21 April 2013

Wales 1 - Ireland 1

...alright maybe the scores aren't quite as even as the title would suggest but what I lack in a Pro contract I made up for in celebrations today.

First off a massive thanks to the organising club Pendle Forest CC and to event organiser Margret Roper. I've not seen such a smoothly run event in a long while. I can see why the event proves so popular with the local clubs.

From the HQ we rode, neutralised, straight up the finishing climb de-neutralising roughly at the Start/Finish. I say roughly because my initial attack nearly saw 2 of us leave the front of the bunch only to come to a screeching halt on the bumper of a quickly approaching lead car. Never mind the "from the gun" tactic rarely pays off and is more often than not a way of compensating for a poor warm up. Either way it’s always a right laugh to hear the groans behind as "Some little sh*t" thinks it's funny to make everyone work for the first 5km. Most races you'll find me on the bumper of the lead car for that exact reason although from a more practical point of view; I didn't know the 18km circuit or the final climb and there's no better way to learn it quickly than leading the bunch round.

A good look at the final climb left me something to think about on the opening lap. First impressions: not my kind of climb, starting with a 8-10% kick which levelled briefly then kicked again, leading onto the second half of the climb (which was more my cup of tea) a 4-6% drag roughly 1km long to the finish. The plan: keep close tabs on any punchy attacks going away on the lower slopes then and TT the gap on the shallower section to win.

The main contenders rapidly identified themselves as being Ilkley CC's strong 4 man team, Ben Jacobs (Dirty Wheels) and Stephen Stoneman (Bott Cycling Team) along with a few others whose names I didn't catch. The pace was set pretty high in the first laps with Stephen, Ben and I trying to make a successful break away firstly on a solo basis then in pairs or all three of us as we successfully marked each other out as the strongest riders. Ilkley CC was having none of it. Almost every time a break established a 10 second lead Ilkley would organise a three man chase at the front of the bunch and close things down. The first angered ride of the courses main climb shed half the peloton immediately to leave a lead group roughly 25 to 30 riders strong. Ben, looking like a strong climber made himself a prime candidate for attacking the climb hard to loose a few more riders.

The following two laps passed pretty quickly, each time the bunch weakening both on the main climb and the harder sections of the rolling course. The frequency of attacks died off for a while as the bunch calmed down. On the final lap Stephen made attacks with a regularity that would put most juniors to shame and barely spent more than a minute in the bunch before punching away each time. On one occasion causing concern for me when a series of shallow bends and crests put him out of sight of the peloton, just for a couple of minutes he would appear through a hedge or disappear round the net corner. Eventually he tired, returned to the bunch and left the attacking to the rest of us for the final 5km.

A twisty, potted and narrow approach to the final climb meant jostling was expected and on more than one occasion the sharpened elbows had to be deployed to encourage riders to keep their line. Tom Canaway made a valiant "Gilbert style" attack on the final climb followed by one other rider, they stayed clear for the entire steep section of the climb and then some. I waited, pulled to the front of the bunch and, perfectly on queue, slipped a gear. The front 5 riders engulfed me. We caught the 2 leaders now 7 riders littered the road curb to curb in front of me. The 200m flag came into view, there was no gap, and the gear shifting around me was increasing to the inevitable crescendo of the winning attack being made. Ben was leading the bunch at a high pace up the left hand side of the road with the echelon reaching the right hand side in front of me, Ben waivered slightly to the right. That'll do! I punched hard and kicked through the gap at the 200m to go mark. It was a long sprint given the gradient. Looking down under my arms there were wheels dancing either side of mine. I kicked again... Looked down... no wheels. No one around me. Another quick check... I was clear. Up went the arms. Race win number one of the year and to cap it all off I get to sit on the sofa with a cuppa and watch Dan Martin win at Liege Bastogne Liege this evening. Cracking day, I'll have a few more like that please.

