This was without doubt the best experience of road racing I’ve had to date.
Their aim was to create a ‘pro’ experience so with fully closed roads, neutral service cars, photo motos and even camera drones flying by it made an exciting race (not to mention the sun!). In fact it was the UK’s first ever Gran Fondo which meant all 6,000 riders were timed from the gun with the first past the line, 82 miles later, the overall winner.
I managed to get in Pen 1 which was at the front, although my wheels still only started rolling about 2 minutes after the gun as everybody fought to squeeze out of the gates. The next 45 minutes were fantastic; absolutely full gas; weaving through riders on undulating roads with a monster tailwind to boot. Myself and fellow TCC member, Steve Home, managed to get within sight of the leading group but then there was an almighty crash on a fast, sweeping, off-camber left-hander with rider after rider flipping over the verge into the ditch. It brought us all to a stop and this decided my race from then on (Steve said he managed to avoid it enough to sprint back on). We tried to catch the next group but the groups were massing into large groups of riders making it virtually impossible to move between them. However, that didn’t stop the enjoyment.
Having said that, our group of about 40 riders didn’t work particularly well together, with most just wanting to sit in while a few of us worked hard at the front. This continued for an hour or so until we were absorbed into a swarming mass of a few hundred when we were caught by our chasing group. Although I was a bit disappointed at the time, the catch happened just as we went up onto the windy Fens which meant we could now pick up the pace along the wide straight roads, such as the 10km long Forty Foot Bank. It was at this point it felt like we were in the Tour de France with every inch of tarmac being taken up.
There were still quite a few crashes causing splits so I fought hard to make my way to the front, and stayed in the top 20 of this massive group right until the finish. At one point I had an ego-maniac moment when I was pulling right on the front – I looked back and saw a huge snake of riders, stretching up to quarter of a mile back, all following my wheel like a train (Of course it doesn’t last long but it felt damn good!)
The final 30 minutes meant we dropped off the Fens and back on to some quite narrow, rough country roads. I got caught behind a really lethargic rider as the road narrowed further and lost about 30 places which took me a while to make back up (mostly sprinting out of the corners). With 5 miles to go, it was on a tight corner that I tried to jump clear with one of the more vocal riders. It turned out he was more into issuing orders than acting them out and he soon pealed off. I tried again closer to the finish and a group of about 10 of us managed to break clear and fight it out to the sprint.
I finished 30th in my age group (40-44), 175th overall meaning that I have qualified for the UCI Amateur World Road Race Championships in Denmark later this year in the Masters C category.
My first National B race was an eye opener. As one of only two Cat 3s and a hard Masters C+ race in the legs from 2 hours before, my main tactic was to finish! Richardson-Trek were out in force and throwing guys off the front from the start while other teams were forced to chase hard into the wind. When they tired, another couple of riders from RT would shoot off, never to be seen again.
The 3 mile circuit was at MOD Woodbridge – an old military airfield which has the longest, widest finishing straight in the country. Fortunately it also had an epic tailwind. Unfortunately the back straight didn’t which made it incredibly tough with little respite.
The morning’s tough Masters C+ race had taken it’s toll on my legs so I had enough energy to hold position – but not chase much down. As the race progressed, guys were being shelled out of the back while others fired off the front. I was left holding position only for a gap to form a wheel or two in front of me and that was it. I dug hard to close the gap but I decided to wait for a couple of guys behind and we worked together until our own sprint finish.
17th in my first National B race is pleasing.
The first race back after the indulgent Christmas and New Year break is always a tough one. Which was made worse by strong winds and strong riders!
A contingent of 5 TCC riders: Alex and James (Cat 2) and Darren, Neil and myself (Cat 3) lined up together on the start line with the hope of getting the win for Alex. However, my contribution was minimal as my form was not good enough. I positioned myself in the top 20 riders for the first 20 minutes and chased onto a couple of breakaways, but I exploded under the effort and almost found myself off the back within 10 seconds! The tactic from then on was to hold position and see how the race panned out.
The guys did a great job of getting Alex in the winning break and he got 2nd overall in the end. The chase for the remaining points was messy and often dangerous as yet again riders were cutting across wheels, causing crashes and even riding on the grass to gain places.
I knew my sprint speed today wasn’t great so I took a back seat in Brian Bends and gave an effort in the last couple of hundred metres to finish mid-pack. An unremarkable, but form-building race.
