By Stephen Feeney.
What a difference a week makes!
After finishing well in the End of Season Road last Sunday, Kris and I were in great spirits and form going into this weekend’s Fin del Verano Stage race. However, as the team sat at the race headquarters after stage 3, waiting for Stage 4 to start, the effects of a long and tough season had finally begun to take their toll.
Before this point, the racing had gone fairly well, perhaps more so for some (me) than the others (Kris and Billy).
The previous day’s Team time trial had gone better than expected. The three of us were all pushing hard and working well together. Nobody had anything left in reserve by the finish and we were all satisfied. We had placed 9th but ridden well. A wrong turn cost us some time for sure, but just a few seconds.
Billy’s back had held up (he’d been having problems on and off for several weeks) and we knew we had to have decent form to ride as we did.
Stage 2 hadn’t quite gone to plan. A tough climb saw riders falling back from the very first lap. Many, I’m certain, feeling the effects of their exploits just hours earlier in the team time trial.
Billy’s back problems reoccurred mid way through the morning’s race meaning all he could do was ride at his own tempo. Still, he carried on alone and finished just 4 minutes behind the front group giving himself a chance to fight another day (as long as his back recovered!).
Kris had complained of feeling like he was ‘riding through treacle’ early on during stage 2 but stayed in what was left of the one time 80 man bunch, now down to around 25, until the very last climb, just before the finish. He crossed the line just a few seconds behind the lead group. So, although not what Kris would have hoped for before the race, he was still in contention, especially with a tough stage still to come.
As we prepared for stage 3 on Sunday morning, none of us really knew what would happen.
Although Billy had lost too much time to mount a challenge for overall success, if his back was ok he had a fair chance of some glory in the road race and afternoon time trial
We felt sure that the leading team, Beeston Road Club (also sponsored by Leisure Lakes Bikes) would try and keep the road race together or get a man away. They had been very strong the previous day.
The stage’s major obstacle was a steep and long climb to the finish.
And so it prevailed, attacks went, got chased down and the race was together coming to the finishing hill.
Unfortunately, Billy’s back problem had reoccurred and he was forced to retire after two laps. Kris’ ‘riding through treacle’ sensation had also remained, despite a relaxing evening and early night (that’s what he told us anyway!) and he had lost contact with the front group midway through the race. This meant that I was the only team member still in the bunch and with any hope of getting a decent result and overall position.
I had found during the race that the hill had suited me, I had always started it near the back of the bunch and moved up quite easily ending up near the front by the top and feeling strong going over the line. I even tried attacking over the top of the hill with a couple of laps remaining. However, with no one coming with me and the bunch chasing everything down, I did not push on too far as the chances of one rider staying away over the rest of the very fast circuit were extremely slim
Coming to the finish I was in my customary position towards the back of the bunch (being lazy!) and left myself with a lot to do if I was going to get a result from the stage. I moved up towards the front as best I could and eventually crossed the line in 11th place. Unbeknown to me at this time was the fact that a few riders had gone clear and I had finished some 18 seconds behind the winner. Still, not a disaster, I was still in the mix for a reasonable placing, if I could do a decent ride in the time trial!
Back at the headquarters the inevitable analysis of the morning’s race began. Billy was already changed and ready to go home. His bad back meant that he would be unable to start the afternoon’s stage.
Kris, despite losing some time earlier in the day and being out of contention for a good position overall, felt that the afternoon stage would suit him and he was going to have a go at it. However, as the hours until the start of the next stage ticked slowly by, Kris’s motivation rapidly subsided and at around 2pm on Sunday 27th September he officially called an end to a great 2015 season, leaving me to kill time until my 3.32 pm departure time.
The afternoon’s time trial was described as a 2.5 mile ‘hill climb’, normally an event that would suit me. However, having been up the hill whilst riding out to the race start on a couple of occasions, I knew that hill was shallow, only a few % gradient, and being short, wasn’t really my bag.
With not much information about GC positions going into the time trial, I had calculated that I might have been anywhere from 20th to 30th overall. This based on there being 8 teams in front of us in the team time trial all with 3 men in each team and all team members seeming to be getting through the road stages with any difficulty. But with not much time between us, the standings could change if I could put in a good ride.
I decided to turn my legs and have a spin on my turbo trainer at around 3pm. The leg sensations were not good but I knew I had to turn them or they would get worse. Anyway, surely everybody else felt bad after their morning exploits so no need to panic. The legs loosened up after 10 minutes and I decided to have a ride around the local roads before heading for the start.
There had been some talk about how to ride the time trial around the HQ with talk of riding to power meter readings, heart rate, etc…but with no such devices I was going ‘old school’ – start hard, dig in, don’t blow, get to the finish, cross fingers!
The long wait for my start finally ended and as I was pushed off at the start line I decided to build up my speed gradually, rather than a full gas sprint from the line, building up speed and going through the gears over a few hundred meters.
However, after going up a couple of gears, I realised I would not be going up anymore. The road, which had looked flat all weekend, suddenly looked like a hill. The massive tailwind I had been expecting suddenly turned into a head wind and I realised this was going to be tough!
I settled into a decent rhythm after a few hundred meters and managed to keep a decent gear turning well over the steady gradient. I had got into a good place between pain and pushing too hard and felt I could sustain it to the top. This I did but unfortunately what I believed would be the top of the hill and the end of the time trial was, in fact, only half way!
Having not seen the finish line or a timekeeper where I had expected to I carried on pushing as hard as I could. I suddenly realised that I had raced along this section of the road, albeit in the other direction, and then calculated roughly where the finish could be. A small downhill section let me absorb this.
After a couple of short uphill pulls, split up by short flat sections, where I was able to sustain my effort, I eventually got to the line feeling reasonably pleased that I had been able to push myself despite my efforts over the last couple of days. A quick chat with the timekeeper at the top of the hill suggested that my time compared favourably to other finishers around me.
Back at the HQ, I waited for the times to come in, as they did I saw that my time of 6 minutes and 18 seconds was one of the fastest. However, with a long drive home, appreciating that it would take the organisers a while to work out the final positions and knowing that my time would not be good enough to put me on the podium, I decided to head home and wait for the results to be officially released.
I received a message from Kris later that night telling me I had finished 8th overall (the message had been sent at 11.43pm and this being well past my bed time on a school night meant I didn’t see it until the morning after). This was great news for first thing on a Monday morning, I really didn’t expect to have climbed to such a position. My 6th place in the time trial being good enough to move me up the final classification.
This was my last race of the season and I feel a great race to end it with. The road circuits were great, the race format excellent and the organisation excellent too. Even the weather was superb!
Despite Kris and Billy’s disappointments, we have vowed to return next year and make amends. Hopefully we can bring some more team members and have a couple of teams competing.