By Neil Wood
The Smithfield road race is an undulating 60 mile course just north of Carlisle near the Scottish border. It makes for very pleasant surroundings on North Country lanes, not that I was able to take in too much of the scenery today as it was a tough race, with sharp inclines and attacking riding.
My alarm woke me up at 05:00 which is not a good time of day for me. I had an hour and a half to get myself together, have a decent breakfast and wait for John Myburgh to pick me up. We stopped for a takeout coffee at Tebay services and met another team mate Adam Baines heading North. Our spirits lifted with a brief chat about a good day’s racing ahead. Also having taken 4th place at the Pimbo Road Race two weeks before, I was in a confident mood. Finally at the HQ we met fourth team mate John Bamford as well as Jon Fowles who was in the E/1/2/3 race.
The race got off to a steady start which was fairly sedate for the first lap. It was a longish race of 5 laps making up a 60 mile course and for the fists lap, the riders were mainly assessing the course and their competitors. On the second lap the pace and attacks started to pick up. The weather was not helping much and was a bit odd to say the least. On one side of the course the sun was shining and the other side it was raining and the roads got clogged with mud which sprayed everywhere, which then dried up on the sunny side of the course including on eye wear so made it difficult to see at times.
Adam holding the front on the muddy side of the course
Just to make things a bit more difficult for myself, the night before I dropped my daughter’s tin money box, which was full of coins onto my bare toe on a solid kitchen floor. I had a lot of choice words at the time, which carried on the next hour or two. Today my toe was bright red, with a black nail and pretty painful. I will spare you a photograph – not pretty!
There were a number of riders in the race who I knew from Lancashire Road club, plus other teams who compete regularly. It is good to know these people as you can get a good idea of team tactics, and an inkling of who is likely to attack and when. There were several small break away groups, none of which managed to stick as the front of the peloton always managed to chase them down and neutralise any danger.
John Myburgh at 38 mph descending
In the penultimate lap, our team mate John Bamford put in a solo attack on a climb and carried on with his attack at the summit and gained a couple of hundred meters on the bunch. Once he was out of sight around a corner and a change of personnel at the front of the bunch, I had the idea that the front riders may not have noticed him getting away as they had only just reached the front. I then decided to try to slow the bunch down a bit to allow John to get further distance. So I cycled right to the front and went into Sunday club run mode. This was perhaps a bit too obvious as everybody knew straight away what I was up to and a voice from behind shouted out “He’s slowing it down” at that very moment Matt Doheny from Lancashire Road Club came flying past me to try to chase John down and Chris Dwyer from the same club cycled alongside me with a big smile and simply said “Nice try Neil” I know these guys pretty well so had a bit of a laugh about it.
John Bamford behind the lead car checking his distance on the bunch
John’s attack was eventually brought back after about half a lap. I then did do some work on the front but not a great deal as the pace was fast and the climbs were steep. Not being a natural climber, I had to conserve my energy for the climbs to make sure I remained well in contention.
On the last lap about two thirds of the way around with approximately 5 miles to the finish line, another attack was reigned back in. Two riders from Lakes Road Club, attempted a counter attack and one of them gave up almost immediately due to a lack of team mate support. Sometimes in racing you depend on luck but you can create luck for yourself by being in the right place at the right time. The ability to read the game to ensure you are in the right place stack up the odds in your favour. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, i.e at the front of the race and I shouted to the other Lakes rider, called Dave Huck that I would go with him, and so we went together with a huge attack that I put in, sprinted off down the road with him on my wheel. When I flicked my elbow and moved out, he duly took to the front. A quick glance back and I saw we had gained a hundred or so meters in a short space of time with nobody was chasing us.
This lack of chasers was probably due to the fact that there was still another climb to come and they thought the attack may fizzle out. The climb was soon on us. Not huge, just about 150 metres long but steep enough to completely blow up and/or get dropped. I put every effort into this climb as I could see that Dave was the stronger rider, he was hardly out of breath.
Our attack was sustained for another 3 miles or so and I was starting to fade. Dave was taking 1 minute turns to my 20 second turns and eventually I lost his back wheel. I thought my race was over. There was still over a mile to go and I only had about 400 meters on the chasing bunch. My second stroke of luck happened a couple of minutes later when I saw a secondary three man attack off the front of the bunch had got away and were almost on my wheel. Great, I can jump on their 3 man break, which I duly did. These men were John Charles from Bella in Sella Racing who I regularly see on a Tuesday night at the Salt Ayre circuit races and Darren Young from Bill Nickson Racing Team who I last saw when we were both on marshalling together duty at a junction at Pimbo. The third man was unknown to me. John and Darren worked their socks off for the last half mile. I told them I couldn’t do any work as I was completely spent and sat on the back hanging on the back wheel.
The final left turn to the finish line is a 500 metre uphill drag, and our four man break began to split up as we began to attack each other up the final climb. Not that I was doing any attacking, I just couldn’t, and it would not be etiquette to do so after they had towed me along for the last mile and handed me a top 10 place. Up this climb my legs were screaming at me. They told I had told me to stop right now and have a lie down as this was more punishment than they are capable of taking. My mind would not allow it though. About half way up the hill, a cursory glance behind and the chasing bunch had just got around the corner. I had 200 meters on them and they were not going to catch me, so I sat up and cruised, although fairly briskly, just in case, over the line to take 5th place. Adam Baines took 7th John Bamford never managed to recover from his huge solo attack so came home in the bunch and John Myburgh had to stop to fix a broken spoke. At the HQ, we also found Jon Fowles had got 9th place in the E/1/2/3 race so it was a great day out for the team.
John Charles, Darren Young, Neil Wood, and the chasing bunch approaching the finish line
After coffee and cake at the HQ, I was feeling a bit giddy, or race brained, and despite my legs being in agony, still managed to chat and laugh in the HQ as we discussed the race. On the motorway back home, the traffic came to a stand still due to an accident so we watched the final 20km of the Tour de France on John’s mobile phone. I was with them on every inch of those agonising Pyrenean mountain climbs. I was quite literally feeling their pain!
Crossing the line for 5th
The race was won by my breakaway compatriot, Dave Huck from Lakes Road Club
Many thanks to the race organiser Robin Clarke from Rock to Roll Cycles
Also many thanks to Ellen Isherwood as ever for the fantastic photographs.