Round 2 of the 2014 Imperial Winter Series marked my first E123 race. I knew the pace would be higher but I was pretty sure that the lack of wind and dry conditions meant the race would stay together until the end, so my plan was to stay near the front and stay out of trouble.
As usual, the first few laps were fast paced, with the 80 or so riders jostling for positions. I few breaks were attempted but nothing stuck. I followed a couple of breaks to test my legs but it was very clear that you’d have to have immense form to stay off the front.
After a lull in action, the 5 laps to go board signalled the usual panic in the peloton. A number of riders started taking increasing risks to follow wheels. I felt it was safer to stay on the inside line, rather than in the middle of the field and wanted to be at least top 10 going into Brian Bends for the sprint finish.
During the last lap I managed to position myself pretty much where I had hoped to be and the sprint was opened up. It was a total free-for-all and two riders rode right into each other right in front of me. The crash was dramatic, with sparks, wheels and limbs flying. Instinct took over and I swung dramatically left, off the course, narrowly avoiding a rider’s head by millimetres, then managed to squeeze back on to the course past the spectators gazebo, rolling over the line in total relief.
But that wasn’t the end of the drama as rogue bikes and riders caused a series of other crashes, culminating in a dramatic finish for one guy flying upside down over the finishing line.
I was extremely happy with my 5th place under the circumstances – thanking my lucky stars I stayed upright at the end.
I was looking forward to my first Club Championships, but with a field including Cat 2s, 3s, 4s, Vets, Women & Juniors I was unsure how it would pan out. Would the faster guys blast off from the gun? Would it split in the strong winds?
Straight after a neutralized lap the pace rose dramatically with a few digs off the front. Interestingly some of the stronger guys were holding back but I was determined to keep position in the top 10 in case a break developed.
After chasing across to a number of breaks where the wind then put an end them along the home straight, I decided to drop back a few places and conserve energy. However, that defensive move proved to be a mistake as I got boxed in when the decisive break went clear.
After chasing hard and riding off the front I was joined by 3 others but we were unable to make the juncture. With only a few laps remaining it was time to hold position in the chasing bunch ready for the sprint for 6th place.
Racing clockwise for the first time meant I was a little unsure of when to make the move but I managed to come up the outside and get 3rd in the bunch sprint, securely a respectable 8th overall.
It was a fantastic, competitive and safe race with lessons learnt on retaining position and reading races.
A stunning crisp blue sky accompanied the pleasant drive down to the Preston Park velodrome in Brighton for the superbly organized Aprés – The Hot Recovery Drink Winter League Round 13.
I had still been suffering from a nasty, tiring virus, and had just spent a boring 36 hours in bed. However, I was determined to get some fresh air in my lungs so I decided to race.
It was great to see so many familiar Twickenham faces there already – Rob, Rich, Tim, Chrissy, Alex, James and Chris. Such a strong TCC representation, but with so many racers the Cat 4 race was split into two slightly shorter races.
My tactic for this particular race was to conserve energy, monitor any breakaways and be in the top 3 on the last bend for the sprint – if it came to that.
Breakaway after breakaway tried to beat the surprisingly draining wind along the back straight. If any had made it to half way around the track I would have jumped across. As it was I felt comfortable that this was not the day for a breakaway win, so I moved up a few times to test how easy it would be to move into my desired sprint position, but then with 3 laps to go I got boxed in on the inside. I took the decision to drop right back and drift across the back of the pack and move up on the outside. This proved to be a good move as at the bell I was up in the top 10.
The pace, as usual, got a fuel-injection and I clashed with an overtaking rider going into the damp berm and lost a few places.
It was all or nothing now so I moved right up the outside through the wind and at the penultimate corner I put the hammer down, came down the slight banking and moved swiftly into first place.
I think breaking so early surprised the bunch and I got a great jump. With 200 metres to go I have clear track ahead so I kick again and win by a couple of bike lengths, as I hear crazy screams from my family and club-mates in the stands!
The win promotes me to Cat 3. That’s now all 4 goals achieved for my first season racing on the road which is very pleasing.
A great morning of racing for me and TCC – 1st for me, 4th for Rob (including a progression to Cat 3) and 6th for Rich.
The last round of the Imperial Winter Series was at yet another extremely windy Saturday at Hillingdon.
