I’ve been looking forward to this race ever since I punctured whilst placed 2nd on GC last year, 2 seconds down on the Yellow jersey, not that I’m still angry about that..
Anyway moving on… this year two of my team mates joined me, but honestly I can’t figure why the others did not enter, I’m looking at you Si and Graham, you guys really missed out!
This year, John Bamford and Kris Zentek shared a cottage in Burford with me along with VCUK rider Daz Acton, who was allowed to come along on the proviso he’d cook meals, which didn’t happen once! John was actually due to race last year’s event but couldn’t breathe too well at the time and wheezing and coughing a lot can’t be good in such a hard race.
Friday night in the cottage and all of us except for Kris, who chose to join us on Saturday morning (keeping the Mrs happy), were analysing my STRAVA file from last year’s prologue. I’m sure Dave Brailsford and Tim Kerrison couldn’t have done a better analysis. Next year Kris is going to have to fetch a touchscreen and go into full presentation mode after his result. I want to see a laser pointer and handouts!
Prologue: 3 mile rolling time trial – https://www.strava.com/activities/560787662
1st: Kris – 6:44
2nd: Tony Greenhalgh – 6:50
3rd: Me – 6:54
22nd: John – 7:28
Post race the analysis continued – the most important stat being that I put 12 seconds into Kris on the climb, the fact he took 22 out of me on the descent isn’t really important…
One nugget of PRO information that came out of this post race analysis was the fact that our 53kg team mate, John, thought he’d try out a new TT strategy. Now bear in mind John’s an accountant, he decided to try and average his watts out over the course of the race, meaning back right off on the climb where it’s easy to put out big numbers and then pile on the coal on the descent.
Somewhere along the way bridge stopped communicating with engine room and he decided to FREEWHEEL the descent!! John’s not a novice, he’s raced all over the place for years, amazing really although we didn’t mention it much for the rest of the weekend.
Not much more to say about this stage, 1st and 3rd and John finished mid pack smoking a cigar and freewheeling over the line. Job done.
A final note about this stage and just to prove I’m not afraid of pointing the finger at myself – last year I missed my start, my excuse is I go into a tester’s trance when time trialling and my automatic pilot refuses to believe riders start at 30 second intervals. Unbelievably I did exactly the same this year, altogether now – as Del Boy would say…
Kris started stage 2 in Yellow although we knew he’d be hard pushed to keep it by the end of the day with so many strong guys keen to race hard. Having said that, Kris and me do race well together, we know what we want to happen and seem to work towards it without the need for lots of chat, and that’s how this stage played out.
Not long into the stage a group of 4 guys, Steve Dring (Team Echelon), Nick Corbett (Equipe Velo), John Peters (CC Luton) and Ryan Milne (GBC Race Team) escaped and held a lead of around 20 seconds, up to this point Kris had been actively chasing down moves without burning too many matches with me going on the attack where possible.
With the 4 guys up the road and seemingly staying clear it was important we get a rider up there. At this point I should mention John wasn’t sat back in the bunch trying to freewheel his way around the circuit, his lovely wife Gill has recently given birth to a boy so he’s had very little sleep for a while, I think the whole race was just an excuse for him to get some shuteye.
Back up to the front I attacked and was pulled back straight away. Kris responded immediately and put a dig in to get across, this was never going to happen though as the jersey on his back stands out like Donald Trump at a LGBT meeting. Last years winner Jez Honor had been active trying to get clear and being supported by a strong Equipe Velo team again I figured if I could get away with him or another EV rider we’d be able to bridge across.
As we hit one of the tough little climbs I went again and managed to get clear, I was hoping Jez or Martin Smith who’d also been constantly attacking would come with me, this didn’t happen but fortunately I did make it across to the front 4 with around 30 miles to go and that’s how it stayed until 2 or 3 miles to go. We had a time check of around 50 seconds so there was no danger of being caught. (I later heard Martin had been on the front for most of the race trying to pull it back – fair play I’m sure I’d have done the same!)
Into the last half lap and on the same climb I’d got clear from the bunch I pressed on, just nearing the top I could hear the guys still on my wheel but with a final kick they cracked and I was clear!
I crossed the line 26 seconds clear of the break and 54 seconds clear of the bunch.
Kris and John rolled in with the bunch with John complaining of hypothermia, probably due to all the freewheeling averaging out his watts.
And this is how we ended the first day, two yellow jerseys for Stages 1 and 2.
Schoolboy error – never have rocket fuel strength coffee just before bed – thanks Daz!!
After a really terrible night’s kip and nearly missing the start whilst fumbling about pinning my number on the Yellow jersey at the last minute, I had the feeling today was going to be a testing day. Jez didn’t help my mood by announcing “It’s going to be a hard day for you” just as I entered the HQ.
Head in bits but we jumped on the bikes again and off we went racing. Again, without much chat, Kris and me worked together perfectly, not panicking when guys attacked and taking turns to control the gap. It seemed to me the two of us spent most of the race on the front managing the attacks from teams of 4 and 5 very strong guys. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t have the jersey now if Kris hadn’t worked his balls off during this stage sacrificing his own chance at taking the overall and stage. Chapeau.
