So the time has come, the big one! Since September last year, when Craig Battersby our team captain said to me “You could be National Champion next year”, I took the challenge and dared to dream that in my first year of racing I could achieve what was very unlikely if not impossible. I had been invited to join one of the best road racing teams in the North West – Team Chronomaster – and over the next nine months I would take full advantage of this opportunity. I had much to learn.
Training done, Anne and myself set off in our motorhome to the lovely village of Leigh Sinton near Malvern in Worcestershire. We arrived on the Friday giving me two days to relax and ride the course a couple of times before the race on Sunday.
The course was perfect, 4.5 laps of a 12.2 miles circuit (57 miles in total) with a total ascent of 4,200 ft including a climb of 17% which had to be done 5 times. The weather was kind, 14deg C, dry and only a light breeze.
We assembled at the start, 44 of the best veterans in Britain. I see Steve Wilkinson an ex-pro who has won all of the big races this last year, most of the other guys have also been racing for 20 years or more. OK, maybe a top 3 was a bit ambitious, let’s just make sure it’s a top 10.
Off we go, it’s fairly quick and everyone wants to be near the front. OMG we are very tightly bunched and it’s very twitchy with riders right across the road. It’s quiet but then the odd car coming in the opposite direction has us all cramming in together. Don’t crash, concentrate, relax I think. I wonder if Chris Froome has all these thoughts going through his head when he races?
Around we go and up Crews Lane for the first time with a 17% gradient. I had positioned myself at the front to keep out of trouble and allow me to ride it at my own pace, I was a bit disappointed as we went over the crest that we didn’t seem to have dropped many. Another lap and back up Crews Lane for the second time, this time I am not so well positioned but no problem, the pace is still quite good and I sense some of the more powerful guys are starting to feel the gradient.
After about 27 miles on a long flattish section I sensed the pace drop slightly and, although not to plan, I attacked. I could hear them thinking “who is that, we don’t need to worry, he won’t last for 30 miles by himself“. Let’s go for it! I thought glory or nothing. It’s a hilly course so the bunch will probably get fragmented and if anyone catches me it will probably be just a handful in a small break.
Crews Lane alone, third time round, looking good. Two laps to go and no one in sight. Crews lane again, fourth time round and the spectators shout out, “Well done, good ride, no chasers in sight, you’ve got it”. Wish I was so confident.
Around to the finish line and glad to hear the bell, I think I have one more lap in my legs, can’t see the chasers, I wonder how far behind they are, just follow my wife’s advice and pedal faster. Half way round the last lap the lead car slows down and shows me a white board with 1.5 mins on it. OK I would have preferred 2.5 mins but beggars can’t be choosers, if I don’t get a puncture or some other mechanical problem this should be do-able.
I crest Crews Lane again for the fifth and last time, again the spectators shout out “Well done, no one in sight, you have it won”. OK let’s do it, full gas as Craig would say! Only 3 miles to go and they are the best, most enjoyable, 3 miles I have ever ridden. I approach the finish line, look back, no one in sight. I can’t believe it, I’ve won, not only my first win but the most important race of my short racing career and I did it the brave way, 30 miles on a solo break.
Still in a state of disbelief I have time to get my breath back for about 1.5 minutes before the bunch of about 20 riders sprint flat out for the line. I’m no sprinter so I was glad not to be involved in that. I was also very surprised to see such a large bunch finish, I felt sure it would have been fragmented.
Winner of the bunch sprint and second place went to Rob O’Conner (Team Jewson) with third going to Trevor Bradbury (Python RT).
What a fantastic race in a lovely location and hardly a pot hole in sight.
A massive thanks to Mike Amery and his team of helpers, superb organisation, brilliant marshals giving very clear signals at each junction, lead vehicles keeping the road ahead clear at all times, a wonderful selection of cakes which I believe were baked by Mike the race organiser and all the ladies and other helpers at HQ.
I look forward to defending my title next year.