By Jon Fowles
This weekend marked the North West Regional Championship road race, taking part on 7 laps of the Oakenclough circuit. A tough circuit with a long climb and a sharp rise at the top, prime for hurting people’s legs before the fast and technical descent. Team Chronomaster were well represented with 7 riders: Craig, Ste, Karl, Kris, Adam, Si and myself.
The race started relatively sedately, allowing Kris to get away in a small early move and pull out a large gap on the main group. With the pace low, it also allowed a few small attacks from Craig and myself, none of which would hold.
Early on the second lap I attacked solo, and bridged across to a Nab Racing rider. We began working together and setting a steady pace, but not long before the beginning of the second ascent of the climb, a reduced group of riders caught us. Almost immediately the pace was increased by a few of the strongest riders, and I tried with everything I had to cling on to the back of this attack.
The pace was furious up the climb, and after the exertion of my prior attack, I began to slip backwards through the pack. By the top of the climb I was well behind, and had the sinking feeling of spending a day in the autobus. I gritted my teeth and prepared for a fast chase on the descent with a small group riders.
Fortunately by the bottom of the descent, the main group was in sight and my hopes were rekindled. Approaching the start/finish line for the third time, the pace in the main group seemed to reduce, and I decided that rather than re-join the group, I would attack straight past and try to build a gap before the climb.
This attack worked, and myself along with another rider from the previous grupetto started to take turns setting the pace, pulling out a small lead. Approaching the climb for the third time, we could see a group bridging across to us. This elite group contained some of the strongest riders in the race, including Karl.
With more numbers in this combined group, I was satisfied that the chance of reaching the finish ahead of the main bunch was high, and after a fast third ascent we worked together to take the gap out to around 3 minutes. Shortly thereafter, we caught the group containing Kris, who joined in taking hard turns on the front.
However, with the strongest riders not keen on the few sitting on the rear of our group, the pace was cranked up for the fourth ascent. Most of the riders, including Kris, were sent out of the back. Karl and myself pushed hard but were distanced from the leading 4 riders at the top of the climb. We initiated a chase on the descent with one other rider, hoping to re-join the front group.
Unfortunately, nearing the bottom of the descent, and after myself urged Karl to take the corners with as much speed as possible, Karl misjudged a sharp right-hander. His crash into the bushes was a spectacular end to his race, and I was lucky avoid the worst of it, still striking his bike mid air with my thigh!
After this, I was on my own. I had 3 laps to go. All I could do was set myself as hard a pace as I could manage, and try not to be caught by the riders behind. My legs were burning with the effort and I could feel myself fading, but I continued to push on, resting on the descents and riding harder on the climbs.
After over an hour riding solo in fifth position on the road, and just into the final lap, I was disappointed to be caught by a group of 8 riders. Fortunately this contained Craig and Ste.
Earlier in the race the group behind had split into two with Craig, Ste and Si managing to bridge across into the first of these two groups. Just before the last lap, Craig, Ste and 6 other riders split away to began their chase towards me.
With tired legs, I resigned myself to sitting on the back of this group. The pace was not particularly high, and it was evident that fatigue was affecting many of the riders. Ste showed his strength by increasing the pace and creating a small gap to the rest of us.
With sore legs, nobody was keen to chase Ste down, and after a reluctant increase in pace from one rider, I urged Craig to jump across to Ste. Craig was successful, and the two Chronomaster riders set a strong pace to make a large gap.
I continued to sit in the remaining group of 7 riders, and after a few small attacks on the climb a Nab Racing rider managed to sneak away. Towards the bottom of the ascent, some riders tried to clear the rest of us, but nothing would stick. We approached the finish line with speed, where I managed to sprint for 10th, second out of this group, despite having my sprint marred by a van in the way!
Craig and Ste had held us off to secure fifth and sixth respectively. An excellent result for Team Chronomaster, with 3 riders in the top ten of the regional championship!
Unfortunately it emerged that Kris suffered a mechanical issue and did not finish, but Si held on for a top 25 result.
The win went to a very strong James Gullen (Pedal Heaven).