By Adam Baines
Today was the penultimate race of the season for me, so when I woke up, I was very pleased to see the Indian summer was still with us! I needed 6 points for my 2nd Cat race licence, so a top 5 result would be needed which put quite a bit of pressure on the day.
The event was the Hadrians Wall Road Race run by Rock to Roll Cycles and it was a new circuit to me so I had no idea what to expect. The course was a 10.5 mile ‘hilly’ circuit which followed along a 2 mile stretch of the famous wall itself. The E/1/2 race would be 75 miles over 7 laps and the 3/4 race just 54 miles over 5 laps of the same circuit. But at the paces expected, there’d be no time for any history lessons or sightseeing, this was serious stuff! Representing Team Chronomaster in the E/1/2 event was the on-form Ste Feeney and Jon Fowles who needed just 1 point to retain his 1 st Cat (See separate race report). In the 3/4 race with me would have been John ‘Myburnator’ Myburgh and John ‘Bambam’ Bamford. However, the Myburnator has found himself without a race bike and decided to concentrate on preparations for an imminent family arrival instead, and Bambam had instead called an urgent crisis meeting with Brian Cookson and the UCI to discuss the immediate legalisation of disc-brakes. So it was down to me. With 4 race weekends on the trot in my legs I was feeling race fit and ready for anything.
The pre-race pleasantries out the way, we were rolling out. The neutralised roll out felt like one of the longest and most technical of the year, but when we got to the first hill I was grateful for it. This was ‘the long one’ and one which I realised I’d be facing another 5 times over the course of the morning. With this in mind I started weighing up my opposition and the wheels to watch. I noticed there were a few mountain goat looking lads about so I decided to stay near them. I’ve not done that well on the hillier circuits this year so I resided to the realistic fact that a win would be almost impossible to pull off; but a top 10 could still be feasible. At the top of the climb was an old Roman fort where the start/finish line was positioned and as we crossed the line, the race got under way.
The first lap was a timid affair as it seemed all but the local lads had no idea what the course was going to throw at us so everyone was just weighing the course and each other up. As we made our way round the circuit for the first time it soon became apparent that the first hill wasn’t going to be the only challenge! The course contained a number of short sharp climbs mixed in with a few long drags and a few more false flats. I began to think that if the pace picked up, this was going to be a race of attrition. As we reached ‘the long climb’ for the second time, the first of the race, I’d made my way to the front and feeling good I decided to put a bit of pressure on and drop some of the bigger lads So I pulled from the bottom all the way to the top and it worked we’d managed to thin the pack a little bit and the bigger lads still with us were feeling it.
Lap 2 the attacks started but none were to threatening and the pack seemed happy to just plod along. Richard Butler from Kendal cycling club came alongside me and said “if the break goes it’ll stick, no one is willing to work” He was right, but my problem was getting away. Looking back my first lap pull up the climb wasn’t the best move for me tactically. Not because I’d done too much too soon and burnt out, quite the opposite, I was feeling really good. It was more the fact that I’d shown my hand too soon. Any attempt I made to get away after that was soon chased down.
Start of Lap 3, 2 riders were already up the road. Going up the climb Richard and a lad from the Lakes CC put in an effort and got a small gap. I ended up on the front again but I didn’t want to do all the work to bring them back and their small gap started to grow. Lap3 and we’d brought back one lad who’d been dropped from the lead group. I tried a few more times with John Charles from Bella in Sella to get away but every time we were either chased down or the others wouldn’t work with us. So it looked very much like it was going to be a small bunch gallop. There were a few goats still knocking about in the bunch so I continued to watch them. As we made our way down a small descent on the far side of the course ,I was about 5 th wheel and one of said goats was in front of me. At 30mph he started to lean to his left. Unfortunately for him (and 5 riders behind him) his bike didn’t follow. He’d overlapped the wheel in front of him and tried to move left. It was a real slow motion moment! As I saw his bike go sideways and slide across in front of me I thought ‘oh no, I’m going down’. Now, I don’t know if it’s because we were next to Hadrians wall but miraculously I seemed to fly over his wheels as though my bike had turned in to Pegasus himself and I was left upright safe to hear the clatter of carbon behind. (P.S. Thankfully we heard later that no-one was seriously hurt, just a LOT of road rash)
Lap 4 there were a few more attempts to get away but it seemed everyone was feeling the accumulation of the climbing done so far. It was a waiting game for the finish.
On the last lap, about half way round there is a really steep 15% kick, the pace slowed and I was feeling good so I attacked. I got a gap and went for it. I seemed to be doing ok and refused to look back. Could I hold on for 4 th ?? I turned a corner and the wind just hit me. I continued to push but when I eventually looked back I could see 1 or 2 riders trying to bridge across to me. Unfortunately for me they’d pulled the rest of the bunch with them. Attempt over and I was kicking myself for burning another (possibly my last) match before the final climb to the finish. However, I’d been caught with a few miles left to go. This gave me enough chance to sit in and recover a little before we went for it. As we approached the last corner on to the hill I was 5 th wheel. We hit the climb and I went as hard as I could, pacing it so I had some left for the last flatter section to the line. Sam Fairhurst from Bill Nickson skipped away up the climb but I let him go because I knew that I’d probably blow if I tried to stay with him. Still sticking to my pace I passed 1, 2 ,3 riders and was behind Sam. I could hear a rider breathing down my neck but I couldn’t look back or ease of the pace in case the rest of the bunch was on us. I just went as hard as I could and when the gradient eased the lad on my wheel jumped but I couldn’t get back passed him. I crossed the line in 6 th place, leaving me now 1 point of my 2 nd Cat with one race left!! Despite this I’m extremely pleased with my position on a tough hilly circuit and most importantly, I really really enjoyed it.