of maybe 15 riders after an early spill of two riders caused the gap to open, and for the rest it was over, albeit with the team format dropped riders had to keep going in pursuit of points and endure the misery of being lapped (sometimes several times) by ‘The Bigs.’
Ribble Weldtite were out to make amends for a lacklustre showing in Guisborough on Monday night with Stuart Balfour and Finn Crockett anxious to perform for their home crowd.
Cameron Jeffers was aggressive too, as were the Tanfields, Harry and Charlie – but with those welder’s goggles and numbers hidden it’s hard to tell the difference.
It was easy to spot former World Professional Pursuit and British Road Race Champion, and now Ribble DS, Colin Sturgess though, urging his boys on from the pits.
My former employer from the times when there used to be Six Days, Stephen Bradbury wasn’t on his best day but you have to respect his Saint Piran team, it’s a long way from Cornwall to Gala.
As the night went on the Wiv SunGod boys engaged more and more at the sharp end of proceedings – with eventual first over the line, Jim Brown well to the fore.
Their cyclo-cross star, Thomas Mein – he’s current British ‘cross champion and rides for top Belgian ‘cross squad, Tormans–Circus–B&R in the winter – was demonstrating that he’s not just fast in the mud and sand.
However, the commentator’s claims of near 60 kph laps seemed a tad farfetched but John checked out Stuart Balfour’s Strava upload for the night: 30.91 miles in 1:06:44 with average watts of 357 – no walk in the park.
At the death it was WiV SunGod first and second with Brown and Matt Bostock, they took the night with 10 points to Ribble’s nine points, the SunGod’s also retain their overall lead with 20 points.
Ribble put three in the first six with Finn Crockett third and the Tanfields fifth and sixth.
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For the first time in Tour Series history, in Galashiels the Women’s event followed the Men’s (the order of Men’s/Women’s events alternating each round in this Series) and the evening sunshine was quickly disappearing behind the buildings, creating lots of interesting shadows but also bringing a noticeable drop in the temperature as the women took to the anti-clockwise circuit.
As in the Men’s event, a first lap spill on the tight downhill 90° corner into Chanel Street a few hundred metres after the start/finish line saw Sophie Earl (Saint Piran) ruled out of a high placing, but unlike the Men’s race it didn’t split the bunch, the evening becoming more a race of attrition than attacking breaks, settling down around the halfway mark with a group of 32 riders in contention, representing plenty of teams which hadn’t had a win in the Tour Series.
Scottish rider Beth Harley-Jepson (Jadan – Vive Le Velo) was present in this bunch, which stayed largely together until the final sprint, with Jo Tindley taking two of the three intermediate sprints on the way.
Amy Gornall (Pro-Noctis–Rotor–Redchilli Bikes) rode strongly in the last few laps to string the group out and together with her team mates – who all made the front group – set up Tindley for the final gallop.
Despite the Pro-Noctis team’s valiant efforts Megan Barker (CAMS-Basso) edged the sprint to the line for her first individual win in the Series, from Emma Jeffers (Jadan-Vive Le Velo) in second and Tindley third.
Triathlete (former National Champion and currently 3rd in the World Rankings) Sophie Coldwell (Loughborough Lightening) showed well to the fore all evening and was in fourth spot, with Beth Harley-Jepson a commendable seventh.
It was great to see a new venue for the Tour Series provide such top quality racing and with the lovely evening sunshine Galashiels certainly showed itself in the best light.
Next stop for the Series is Sunderland followed by another Scottish town, Stranraer in Wigtownshire, on the shores of Loch Ryan on Thursday 12th May – see you there?
Check out the Tour Series site for all the event, rider, results and venue information.