EUGENE: A week ago last Wednesday I went to Wales to compete in the biggest 2/3/4 stage race in the country. I was joined by three guest riders on the SSLL team: Archie Cross (my older brother), Freddie Jagger, and Chris. My final exam was on the Tuesday, so I was really throwing myself in at the deep-end having just backed off the cycling a little over the past 2 months.
The race started in the driving rain on a dual carriageway. With the first stage being a 5 mile team time trial, going down a hill then back up, we were aware that we weren’t going to win the race that day but with the poor conditions and poorly surfaced roundabouts we could definitely lose the race.
We didn’t. We did a pretty quick time of 11:22 coming 5th team. A real lack of riding as a team meant that Freddie and Chris did too much on the first leg, whilst I struggled to contribute on junior gears on the descent. This meant that at the finish Archie and I were left feeling we could have given more.
ARCHIE: With all the SSLL team just 22 seconds down on the yellow jersey we were in a good position going into stage 2. Looking at the route the previous night it appeared to have very little in the way of flat road but also nothing too steep to really split the race. The main feature of the course was a 4.5 mile drag averaging 2.5% to the finish line which the race would go up 4 times.
With the usual start of race nerves, ambition and freshness, the first time up the climb was a series of attacks followed by more attacks and nothing getting any distance.
After deciding everybody was too fresh to allow a break to go this early I just sat well back in the group the 2nd time up the climb saving my energy. Eugene took 3rd over the top of the climb this time through, giving him a big 1 point in the KOM competition, an effort he would come to regret an hour later.
A steep 400m just before the long drag on the 3rd lap brought out attacks from the riders who would go on to be the strongest in the race. Richard Bussell(Team Midlands), wearing the yellow jersey, dragged 3 of us clear and for about 30 seconds I thought that could be race over for everyone else. Preparing for an hour of suffering on his wheel I was almost quite glad we were pulled back just after the top. It had shown people were starting to suffer however and I decided I was going to give a big effort to get a group away up the climb.
After about half a mile of the climb I attacked but was given no room, I eased off and 5 riders came over the top of me so I slotted back in. 30 seconds later everyone eased off and I went again, a look back and I had a gap. I realised I had just over 10 minutes to the top of the climb so just got my head down and pressed on hoping a small group would get across to me before the top. Over the next 5 minutes Ross Phelps, Matthew Garthwaite and my teammate Chris Sleath came over and we started to work well, increasing our lead. Just before the summit Chris dropped off the back and we could not afford to wait. In hindsight this may have been a mistake as once over the top Chris would have had the power on the flatter part of the course to really help us put time into the main group.
Once onto the descent and flatter parts it became clear Matthew was the most powerful rider of the 3 left, he would do 3 minute turns, I would manage 30 seconds and by the bottom Ross seemed to be hanging on.
As we got to the final time up the drag we were told we had 48 seconds, this is when I started to believe we could make it to the finish and a new wave of energy hit me. A mile later Ross dropped the wheel and was soon back into the chasing bunch. As we got into the final 2 miles and I realised we were going to stay away, I let Matthew know if we pushed all the way to the line I would not sprint for the stage. At the time I was thinking of the overall GC, the time back to the bunch and that he had done far more work in the break so deserved the stage win. What I hadn’t considered was the 15 second time bonus for 1st place on the stage.
We crossed the line 33 seconds ahead of the bunch and I received a 10 second bonus for 2nd on the stage. This moved me into 2nd on GC and 1st in the KOM competition due to points picked up in the break.
I will never know who would have won the sprint for the stage, but the longer the week went on the more I regretted that I hadn’t tried to find out, more on that at the end.
Chris and Freddie came in at the front of the bunch while Eugene, fresh out of A-levels, blew up spectacularly and lost 4 minutes inside the final 2 miles. A very impressive explosion.
EUGENE: The third day was a double day. It kicked off with a road stage in the morning followed by a TT in the afternoon. The morning was pretty flat with a short drag of a hill and a winding long steady descent back down. After a taking a real battering the day before I was sitting in for the start of the day. Archie and Chris had broken away with a very strong looking break containing members from many of the main teams. Freddie bridged the gap before an all-out effort by Radeon – Bike Science RT reeled back the seemingly winner of a breakaway. We were now back to square one with three of our riders having put in big efforts already.
A second break quickly formed and the peloton sat up allowing the break to go out to about 1min 30sec. At this point I came to the front and along with Harry Brook-Dobson of Bath University and one other we started to chase to limit our losses to the group of 9 up the road. The three of us were the only three chasing and were unable to cut that gap down. The stage finished up a slight drag on a dual carriageway. I was spent and the group came over me at around 3km and I lost a chunk of time once again. Archie and Chris were competitive in the sprint from the main bunch finishing 2nd and 5th respectively from the group. Unfortunately we had lost big time, 1min 11sec, and despite Archie still being in the top 10 he had still taken a large hit.
