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By Craig Battersby.
It’s a shame that we don’t get to race in area’s like North Wales more often, years ago we had the Tour of North Wales and Tour of the Pennines – great races over some huge climbs, these days it seems there’s few opportunities for skinny guys to race in the big hills. Yesterday’s Brenig road race stands out – a 2/3 race over 62 miles over some massive climbs!
The race route followed one big loop out of Denbigh and back followed by three 9 mile laps:
Team Chronomaster were well represented with Kris, Si, John, Ste and myself entered, unfortunately John couldn’t ride due to a lingering chest infection. Talk between us the week before hinted at a good chance of the win, all of us knowing our individual strengths and whatever situation the race presented we should have it covered. A race like this isn’t a lottery, the course dictates there’s no ‘soft’ breaks. Just a note about Ste – having broke his leg back in February nobody expected him to be back racing at this level so soon, obviously Ste was reading from a different script this being his second race back!
9:30am in sunny Denbigh and the full field of 80 riders assembled behind the lead car and National Escort Group motor-cycles. The first few miles through Denbigh town centre were neutralized, once on to the first slopes of the climb the flag was dropped and the race was on. A couple of attacks came from riders but nothing stuck, after around a mile Steven Fidler (Dave Hinde Racing), one other rider and Kris moved clear of the bunch, nobody reacted and within a couple of miles they were out of sight apart from occasionally spotting the flashing lights of the lead car. We were now well into the 10 mile climb, not a continuous uphill but almost, check out the route profile below. Kris and Steven had dropped the other rider and were well clear now, presumably working well together as the gap didn’t look like coming down.
Around 3 miles into the race now and I thought I’d try and split the bunch, maybe take a few riders across – with two of us up the road and a few more strong guys a break would have a good chance of staying away.
As the road twisted the wind turned behind us, the pace increased a little and a small split happened about ten riders back, I was third or fourth wheel and took advantage of all of this by jumping clear before we turned back into the wind. I hoped to get a few guys joining me but that didn’t happen – a recurring theme for me the last few weeks! I was well clear at this point and still climbing but now into the headwind. I could see Steven and Kris ahead, Steven’s a very strong rider and a great sprinter – he’s won a couple of races already this year but by his own admission he’s no climber, although they’d been working together Steven was now struggling to stay on Kris’s wheel. At this point I was around 30 seconds back on the pair with the bunch well back and not a concern. As the duo up front crested a false summit Steven lost Kris’s wheel and a gap opened, the three of us were now riding approximately 500 meters apart, all close to the limit and trying to stay clear of the bunch, the exact opposite of working together! I caught Steven, I knew we still had 55 miles or so to go, the big climbs would soon be behind us and staying clear would require all three of us, even then it would be a massive task.
Steven and me worked together, I towed him up the climbs and he flew down the descents, unfortunately we needed to go quicker to get us all back together! Every time I increased the pace on the climbs Steven started to lose the wheel, Kris wasn’t slowing down – not sure what he was thinking at this point. Finally I decided to leave Steven, catch Kris and suggest we wait for him! I made a mistake here – I should have told Steven the plan, as I caught Kris I looked back and it appeared Steven had engaged reverse and was now out of sight. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for – 50 odd miles remaining and just the two of us!
We were now fully committed with no other cards to play, all we could do was go full gas and hope the bunch didn’t get an organised chase going. Kris and I know each other well, we know our strengths… I towed him up the climbs and he towed me on the flat, now with a tailwind we were working well together. Unfortunately as we approached a roundabout on the outskirts of Ruthin a marshal seemed to be confused – back at the HQ later he apologized and explained he was pointing to stop traffic, unfortunately Kris thought he was signalling the race direction and we got separated with me following the lead car on the correct route! No panic, back together and back into the routine, occasionally I’d take a glance back and happily couldn’t see any sign of the flashing lights of cars and motorcycles escorting the chasing pack. Our following car must have got the hint by now as we started to get time checks, the first coming at 45 seconds back to the bunch – big disappointment! There’s no way 45 seconds would be enough, I guess we had 35 miles to go at this point, if we were caught our race would be over – our only option was – go harder.
We were now approaching Denbigh and about to start 3 laps of a 9 mile circuit, the extra motivation from the time checks worked as our gap increased to over a minute, both of us still working well with no sign of slowing down. Into lap two and it started to look like we had it, the latest time check was now 1:30 – happy days!
Final lap – I figured we had it in the bag, the gap had come down a little but at 59 seconds I wasn’t overly concerned. I started to think about the finish, fairly certain Kris was also! Kris is a much better sprinter than me, in fact my wife is and pretty much anyone who can turn a pedal is a better sprinter than me! Every race I’ve won has been alone so the final time over the only climb on the circuit I attacked, I didn’t want to get away – the plan was just to test Kris and soften him up with a few more digs before the killer blow. I know Kris would have had his own plan and I have a good idea what that was. We hadn’t slowed up at all up to this point and immediately slotted back into through and off as we hit the main road back to Denbigh, 4 or 5 miles to go at this point and still looking good for the win between us.
Right at this point our following car appeared with another time check – 45 seconds. Not great news but no panic, no need to talk – we both knew what we had to do. I was still confident we’d make it. Down to around 3 miles to go and the car appeared again, we were flat stick into the wind now, both giving it 100% – 25 seconds was the shout. Not good. Clearly a lot of strong guys left in the bunch were still racing! Our following car shot ahead, a clear sign we were about to be caught. As we entered the final 1-2 miles a group of 3 caught us, Kris shouted “go Craig” – not sure where he expected me to go but I jumped anyway! We were still riding into a full headwind now so nobody was going clear alone, the five of us slotted into a line with the front three taking turns, Kris and me took up position at the back. I took a look back and what was left of the bunch, around 25 riders, was 200 meters back. No time for attacks or sitting in now, the five of us would sprint it out. We entered the industrial estate and the final 200 meters, the sprint opened up and inevitably Kris and me finished 4th and 5th having been out alone for most of the race.
The bunch gallop was just a few seconds behind, with Ste and Si working well together Si benefited from a Ste’s lead-out to take 8th – three Team Chronomaster riders in the top 10!
I can’t say I was happy with the result, but I thoroughly enjoyed the race and the organisers deserve lots of credit for using such a great course, it certainly deserves to be called a ‘classic’. More like this please!