31 March 2013


Firstly sorry for not posting anything last week, I ended up spending most of the weekend in bed feeling rather sorry for myself after a week of bad stomach pains. As a result my first 2/3/4 race of the season was this weekend instead of last weekend.

The plan was to race the Merseyside Wheelers Road Race last weekend and the Frank Morgan Memorial Road Race this weekend. I'd like to thank both organisers for letting me onto the start sheet at the 11th hour. I was reluctant to pre-enter either race given my fragile state but at least I only missed one race. Both events were run like large crits using industrial estates. Given the low volume of traffic on industrial estates on a Sunday it's a stroke of genius to run road races on them. The circuits were not as technical as most crits given the comparative large size of the circuit (about 2 miles round) and the race distance can be closer to that of an actual road race without the riders getting bored of the course. The only down side I can see is that with HGV's and trade vehicles using the road constantly during the week the tarmac can get a little chewed up in places. Great plan then for the organiser of the Frank Morgan Memorial to do a neutralised sighting laps while pointing out hazards from the lead car. Nicely organised event in all and the free food at race HQ really was the icing on the cake.

The race was run over 24 laps of a 2 mile box circuit featuring 2 lane wide, one-way roads on all sides with a points paying sprint prime on every lap, the idea being the rider with the highest points at the end of the race wins the "Green Jersey". True to my usual form I was at the front from the start  picking up full points for the sprints competition with little effort on the first and third laps after that I lost count of the laps where I picked up full points but almost every time I entered into the sprint I won it. Suffice to say I was feeling fit. Up until that point in the race I was happy to chase break away attempts in the interest of keeping up in the sprint rankings. But It's not a rewarding game to play. With about 60km left to race I made a solo attack (not tactically astute at all). The break lasted long enough to score me another sprint win and inspired a small group to bridge up to me, we got ourselves organised, eventually, and managed to stay away for 15km without too much trouble. Of course it all fell apart when people started missing turns and shying away from the work on the windy sides of the circuit and yet again I was all too willing to take up the slack.

After we got dragged back to the bunch I was all but sure the race would come down to a bunch sprint, we had 30km left to race and thus far no attacks had gained anything over 20 seconds on the bunch. Solo attacks and pairs struggled in the headwind and anything bigger than 5 riders was seen as too dangerous and got shut down by one of the 4 well represented teams (Max Gear, Stan's Bikes, Liverpool Mercury or Bike Box) all of which had 4 or more riders. With such a mixture of teams willing to work for the sprints on there squad I decided to allow them to fight it out for the remainder of the race distance while staying out of trouble in the front third of the bunch. The final break away of the day went clear with about 25km to go and the whole peloton watched 5 riders sail away to a 35 second lead. I wasn't in it. Most of the bigger teams weren't represented either. Safe to assume we all thought Max Gear the stronger of the well represented teams would pull the break back, but it wasn't to be.

Having been so active in the earlier sprints I was pretty sure I'd feature at the top end of the sprint competition. Unfortunately a couple of the guys in the break were keen on the prize too, Ryan Pike (High on Bikes) and Richard Watson (Stan’s Cycles) managed to score enough points to over haul my total by just 3 and 2 points respectively, meaning I was leading the sprint classification right up until the final 2 laps. At least I didn't leave empty handed, 3rd in the sprints is nice but 35th overall doesn't look too good on a pal mares.

Again I'd like to congratulate Liverpool Mercury on a fantastically well run event and thank race organiser Fred Chilton for letting me in on such short notice. Results below, photos to follow.

Frank Morgan Memorial Results

19 March 2013

I really don't know what to call this one...

My last entry may have been taken slightly out of context and I apologies for anything I may have said that caused offence. I love the Betty Pharaoh. When I can I always start my road season at the Legstretchers, it's an event I will support until I can't turn the pedals anymore and I'm more than happy that the attitude of the bigger teams is so similar to mine in that respect. We're loosing a lot of races in the UK. To see such a high turn out across the board from 4th cat to Elite is always a good thing.

I have nothing but respect for the UK Youth Team, it's riders, staff and even more so for the UK Youth Charity they represents.

The short version of what I wanted to say yesterday was; I went into the race with a mind set that said I could win it. A very ambitious mind set but, from the information I could gather before that Sunday morning, a realistic one. My gripe was nothing to do with the teams that turned up on the day but more my own mentality and positive attitude being crushed. I allowed myself to, naively, form these attitudes by think that in an E123 race there wouldn't be Elite riders entering on the line. I thought the strength of the field could be judged by the start sheet. Under slightly different circumstances I would have been right. On this occasion I was wrong. That didn't change the fact I was still going to attack it in the same way.

