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By Craig Battersby.
I love stage races, I’m not writing from a novices point of view – I’ve ridden the 9-day Milk Ras, 4-day Tour of the North and Mullingar 3-day all in Ireland, Sisteron 3-day and Tour du Haut Piemont 3-day in France, 4-day Tour of the Border, Tour of the Kingdom and Cwncarn 3-day plus handful of 2-days in the UK, even won a few of em!
The Tour of the Abberleys is definitely up there with the best of them due to the fantastic courses and great attacking racing. Here’s my report from a very enjoyable weekend down in Shropshireriding the A/B cat race.Although my team mate John Bamford did travel down unfortunately he couldn’t ride due to a chest infection, thankfully he was on hand to help where possible.
3 mile prologue
As usual I was on the last minute despite travelling down the day before and staying locally, I never seem to get the timing right for TT’s and always end up rushing the warm-up. Apparently the course ran the opposite way from previous years, not that it really mattered, I didn’t have time to check it out in advance other than looking at the profile on STRAVA.
After a quick 10 minute blast on the turbo I headed to the start line, #11 was just about to head off so I figured with 7 minutes (I was #18) to spare I’d ride up the road for a few mins and spin back to keep my legs turning. Schoolboy error –always check the start sheet to make sure riders are off at 1 minute intervals! Turns out riders were being set off at 30 second intervals, as I leisurely rolled up to the start the time keeper explained I had missed my start but he’d let me start in John’s slot without a penalty –lucky! Really didn’t fancy being 30 seconds down before starting!
The course was superb for someone who likes a hilly TT. It started off with a fairly big stepped climb up to the 1.5 mile mark before a rolling descent with one little kick before the finish, in hindsight it would’ve been good to know the finish but I felt I gave it a good try and the average watts and heart rate confirmed that.
- 1st: 7:02 Mark Corbett (Worcester St. Johns)
- 2nd: 7:09 Mike Jones (Paramount CRT)
- 3rd: 7:12 Jeremy Honor (Equipe Velo)
- Joint 4th: 7:16 Tony Greenhalgh (Onimpex Bioracer) and me.
Stage 1 – 45 mile road race
3 laps, No KOM points. Straight after the neutralized zone Jeremy Honor (Equipe Velo) jumped clear and opened a sizeable gap. Several riders made efforts to bridge across –Mike Jones (Paramount CRT), Martin Smith (Bikechain Ricci) and Andrew Prince (Stafford RC) being the most aggressive. At around half-way through the stage a group of 3 managed to go clear Adrian Bird (Worcester St. Johns), Stuart Macgregor (Pro-Am Cycles), Mark Thomas (Worcester Cycle Centre) and catch Jeremy, looking like the race wining break I clipped off and bridged across –with a little help from Birdy for the final few meters.
With around 20 miles remaining and a lot of strong guys, including the Yellow jersey back in the bunch we didn’t hang around, all working well except Birdy as his team mate was in yellow he had the privilege of sitting on. Without time gaps we could only take a look back to see if the gap was decreasing, unfortunately with the nature of the course we could never really see much over 30 seconds back –probably fortunate for us in the long run. Into the final lap and we all continued working well (apart from Birdy perched on the back) with the aim of extending the unknown gap over the bunch as much as possible.
Approaching the finish I started thinking about the overall –I knew Jeremy had beaten me in the prologue by 6 seconds, he was sure to be in yellow with the gap we had over the bunch so if I could gap him by 7 seconds I’d be wearing yellow. Seconds after passing the 1km to go sign Birdy launched the expected attack, I could see Jeremy was understandably starting to pay for being out front since the flag, Mark Thomas took off after Birdy and I jumped on his wheel, no catching Birdy but I was happy to take 2nd and put some time into Jeremy, the only question –enough to take yellow?
Stage 2 – 56 mile road race
So following the prologue and stage 1 yesterday I started stage 2 in 2nd place on GC just 4 seconds down on yellow. With KOM points on offer today my plan was to go for those but also stay close to Jeremy, his team seemed to be strong and I figured any dangerous moves would be pulled back. Shortly after the start of lap 2 my front tub punctured, no panic –the bunch was still intact and neutral service were on hand, maybe 20/30 secs lost by the time I got rolling again, shouted to the driver before setting off “Give me a tow”and he acknowledged so I figured I’d be back in the bunch in a few miles.
