By Jon Fowles
This Sunday was my last race of the season, the Hadrians Wall road race, organised by Rock to Roll Cycle Club. The same club organises the Smithfield road race, a course on which I’ve placed well on two occasions, and as the races have the same HQ location, I was hoping the circuit would share the same characteristics as Smithfield.
The course turned out to be much hillier! Frequent short sharp rises and a longer climb peaking at the line made for a pseudo-summit finish. The cumulative effect of the undulating circuit was a hard and attritional race.
Ste and I rolled out from the HQ together, having a nice chat at the back of the peleton, not thinking about what was about to happen. At the summit of the climb racing commenced and I began to move towards the front of the pack, leaving Ste to his usual antics heading up the rear.
The pace started off relatively sedately, with only a few small attacks on the first lap. With the course unfamiliar to most, it was clear people were holding back and getting to know what the terrain had in store. We hit the climb for the first time in anger, and the pace was high, but I stayed near the front, gauging my effort for the subsequent times I’d have to get over.
On the second lap, attacks began in earnest. Over the top of the climb, on a long straight and fast tailwind section, the pace was red-hot and the pack strung out in a long line. Small moves were reeled back in, and new moves would go on the short sharp hills. I held back, and committed to following in the wheels of the first 10 riders or so, trying to save my energy for later in the race.
The second time up the longest climb, a small group of riders, who I’d singled out as some of the strongest in the race, hit it hard. I started the climb on their wheels, but after pushing hard, began to slip back behind them. Cresting the climb and onto the fast section, I was somewhere in no mans land between the 6 escapees and the remnants of the pack behind. I wasn’t willing to bury myself at this stage and risk getting caught after spending a chunk of energy, so I held back for some help getting across. The gap to the escapees grew, and the thought lingered in my mind that I had made a bad choice.
Regrouping with the main bunch, the pace remained high. I resumed a position near the front of the group, and over the next few laps started pushing up the climbs and edging on a chasing group. Initially nothing appeared to be working, with any small moves initiated quickly being brought back.
Into the last third of the race, I started to see glimpses of Ste each lap. Each time after the climb, he would sail past while shouting encouragement of some form to me, and start hammering the pace on the front of the group. These heroic efforts began to work, and we managed to get a strong group of 6 or so riders all working hard together. At times I thought the pace of this was going to end me, and it was clearly working, as the front group of escapees were being drawn to within touching distance. The joy was ended when; somehow, the group behind caught us. Everyone sat up, and once again the escapees were gone.
I was eager to not let the race get away from me, and over the last 2 laps, Ste, myself and a few other riders kept knocking the pace up. The effect of attacking every rise, and pushing the descents was evident on those behind. The pack’s numbers were diminishing and tired legs were beginning to show themselves.
On the last lap, on the penultimate climb, I managed to get a small gap over the crest. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at this point. Attempts here had always been drawn back in, and it was sufficiently far from the finish line to put off going alone. Luckily Ste came hammering past at the perfect moment, and Will Corden of team Mammoth Lifestyle joined us. Together we gritted our teeth, and pushed on, hoping to hit the final ascent ahead of the group. Ste put in some monumental turns, and we swallowed up two riders from an earlier attack as we approached the climb.
I took over at the bottom of the climb, and dribbled all over myself whilst setting the hardest pace I could manage, not knowing how close the group was behind. Ste and Will dropped off my wheel, and nearing the finish I glanced back to see a nice gap behind. I crossed the line in 9th place, best of the rest, and a satisfying end to my season. Will rolled in behind me and Ste put in a great ride to secure 11th.
Many thanks to Rock to Roll Cycles for putting on a spectacular race. I look forward to returning next year!