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.

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