I think I must’ve lined up on the start line at Capernwray around a dozen times since I started racing as a junior with the last few editions just a day or two after returning from a week’s training in Majorca. It’s fair to say it’s one of my favourite courses, the main climb is tough, there’s a good long rolling section leading into it and a long downhill after it so you can really go full gas over it. There’s two or three other small, but still little-ring climbs and there’s a decent amount or rolling roads thrown in, in my experience it makes for a great race.
This years race turned out to be my first 2’s & 3’s race I’ve completed since ‘dropping’ to 2nd cat since last season. I say completed, I was disqualified at Saighton for crossing double white lines. Completely justified decision, just remember folks – no yellow cards anymore! It was also my first time on the bike after returning from Majorca two days earlier, and two nights after a monumental last night piss-up! Another awesome week in the sun banking the miles with the lads!
So onto race day – Billy, Ben, Kris, John, Ash and myself lined up, fortunately in nice weather as our shiny new kit had arrived and this was it’s first outing. Everyone in the team apart from Ash had been training in Majorca so none of us really knew how we’d go, 464 miles in Majorca so the plan was simply to try and stay near the front, get a rider in moves that looked like sticking and see how it panned out in the final few laps. Being my first 2’s and 3’s for around 10 years (I only managed 1 lap at Saighton) I really didn’t know how it would go – E/1/2 are pretty simple in that respect, the level of the top guys is very high so when they press on all you have to do is try and follow, forget about going up the road on a circuit like that. I have to say though, the first few laps up the climb this time I thought I was surrounded by Contador and all his mates and they’d got a cheap deal on a load of Spanish beef!!
By the end of lap two (of seven) the pace was settling down and the bunch was still intact, well – around 25 riders were left at the front with the rest chasing. A couple of early attacks, one from Andy Martin (Maxgear/Champ-Sys) had been pulled back and it was becoming clear who the lads having a good day were. Brad Morgan (Giordana/Velosure) and Alex Jones (Audlem CC) really stood out to me on that score, so my plan was simple – if they went up the road, I had to be with them..
Cresting the top of the climb with four to go I drifted back to see who was left from our boys, clearly some tired legs as only Kris had made the split – now just 17 left at the front with Alex and Brad applying most of the pressure. Quick word with Kris to see if he was OK, clearly not.. “I haven’t got another one of those in me!” was his response. I offered some pretty useless advice – “Try and get near the front before the climb so you can drift and stay in contact” but clearly getting near the front was also an issue. The group of 17 continued on and for the next two laps split each time with 6 or 7 at the front and the rest chasing, what had changed was Alex was now well in control. He’d put a couple of digs in, I made the mistake of countering one and paid for it big time. I think it was Alex’s third dig that saw him get clear, just after he’d had a chat to Brad – love to know what was said 😉
With every dig up the main climb, usually by Brad trying to get across to Alex the group split, leaving Brad, myself, Ryan Pike (High on Bikes), Joey Walker (RST Racing Team), Karl Owen (Manchester Wh), Rob Adlard (KTM road & trail), Fabian Brennan (Velocity WD-40) at the front and the rest chasing, each time everything came back together so the group of 17 was intact after the descent.
On to the final lap and everyone knew there was no catching Alex, congrats on a great ride pal!
Into the last few miles and it was the usual situation, gamble on a dig to get clear or wait for the climb. Personally I knew I was on a good day so figured I’d try a dig the final time up the last small climb, nothing came of it but I think it shed a few guys who might potentially beat me in the gallop so nothing lost. Brad put in a massive dig straight after, seemed massive to me anyway as I clawed back up to him, I think Joey was the other lad who made it and together we hung on. Again though, we approached the main climb as a group of around 15 or so, this time Kris hit the front and started drilling it, knowing I’m not much of a sprinter my only card to play is to make it as hard as possible. Just after the 1km to go sign I took over and gradually turned the screw, I’ve got a bit of experience with scenario on that finish as I did the same in 2006 and managed the win! The climb snakes round Sunny Bank and has two particularly hard sections, don’t get me wrong, the whole length is bloody hard but two bits are stem chewingly hard! With around 500m and my heart rate maxing out I figured I might get top 10, I had a feeling there was still a fair number sat behind me and expected the usual pinging past as the 200m to go approached. Nope, I’m still there on the front, 50m to go I’m taking the right hand bend as tight as possible without crossing the white line and now thinking I’ve got this (well, 2nd place anyway), no idea who’s on my wheel or how many but if they’ve not made a move by now it’s too late, I can cruise across the line now right!!?. Wrong!! One of my old team-mates from Leigh Premier RC days and one of the top NW testers Si Bridge, came round the outside and on the line neither of us knew who’d got it. Simon thought I had it as we cooled down, I had no idea.
In all honesty I was just happy to have a great race and fight for the win for a change! Well done to Alex and Si, both great rides and thanks to all the marshals and of course CDNW.