I was incredibly intimidated when arriving at the start of the race to see such a professional outfit laid out over the far end of the HQ's car park. Who wouldn't be in my shoes? I've made my intentions clear simply by making this blog that I intend to be racing at a semi professional level 12 months from now.That is going to mean, somewhere along the way, meeting and beating larger teams. I just wasn't expecting to be confronted with that challenge so early in the season or so soon into my training (lets not forget last year for me was a disaster. This year has started from a blank slate, I have a long way to go before achieving my goals)

The reason I made this blog wasn't because I am currently capable of racing at the standard required in France. Quite the opposite. I am aware that I currently lack the fitness and financial means to make my way over there, if I did I wouldn't be writing this particular blog entry during my lunch break at work in Manchester. I'm writing this blog from the stand point of someone who loves the sport and is starting from the very bottom and working his way up. I'm sure almost all sports men and women can relate to that. My previous entry was more about the experience of rocking up to an event in a clapped out old car, unloading out dated kit from the boot and competing against teams or other athletes who are well funded and have the cost of transport covered for them or at least greatly cut. Who hasn't had that kind of thing happen to them at some point?

All I want this blog to be is simply an account of my experiences while attempting to do something I know a lot of riders in my position want to try. I didn't intend to cause any offence and I apologise if my wording came off a little aggressive or inflammatory but I'm thinking my intention may have been misunderstood too.  I think I quite neatly summed up what I aim to achieve with the introduction paragraph to the blog. It's a romantic idea, it might work, it might not, I just want to have fun doing it.

18 March 2013

UK Youth

Team UK Youth really did dominate this weekend. From what I can pick up from the post race chatter, the 9 man UK Youth Team filled the top 8 positions on the line. Had Jon Mould not have had a double puncture on the last lap I'm sure they would have had a clean sweep 1st to 9th.

I'll be honest the presents of such a big team entering on the line did annoy me more than a little. Mostly because I'd managed to convince myself that (given the list of pre-entered riders and my present form) I stood a fairly good chance of taking the win. In previous years the finish for the Betty Pharaoh has been a short sharp final climb which tends to put me in trouble. This year, however, the finish was going to be a straight sprint. My kind of finish.

Despite pulling my little run down Fiesta into the car park alongside Team UK Youths 2 team BMW's, team van and 9 Cervelo S5's I was undeterred and started jotting down a few numbers of riders to chase. Figuring the best course of action wasn't to just chase every UK Youth jersey that attacked I thought the safest bet was to single out the local boy on the team. Jon Mould. And for a time this tactic worked well. On the road between Wick and Llantwit Jon and another UK Youth lad jumped clear, I took this as my queue along with a few others and we formed a hard working group of 7 that quickly pulled out a lead of 24 seconds.

As we started the descent down into Cowbridge the UK Youth boys got a little work shy. After hitting the sharp left-hander in Cowbridge we began the 18% climb back up onto the A48. I found myself leading up the climb, something was wrong with that image. I love a long climb but short and punchy really isn't my kind of thing. Usually, on this particular climb I pace myself, maybe allow a gap to grow and us my sprint to get back into the group once the climb levels off. But I was still on the front nearing the top.

About 50 metres short of the top of the climb I found out why the UK youth lads weren't so keen to work over the previous few kilometres. A small group of their team mates had managed to bridge the gap and upon catching us decided to up the pace again before I could catch my breath. As it turned out I had just allowed the decisive break away to slip away from me. I chased pretty damn had for about 5 minutes before conceding that I'd lost my chance. The peloton caught me just before the decent of Crack Hill and I was welcomed back to the bunch by yet another Team Youth Attack. I found the energy to follow him from somewhere but I knew that was it for me, I'd gone too deep in the break.

Back in the peloton I tried to compose myself and recover. The next time up the 18% climb the peloton dropped me and yet again I found myself chasing through the following cars for about 10 minutes. I finally got back on and was overwhelmed by a feeling of light headedness; I'd definitely gone too deep.

The next time past the finish line at Llandow I made my way to the back of the bunch and tried to quietly slope off to the car without anyone noticing. Thankfully the event photographer Huw Fairclough managed to capture my white flag moment.

I'm not too upset with the way the race ended for me, after all with only one winter and a few crits back from a pretty poor 2012 I manged to make the right moves tactically and hang onto and (briefly) drive a break away comprised of Elite, 1st, 2nd cat riders. I'm still kicking myself very hard but hopefully I can redeem myself next week at the Mersyside Wheelers event.

Thanks to Huw Fairclough / Short&Round for the photo's of the days racing and to Cardiff Ajax, Chris Landon and Reg Pharaoh for organising a great day out.

12 March 2013

Starting the Tally

It's been a successful week for Forza Cycles Racing Team. A wide selection of results coming out of Llandow Racing Circuit coupled with my first result of the season (a 2nd in the Marsh Track Crit in Rhyl, has racked up quite a few points for the team very rapidly. Not to mention an ex-member of Forza Hugh 'Hughski' Wilson (NFTO Racing) scoring a cracking win in the 31st Jock Wadley Memorial against the combined might of Team UK Youth and IG Sigma Sport in conditions that saw only 17 of the 73 starters actually finish. Proper hard mans racing. The race report is below. I particularly like the part about how 25 years of age is "getting on a bit" in cycling terms.