With around 5 miles to go the situation was Mark Corbett (Worcester St Johns) had escaped alone and held a gap of around 40 seconds, there was consistent and sustained attacks from the CC Luton lads and many others but we’d manage to keep it together. Mark was around 55 seconds down on me overall so we weren’t too concerned, I figured the ‘bunch engine’ would kick in going into the final as everyone would want to go for the stage and Mark’s gap may come down further, but no worries if not, we’d done our job perfectly for the day.
Fate then stuck a massive boot in and completely wrecked our day, a couple of horses spooked by the cars/riders bolted and split the bunch into two with me in the second half! Our group had no option but watch as the front group carried on whilst we slowed to walking pace until the horse rider managed to coax the horse into a nearby lane.
I’ll admit I lost the plot at this point, I could see the jersey disappearing through bad luck and my bottom lip was quivering so apologies if I shouted at anyone to give me a turn. With the front group out of site we pressed on but as it turned out there was no need – top sportsman of the year award goes to Steve Dring (Team Echelon) for halting the front half of the bunch so we could re-group – thanks Steve!
Mark clearly had no knowledge of this and was cracking on at full gas for the stage and GC. The final few miles were now a scramble. I guessed the gap was now well over a minute so it would be very close either way to keep the jersey, my legs were in bits and I had nothing left.
Jamie Fox (CC Luton) and a few others attacked in the final miles but I couldn’t follow. I guess Kris felt much the same as he’d disappeared from the front for the first time in ages. He was replaced by John, who put in a guest appearance on the final lap, giving me a turn and then on the final climb to the line he put in a dig to get away. I put that down to lack of sleep.
Just joking John 😉
Great ride by Mark to take the stage and the jersey by 2 seconds!
Sunday afternoon was spent shopping for provisions and watching the Tour of Yorkshire on TV check out the cracking intro…
The athletes shopping for essential provisions.
When people talk of the Tour of the Abberleys, this is the stage that gets the most attention and rightly so. With 6 climbs on the final two laps of the finishing circuit it’s equally brutal and fantastic. The big climb of Fetterlocks is 1 mile long with a maximum gradient of 17% and average 7%. (STRAVA segment – https://www.strava.com/segments/1104606?filter=overall)
The other two climbs are as also plenty hard enough, so put together this stage may be short but it’s still epic!
I started the day 2 seconds down on Yellow, I’d much rather be defending the jersey than fighting for it. Having said that this stage suited me, I had a good night’s sleep due to laying off the caffeine, and I felt good so it was all to fight for!
I guess like us, everyone had been running through the different scenarios how this stage could play out. A lot of talk in the HQ before the start focused on the climbs, the finishing circuit really is fierce! So we lined up and set off behind the lead car.
Martin Smith clearly had the intention to get clear as every time I glanced up the road he was attacking so it wasn’t a surprise when he had vanished along with a small group. Kris and me weren’t really concerned because Mark Corbett (in Yellow) had a good, strong team and we figured they wouldn’t let any threats get too far up the road.
Unfortunately they didn’t seem to be reading from the same instructions as us. Mark’s team mate Adrian Bird had joined Martin in the break and their lead had grown to a massive 1:45 by the time we hit the circuit, as it stood Mark, me and everyone else not in the break had lost any chance of winning the stage or general classification.
Our pre-race plan had been to wait for the climbs and go hard on everyone in an effort to isolate Mark and hopefully crack him! Kris was placed 5th on GC just a few seconds down on Tony Greenhalgh (Onimpex) so he was hoping to gain that back also but because we were well down on the break we had to change plans. Instead of going as hard as possible we tried encouraging others to join the chase, James Fox, Yellow jersey Mark and his team mate Mark Thomas joined Kris and me in an effort to pull back the break and within half a lap we were in sight of them. By the start of the final lap we caught them.
The bunch was now small and strung out as we were heading into the penultimate climb – Fetterlocks. Realistically this was my only chance to get clear. Tony Greenhalgh offered help though, “Get on my wheel in the sprint and you’ll easily take two seconds back” – the only tiny problem there is I couldn’t hold Tony’s wheel in a gallop if my life depended on it! Cheers for the thought though Tony 😉
We hit the climb at speed due to Birdy (Adrian Bird) trying to discourage any attacks, a sound tactic and it might have worked if I had any sprint at all and thought about waiting for the gallop, but I don’t. I attacked at the bottom keeping an eye on my Garmin just so I didn’t over-cook it. Around half way up only Mark and James Fox were still with me. I’ll be honest, at this point I thought my chances had gone, Mark had matched me every time I pressed on and never seemed to show a pain face. All I could think about then was that I don’t want any regrets – we reached the 17% section and I gave it 100%, glanced back and there was a gap of maybe two bike lengths!
Over the top I dropped like a stone to the bottom of the final climb, a quick glance back as the road straightened out behind and YES! I won the stage and the overall, that last climb wasn’t fun though!
Huge thanks to Kris and John, it’s a team effort to win a race like this and I owe you big time!
Finally – Mike Amery and his team of volunteers deserve all the credit and thanks they can get. I’ve only ridden the event twice but both times Mike has openly asked for suggestions how to improve it. It is a testament to everyone involved that nobody can think of anything!