19 April 2013

Coffee, Cross-winds and Cycling

So things have been a little frustrating recently, I'm feeling pretty fit, not on top form, but pretty fit but there are no suitable road races within half a tank of petrol of me that I can actually compete in. It seems the choice is between the, previously mentioned, narrrow 2/3/4 crits or getting put in world of hurt by the local Elites. I'll take the latter with a side of cross-wind. Last weekend I was over in Sheffield doing another E123 race which featured 25mph wind, 40mph gusts and a very stong field. On the finishing straight of the 5.5km circuit we were in the right hand gutter trying to find shelter from the wind, God knows how the organisers felt after the pre-race breifing featuring the line "Anyone consistantly using the right hand side of the road will be pulled out." Within the first 10 seconds of racing after the neutralised section we were, as a whole peleton, hugging the right hand curb. Thankfully the traffic on the circuit was light and the NEG and Marshalls went above and beyond to make the race as safe as possible. So a massive thank you is in order for everyone involved in organising the Sheffrec Road Race last weekend.

Unfortunately the quality of the field at Sheffrec was a little too good and despite leading the race in the opening laps eventually I settled into the pack and found that gaps started appearing all over. After 5 laps I found myself chasing wheels, filling gaps and generally in alot of trouble. The decisive break was made with over half the race left to go containing Dean Downing, eventual race winner Tom Bustard and a fine collection of Prem Calendar jerseys. I found myself in one of the many groupetto's. For some reason alot of my companions felt the need to attack each other with no really wheels to chase and no prospect of catching the lead group which was fast coming round to lap us.

After being lapped the officials, rightly, pulled us out and I got to watch the final few laps wind-swept, in relative comfort from the finish line with a bowl full of pasta. Not a perfect finish I'll admit but the right thing to do for the safety of the race. A brave and risky attack from Bustard at 3 laps to go worked out in his favour. As the remains of the break watched each other taking turns to surge and sit up he pulled out a convincing lead of around 30 seconds and upon finishing collapsed in a heap on the, until recently unused, left hand verge. Downing convincingly won the bunch gallop with Tom Murry rounding out the podium.

On a less racing based note I'm really grateful to everyone who reads this blog especially the people I've had giving advice and offering a place to stay in France. Dave Bees deserves a mention in particular, thanks to his first had account of racing over in Brittany I've found some big motivation to train harder than usual this year. For those who haven't seen or heard Dave is currently endvouring to open a cycling orientated coffee shop called "Cafe Velo" (does what it says on the tin). Can't wait to see how it turns out.

Everyone knows cycling wouldn't work without coffee so it's looking like a banging idea already. Best of luck.

11 April 2013

Grass is greener on the Welsh side.

Midweek crit season is here! It's actually the reason for my later than usual entry on the blog, I thought I'd hold out a few days because there was bound to be some crit action to report on... not so unfortunately .

I've been searching in and around Manchester for some midweek crits to keep myself occupied on my days off work. Having grown up with Llandow less than a half hour ride from my parents home in South Wales I had some pretty solid ideas of what midweek crits looked like. I've had to redefine my interpretation of a crit circuit this week. Tameside and Litherland are the nearest tracks to me in Manchester. The 2 circuits are relatively newly built cycling specific tracks. Both turned out to be 2 to 3 meters wide, 1 km long ribbons of tarmac tightly wound around a field with worryingly close football pitches.

Tameside, although well run and a great little track for the kids, was a little too narrow and I ended up finishing somewhere in the bunch having failed miserably the whole race to make any progress up the bunch. The only tactic that seemed to work was barrelling up the inside into the hairpin corner. I'll give Andy Nichols a mention, pulling off 6th on the line the first time round the track ain't too shabby.

Litherland was an utter farce. In true British Cycling fashion entry was a rather high £20 for a 50 minute crit including league affiliation. The 2/3/4 race started late and thanks to a collection of lazy organisers the race was given 5 laps to go after only 10 minutes of racing. Granted only 11 riders turned up to race but if you've advertised you're running an event you bloody well run it. Once the lap board came out there was a genuine air of confusion among us there was no mention of cutting the race short on the start line. In total we raced just under 15 minutes totalling just over 6 miles. to find a silver lining we all scored points on the line, I ended up finishing 6th (after running for 4th in the sprint) thanks to another rider pulling a foot in the last 100 meters.

So thats it, a pretty boring week in total and yet again the form of race organisation in this country showing its true colours with one race official at Litherland being heard to say the words "shall we knock off early then?" On the other side of the coin Forza have a been organising crits at Llandow like its going out of fashion. The full Summer Series is up on the British Cycling website and the accompanying facebook page can be found bellow. Might have to make a few trips back to the valleys for some proper racing this summer.

Sheffrec RR this weekend, another chance for me to show Dean Downing what a really cyclist looks like.

Forza Cycles RT Summer Series