Unfortunately, as I found out later –a horse box appeared out of a junction after I’d set off and the neutral service crew were stuck behind it for a good few miles, I wasn’t hanging around up the road waiting, in fact I was going full gas with the occasional look back to see if I could see them. After what seemed like ages they appeared and I duly tucked in right behind them, by this point I was on my knees, a lap going full gas into what seemed like a headwind all the way had taken it’s toll. With no sign of the back of the bunch up the road (–I later found out a group had clipped off the front and the lads from Equipe Velo were all on the front chasing)I had no choice but sit up and roll round the rest of the stage.
Absolutely gutted, but knowing my chances of a high overall place were out of the window now I took it easy and planned to go for the win on stage 3, by all accounts a short but brutal stage with several tough climbs.By the end of this stage Jeremy and his team had held the break at a handful of seconds – a huge effort from all but rewarded with keeping the jersey.
Stage 3 – 38 mile road race
Monday dawned bright and sunny, at the HQ all the talk was about the severity of the climbs today and gear selection –something that never crossed my mind but a few of the guys were talking about fitting a 25. I wasn’t familiar with the climbs today but looking at the course profile on STRAVA it was clear the first 20 miles were fairly flat and followed by two 10 mile laps with two big climbs per lap.
This looked like a great course for me, and being out of contention for yellow I figured I wouldn’t be hunted down if I decided to get away. By the time we hit the climbs three riders were clear and had built up around a 2 minute gap, Steve Dring (Echelon Velo), Martin Smith (Bikechain Ricci) and Tony Greenhalgh (Onimpex Bioracer). Both Martin and Tony were a danger to Jeremy’s yellow jersey so Equipe Velo had all their guys on the front lined out in pursuit for what seemed like the whole stage so far. A testament to the strength of Tony and Martin in building up such a huge gap!
We hit the first climb and I put in the first dig, not full gas but fairly hard. I didn’t plan on going away but opened a small gap over the top, quickly joined by a couple more riders on the descent –a long sweeping and very fast downhill section to a sharp left hand bend. By the time the bunch caught us it had roughly halved in numbers. I knew the tougher climb (Fetterlocks Lane) was coming up in a few miles so I put in a big dig this time with the aim of going clear, I figured there wouldn’t be many wanting to chase with the climb approaching. I caught Steve a mile or so before the climb, he sat on for a while and shouted some encouragement (at least I think it was), as we hit the lower slopes I could see this was going to be a tough climb –the road clearly got much steeper through the trees.
As I passed a small group at the side of the road shouting encouragement I managed to ask if that was the top –another couple of rises was the reply! Over the top and down to the main road and the start of the climb to the finish, a marshal shouted I was 30 seconds down on the leaders, with no sign of the chasing pack I figured it was looking good!
Back to the start of the lap and the first climb, down the long descent and onto the narrow lanes approaching the big climb, I’d been clear alone for over 10 miles at this point with just the big climb, descent and then the finish climb to go. I couldn’t see the two leaders but with the climb approaching I thought I might pull them back there.Back in what was left of the bunch (around 15 riders) the Equipe Velo boys were clearly worried about Tony and Martin’s gap and on the final stretch before the climb I glanced back to see 3 or 4 of them lining it out –game over for me! I slotted in line at the front as they caught me and we started the climb, surprisingly felt better this time up, something my stats confirm –
1st time up Fetterlocks:
2nd time up Fetterlocks:
Over the top the situation was –Tony and Martin still clear and not looking likely to be caught, Mark Corbett (Worcester St. Johns) had gapped the rest of us on the final slopes and was clear by around 10 seconds. The bunch was down to around 10 riders as we hit the finish climb, I’m not sure who the rider to kick first was –his chain snapped! I’m not much of a sprinter so happy to get 4th in the gallop –7th on the stage, not what I was hoping for but a great race all the same.
So after 3 days and 4 stages I walked away with a 4th in the prologue, 2nd on Stage 1, last on Stage 2, 7th on Stage 3. But for the puncture I think I’d have been there fighting for yellow, that’s how racing goes some times though! Even with the bad luck I thoroughly enjoyed the race, one of the best events I’ve ridden in a while.
Next year I aim to be back with some team mates and go for the overall, congratulations to organiser Mike Amery and all involved –he mentioned 70 volunteers are needed to run all races –there’s the A/B races and C/D races run concurrently, a massive job but a massive success.