Then came the TT that afternoon. Richard Bussell was a clear favourite having won last year’s national 10 mile and hill climb championships. On the other hand the course was not a classic CTT course. The TT started up 2min 30 sec climb before a quick downhill section on an A-road. A stupidly quick run into a left hand sharp corner onto a single track road which went uphill for a short time before a quick descent to the finish. Richard Bussell held onto get 2nd but lost 2 seconds to Paul Double. Archie came 6th on the stage with 11:17, 5 second off the winner. Freddie, Chris and I did 11:46, 11:58, and 11:54 respectively. This moved Archie into 4th at 38 seconds.
On the Saturday we had 7 laps of a course that I had raced earlier in the year at the first round of the junior National Series. The course is mainly flat with a single steep 2 minute climb. It also consists of many corners which after 4 days of racing really start to take it out of you. A break went away and with very quick, long, slightly downhill sections there was little I could do to limit the gap to them. With little over a lap to go Freddie hit the deck on a quick straight section and despite finishing the stage, at 8:43 back, he did not start the next day. Meanwhile a break had gotten away and despite taking the stage win and time bonuses had no effect on the GC with the Archie, Chris and me finishing in the group.
The 5th and final day was designed to be the queen stage, a pretty flat 50 miles followed by a climb of the tumble. Down to three men, we had Freddie in the team car and his bike as a spare on the roof. The bunch rolled out of the HQ and neutralised through Abergavenny. Not 1km into the neutral zone Archie had a rear flat and dropped back to the team car. He quickly took Freddie’s bike off the team car swapped his Garmin onto Freddie’s bike and caught back up to the group. Still in the neutralised zone he noticed that Freddie’s bike was massively too small. I kindly offered to swap my bike with Archie as he had much more to gain on this stage than I did. Archie was right, it was a tiny bike that I was now riding. We had however not swapped Garmins which meant that I could always tell if Archie was nearby by whether or not his heart-rate was on my screen. The racing was very steady, but quick, for the start of the day. You could easily sit in but with an average speed of 26mph it wasn’t too slow.
With about 10km to the foot of the Tumble me and Archie found ourselves at the back of the group and conscious that we needed to start moving up. Moving to the front was easily done but it became increasingly difficult to maintain our place at the front. Using the radar heart-rate on my Garmin I tried to stay up there making sure I didn’t drift too far from Archie. At around 3km to the foot of the climb the competition to be at the front was almost getting stupid with a real compromise between position and effort. On the run into the climb there was a short section of dual-carriageway followed by two small roundabouts, then a left turn in a village shortly after onto the climb. Archie, Chris and I all had managed to remain at the front and, with Chris narrowly missing a parked car on the left turn, made it onto the climb in a promising position. The pace slackened off almost immediately as we had all made it safely onto the climb. I went to the front to try and and make the race hard, Archie had a full 38seconds to make up. I thought I was making things hard doing 400W (at 60kg) at the foot of the 15min climb, however I was on the front for less than 30seconds before Peter Kibble started to push on at the front. I remained just behind with Archie on my wheel for another minute or so before flicking my elbow to indicate to Archie that I couldn’t help him anymore.
ARCHIE: With 38 seconds to make up on the yellow jersey and 31 on 2nd place I knew I had to split the race early on the climb in the hope of giving myself enough time to make that time up. As Eugene flicked me past I latched onto Peter Kibbles wheel and the group lined out. As we got round the hairpin onto the steepest part of the climb he eased off and I realised this was when I had to split it. I upped the pace until I was doing 450 watts and held it there, looking around the group was a line and my breakaway companion from stage 2, Matthew Garthwaite was on my wheel but letting it slip. Another 30 seconds and me and Peter were away from the group.
With Peter a long way behind me on GC this is exactly what I had wanted, I pressed on knowing I had to gain as much time as possible. For the next few minutes we swapped turns on the front then just before the middle flatter section Paul Double caught us and went straight to the front. By this point I was really hanging on and very thankful for the extra company. Soon however I realised neither Paul nor Peter cared how much we stayed away by so as Paul eased off I had no choice but go back to the front. From here I just tried to keep as much speed going to the line as possible, twice Peter attacked, Paul chased him down and I just tried to get to the line as quickly as possible. With 300m to go they started the sprint and I could not react. They finished 3 and 4 seconds ahead of me with Paul taking a well deserved stage win. 3rd place on the stage gave me 5 bonus seconds meaning the yellow jersey had 33 seconds to get to the line. He got there in 26.
Riding back to the HQ, unsure of if I had done enough, I was reminded by Eugene about a million times if I lost the GC by less than 5 seconds my decision not to sprint on stage 2 would really come back and haunt me. Thankfully I lost the race by 7 seconds which left team SSLL with 2nd overall, 5th team and top 10 on 4 of the 6 stages.
EUGENE: The race was a great experience and I hope not to have scooped my 1st Cat too early next season in order to enter again. The race was also a great recce for the Junior Tour of Wales which takes place at the end of August.