All photos courtesy of Andy Whitehouse.
Last Thursday (25th August), due to me foolishly assuming that the race was Friday – Sunday, I went to Wales for the Junior Tour of Wales. Although my error meant an extra day in Wales it did give me chance to ride the course of stage 1 and the finishes of stage 2 and 5. With this being the biggest junior race in the country by some way my targets were to get a top 15 and hope for a possible top 5 on a stage, ideally stage 2 or 5 with their hill top finishes.
On the Saturday, after extensive recce of the TT course, I set about my warm up. My aim was to come as close to David Millar’s time set in the race in 1994 of 12:12 on the 4.7 mile course. The previous year I had come in the top 40 in the TT, which is far from spectacular.
I set off hard, yet seated due to my rear tyre slipping on the wet road. I averaged 400W up the initial climb before settling down on the gradual downhill, after struggling to get the chain onto the big ring. I then averaged 320W on the downhill section where all riders are restricted by the junior gears which does give you a little rest before the climb to the finish. The second that I turned the corner onto the final hill I thought I had probably gone too hard too early. I pushed on up the climb averaging 400W once again.
I was pleased with my effort after finishing. It was one of the few TTs this year where I felt I’d managed to completely empty myself. Regardless of the result I knew I couldn’t have done much more. Back at the HQ I found out that I was sat 8th overall and was 11th quickest up the final climb. I was very happy with this as a result. The 5 stage race had got off to a good start.
After 2 and a half hours of recovery and lunch we had the first road stage. I had ridden the last 20 miles of the course the day before so I was confident of what I needed to do to stay up there. My plan was to sit tight, wait for the final climb, then hold on as long as possible and push on if I felt good.
I executed my plan as best I could positioning myself at the front going into the final climb. It had rained heavily half way through the stage and I was glad to get all the descending out the way as we started the final climb. The climb first went up to Rhigos (the start of the R25/3H TT course) before taking a right at the badly surfaced roundabout up towards a quarry. The stretch up to Rhigos was kept quick with VCUK, who had the leader’s jersey, keeping the pace high. When we turned right the pace dropped dramatically but the climb wasn’t steep enough for people to get away too easily. Peter Kibble did manage to break away and win the stage. I was left feeling disappointed that I hadn’t tried harder to try slip off the front. I finished in the group and as one person previously above me did not I moved up to 7th overall.
The following morning was the crit stage and I am absolutely useless as crits. They require good bike handling and group positioning of which I have neither. My aim, and possibly least likely aim to achieve that weekend, was to not lose time. This could be achieved by riding at the front at all times and not getting stuck at the back of the field and someone letting a gap go. The crit went extremely well and with one lap to go I thought I had cracked it. I eased up a bit with half a lap to go, allowing myself to drift back through the group as to not get caught up in any crashes as people go for the sprint. Unfortunately somebody let a wheel go on the final corner and I lost 13 seconds. This was not a disaster but disappointing after having ridden my best performance in a crit ever.
A flat stage up and down a dual carriage way on restricted gears meant that sitting in you hardly had to pedal. This was the easy stage on which you should be able to recover. The stage is designed to find the best sprinter in the pack, which was not going to be me, so I decided I would probably give it a shot off the front in the final few km.
The race was easy, with an average heat rate for the majority being 147bpm. With 6 miles to go when rolling through to the front I realised that whoever had been behind me had parked up and that I had about 10m gap on the bunch. Two people were up the road already so I squeezed on in pursuit thinking this is probably the best opportunity I will get. After about a mile I glanced over my shoulder to see Billy Robinson, another lone entrant from Yorkshire who I’d been in a break with earlier in the year in an E123 race, was coming across to me. When he caught me we worked well together. We both were of the mind-set that we need to nail it all the way to the line and not really think about the win, it’s the staying away that counts.
We kicked each other’s heads in for the next 10 minutes. We caught the 2 up the road and one jumped on the back of us the other didn’t even try. Me and Billy kept doing big hard turns while Fred Wright (current European junior team pursuit champion) who had been away for a while hung on. As we got towards the line I carried on drilling it thinking about the time gains more than the stage win. I was happy to see Billy win the stage, Fred took 2nd and I came in 3rd. We took 16 seconds out of the group and I received 10 seconds bonus on the line. Due to some time-penalties handed out due to an altercation before one of the intermediate sprints I was in 5th with only one stage to go. I was very pleased as this was a standout performance for me in one of the biggest races in the country.
Only 58.7 miles stood between me and a really exceptional performance. I was 5th overall surrounded by big names on the GC. People who are next year going to GB or applying for domestic teams at home and abroad. There was no denying I was out of my depth. Being on a bit of a high from the day before I thought my best tactic was to sit in, get onto the climb, hold on, finish in the group and hold a top 10. A break went and as the gap grew I regretted more and more not going with it. The break stayed away. Had I slipped into the break I probably would have finished well up overall.
My group started the climb and I held on for the first half. On the steep ramps of the tumble when people started to attack it was clear I didn’t have the legs today to stay with the front group. I was dropped with about 2km to go and struggled to the line. I lost a minute to the group that I started the climb with and slid out of the top 10. I finished 15th overall.
In total the race was an undeniable success for me. A disappointing final stage left me with mixed emotions about my performance. The race showed me from stage 1 and 4 (perhaps stage 5 as well) that I need to have more faith in myself and try roll the dice a bit more rather than playing it boring. The race has also given me confidence for riding consistently well in stage races even against the best under 18s in the country.