This was great news for me. The wind was blowing along the home-straight just as it had for the last few weeks so I had plans to rectify my poor sprint positioning from Round 10.
I was still suffering from illness and had spent most of the previous 36 hours lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, so I was determined to get some fresh air in my lungs.
Due to the strong wind, I didn’t expect any breakaways to stay clear so my plan was to bide my time and hold off for the sprint.
I was wrong, a few riders got away and stayed away. I didn’t have the lungs to chase them down so my aim was to now get some points.
About half way through the race, the sky darkened, the mood changed and hail hammered down. The block headwind became gusty and suddenly, about three riders ahead of me, I saw a back wheel where a helmet should have been. In just a split second riders were flipping and tangling right next to me. It was the first series crash I had witnessed in a road race and the sound of metal scraping and flesh thudding was quite chilling.
Thankfully, a little detour onto the grass saved me from injury but left me with a tiring sprint back onto the back of the field.
Five laps to go signalled yet another rise in pace but I was determined to wait. In fact I waited until the very last lap and made my way quickly through the field to position myself in about 5th place going into Brian’s Bends.
As was the case last week, riders faded quickly into the strong headwind and I was left sheltered until 50 metres to go.
A strong London Dynamo rider looked like he was going to get it but I dug deep, came up on his right shoulder and lunged for the line, winning the bunch sprint by a tyre width.
A great result which went according to plan – well almost… Shame about the breakaway!
Storm Brigid had left a little present on the Hillingdon circuit which delayed the race by 30 minutes. Thankfully, it was no match for the Imperial Racing Team who managed to pump enough flood water away to clear most of the track to start the race.
I had suffered all week with illness but was determined to ride – for additional race experience if nothing else.
Cycling to the circuit was like exercising while holding my breath so my plan was to sit in the bunch and use the little energy I had at the finish.
But things never work out as planned. Or rather, I wasn’t disciplined enough to stick to my plan.
Within a lap I was working my way though the field as I saw breakaways springing off the front. However, the tail end of the previous night’s storm had left an extremely strong headwind down the home straight which put an end to every attack, so the group bunched up dangerously on every single lap.
Half way through and I punctured on Brian’s Bends so had a quick wheel change and rejoined the bunch near the front.
The ‘5’ laps to go board signalled the usual rise in pace and I was still well placed in the top 15 behind fellow TCC team mates, Elwyn and Daren.
As the bell rang, Daren picked it up and I followed his wheel, both of us fighting into the wind down the home straight. In retrospect I had probably used too much energy so I let a handful of riders pass to catch my breath up the hill.
New TCC racer, Dan, came streaking past me into the last Brian’s Bends so I grabbed his wheel and we were in second and third position, but the wind was like a wall near The Bus Stop and Dan popped, so I was left at the front – far too early.
I had no choice but to just put the hammer down so sprinted but quickly faded into the wind and was passed repeatedly.
Another tactically poor end but it’s a learning process!
Round 7 / Imperial Winter Series / Hillingdon.
My main aim for this race was to ATTACK and DISRUPT.
Of course I wanted a good result if possible but after a lot of group riding in the last races I thought it was time to shake it up and see what would happen, so after just a couple of laps I fired off the front.
I kept the pace high and had a quarter of a lap gap after 2 laps or so, until I was finally joined by 4 others, including fellow TCC, Tim.
However, we just failed to work together as a breakaway. Lack of communication and experience was the culprit so next time the group will have a leader.
A few more failed breaks later on and it was time for the sprint. I was 3rd coming around Brian’s Bends but my legs had had it from the earlier efforts and I was happy to sit up and coast in with the bunch.
This was my favourite race so far.
Two words defined this round of the 2013/14 Imperial Winter Series:
A slightly smaller field turned out in terrible conditions to brave the cold, wet and very windy finish straight.
I was unsure how fast the field would be able to corner on such a wet and muddy (from an earlier CX event) circuit. After a relatively tentative start the pace lifted and the average speed was only a fraction off the previous dry race.
Because of the conditions, my tactics where pretty much the same as my first race – stay near the front and cover any potential breakaways.
The group stayed together for the duration of the race. I positioned myself a bit further towards the head of the group going into Brian’s Bends but soon realized the leadout was a long single line and it would be virtually impossible to gain too many places in this situation. A sustained sprint and I got my first BC point.
Photo credit: British Cycle Sport