Hughski's results do dwarf mine just a little, the only likeness between the 2 events being the weather. This time of 17 starters only 12 finished. Not so impressive but points are points. On the start line the rain that had been threatening all morning finally came down. At almost the exact same time a race official told me my transparent rain cape wasn't clear enough to see my numbers. I laughed. He didn't. After handing over the offending item of clothing a member of the organizing club rolled up to the line in exactly the same cape. No prizes for guessing who got to keep his on.

It may seem like a pretty small alteration but the lack of a rain cape kind of made my mind up on my course of action. Attack until I warm up again, then attack some more.

In the early stages of the race not a lot differed from the previous round. A few solo attacks lasting no longer than a lap of the track went clear and came back again. About 20 minutes in a small group of 3 got 10 meters on the bunch and looked like they meant to continue making ground. Coming out of one of the sharper corners, 2nd in line, I decided to try and jump the gap alone. Wheels touched behind me and that was it for the 12 man "peloton". 2 of us bridged to the break away group and we sailed away from the remained of the field. As it turns out the damage of the crash was far worse than in initially sounded. From the various storied floating about I think there was a broken collar bone, dislocated jaw, and clean break through a Pinarello Dogma frame.

After the damage behind there wasn't much else to do besides hold a good pace until the cat and mouse games of the last few laps. Throwing in some dummy attacks and side-wards glances I sized up the guys around me pretty quickly. It turned out I was actually one of the stronger riders left with only 2 other guys willing to contest the sprint. On the last lap the eventual winner made a monster of an attack from about a kilo out leaving the rest of us thinking he was going to eventually tire and get caught. No such luck I'm afraid. Coming into the final straight he was obviously slowing to the point where I was convinced the win was still up for grabs. We crossed the line side by side with less than half a bike in it. 

Never mind. This Sunday is the Betty Pharaoh Memorial Legstretchers, a well attended early season classic on the coast of South Wales. I always love opening the road racing season at the Legstretchers. I've raced it most years since I started on the road simply because it's beautifully run on great roads and, best of all, Reg Pharaoh is always a pleasure to talk to in the race HQ. He's a friendly man who always has a big place in his heart and a inspirational word for the aspiring young road racer.

4 March 2013


British Cycling as a whole has taken a massive hit over the weekend. Personally I didn't know Junior Heffernan but a few of my friends who knew him say he was a talented young man with great potential and an all round nice guy. I'd like to echo those sentiments and say that my thoughts go out to his close friends and family.

The general tone in the aftermath of this devastating event involved lots of people saying that "Racing in Britain should be on closed roads like the rest of Europe" and to the more aggressive "Do BC spend our membership money on carting the Brailsford bandwagon all over the world with their selected cycling darlings?" Neither are statements I feel are inappropriate given the circumstances.

Although there is another dimension to the argument that not many people seem to be shouting about. It came to me after a disappointing Saturday at the Eddie Soens Memorial. A large group of riders hit the floor pretty hard with about 70% of the race remaining. A team car and paramedic van were used to cordon off a section of the race track (roughly 2/3 of the tracks width) to allow the medics to attend to the injured riders. A fitting precaution for a few minutes of checking riders over. This continued for over half an hour. Every lap the peloton being squeezed through a dangerously small gap on a high speed corner. During this time a second crash happened on the other side of the track and a second paramedics van set to work.

At what point does the commissarie neutralise the race? In this case he/she didn't. The situation was made worse by a race official stating clearly at the start of the race "No laps out will be given to any riders under any circumstances" At this point I'm thinking this race is becoming a How-to guide on creating a frenzied, nervous and dangerous bunch.

During Juniors race, according to reports, it was the riders and not the commissaries that neutralised and, eventually, cancelled the race. If our race officials are constantly seen to have this disregard for our safety then of course riders are going to take risks. If getting caught behind a crash means your £20 entry fee goes up in smoke within the first 10km what are riders, especially young hopeful riders, going to do? Take risks! Use both sides of the road to make progress to the safer front end of the peloton! Make sure your position is maintained by holding more speed in corners!

I don't solely blame race officials for problems in road racing in the UK. Before I moved to Manchester my season used to involve several handicap races near Abergavveny. Liz Slater was the commissar at these events. During one race she saw fit to stop the bunch, call a halt to the race, step out of the lead car and basically tell us to behave. The rules were laid down at the start; No rider is to use the right hand side of the road at any point. It made moving up through the bunch more difficult once the various groups had come back together but that's racing. There need to be more commissaries like Liz as far as I'm concerned.

I think we all wish for fewer weekends like this. Every time a tragic event like this happens I can feel the collective cycling community hope for change, a renewed investment in bringing the UK more inline with European racing in terms of safety. It’s not going to happen. We need to be outspoken about it. I'll be writing to British Cycling over the next week I implore you to do the same. We do need closed road racing. The UK is ridiculed in Europe for being so behind the times. After all what's the cost of a rolling road closure compared to the added safety it will provide. We already pay among the highest race entries and membership fees in Europe why isn't our money working for us?