Being a “scrawny climber” (careful with the compliments Si Bridge), there’s not many races I can confidently target these days, Oakenclough, Capernwray, Bole Hill are three obvious choices fairly local but unfortunately we’ve lost some great circuits – Scammonden, Horse & Jockey, Ulverston, Oxenhope and a few in the Peaks to boot.
I’ve started the Tour of the Abberleys three times now and it feels like it gets better every year, last year Team Chronomaster were pretty successful – Kris won the prologue and I two of the three road stages and the overall, big expectations to live up to this year!
Returning for another crack this year with me were Kris and John Bamford with guest stars Daz Acton (Champion Systems) and Ben Lane (GS Metro) sharing our palatial digs in the party town of Cleobury Mortimer. Daz, Ben, John and me arrived on Friday with Kris driving down Saturday morning – we made it easy to find us…
In typical fashion we walked around every restaurant and pub in Cleobury on Friday evening, even sitting down at one before changing our mind and eventually deciding. John and Daz sticking to their athlete’s diet…
Here’s a pictured of John doing a dodgy “I’m a tea-pot” pose, and Daz. Nothing else to say really.
Anyone who read last years report may remember my amazing two-time brain-fart one year apart – missing my start time in both my previous starts. I have excuses, but really it’s just me being a muppet, it happened at the North Wales 2-day as well so all my excuses don’t wash. The mad thing is I never miss my start time unless it’s a stage race!? Anyway, race organiser Mike Amery obviously wanted to help me out this year so he reversed the prologue course, meaning everyone had no choice but allow 10-15 minutes to ride out to the start, not try and ‘roll up and go’ like Delgado in 89!!
All I can say is.. Thanks Mike! Fantastic course, much better than the previous course, this one was slightly shorter and more uphill, probably couldn’t have come up with a more suitable course for me if I tried! The profile doesn’t look like it climbs much but you ask anyone who rode it – mostly uphill with a little ring finish! I managed to nail my pacing, strategy was simple – although I had a PM and HR I rode on feel, breaking it down into 2 minute segments, 80% for the first 2 minutes, 90% for the next 2 then balls out for whatever was left. It worked, I won by 5 seconds from top tester Si Bridge (Manchester BC).
Unfortunately there’d been a problem delivering the leaders and King Of The Mountains jerseys this year so although I started the first road stage as race leader I wore a very large plain orange jersey, this was the only disappointment of the whole race and something that doesn’t befit such a great race, a real shame but I’m sure all involved did their best to get it resolved, guess sometimes it’s just not feasible!
This was a reverse of how last years race played out for us – Kris had won the prologue and went into the first stage in Yellow. As was the case last year Kris, John and me were determined not to defend the jersey at all costs the whole race, so when the attacks started almost inside the race HQ car-park we sat back and watched. For any non cyclists stumbled on this and wondered why we wouldn’t defend the jersey – it’s simply not possible for 3 lads to take on 57. Being in Yellow there’s no point attacking, I might as well have had a massive neon yellow arrow above my head saying “HERE I AM”. Heavily marked would be an understatement.
Inevitably a break got away, two guys, Adrian Lawson (Latcham Velo) and Paul Hayward (Cwncarn Paragon). It seemed to us the majority of the bunch really weren’t concerned about the growing gap those two were building and waiting for the Team Chronomaster power-houses to come to their rescue, kind of like a game of poker, we waited, everyone else waited, Adrian and Paul cracked on, attack after attack from the bunch…. Oh no, the breaks got 2 minutes with 20 to go, how did that happen???
So with around 20 miles to go a committed chase formed with maybe 10 riders, led by myself and Si Bridge. This lasted about 10 miles until Si decided he didn’t want to play with us anymore and wanted to be alone. Not very sporting as I thought we were all getting along great but hey ho, off he went. Unfortunately the other guys didn’t want to stop playing with him so he had to put up with us a little longer. With this development though the 10 guys all playing nicely together up to that point all decided they’d rather play solo and things went a bit tits up.
I decided to sit back and watch while one by one attacks went, and were pulled back. All the time Adrian and Paul going further and further clear and my Yellow jersey slipping away. I really wasn’t massively concerned though, happy that there were two very tough stages to come. Then with 5 to go I got clear with last years 2nd place overall – Mark Corbett (Worcester St Johns CC) and a few others but it didn’t last. Adrian and Paul stayed clear and the rest sprinted in for 3rd over a minute down. Adrian took the jersey with a commanding lead of 42 seconds over Paul Hayward and me 3rd 1:21 down – not great but still in the hunt. Not a great day for any of the other lads either!
Evening film choice: Deepwater Horizon, highly recommended although the constant interruptions from Daz asking us to find him a free live-feed of the Anthony Joshua fight did get a tad annoying.
Breakfast in the house of champions and much of the discussion was about the after effects of the fantastic curry we’d had the previous evening at The Lamp, in Cleobury Mortimer. Fortunately our huge digs had three bathrooms, none had a working shower, however at this point all John was concerned with was not being too far from one of the working loo’s.
With a constant pensive look attempting to anticipate the impending gold rush and leg-it to the loo his poor legs weren’t getting much rest. The aroma at the breakfast table wasn’t golden syrup porridge I was accustomed to, I figured with John it was simply because the Chicken Tikka Shaslick had much less distance to travel from entry to exit.
So we rocked up to start of stage 3 looking forward to taking the race on. Free from having to defend (or not) the Yellow jersey we were free to race! Stage 3 marked the start of the King of the Mountains (KOM) classification with 5 points, 3 points, 2 points, awarded to the first three over the line each lap at the KOM point.
The days circuit was a tough one. 56 miles, 5 laps with plenty of small climbs, one decent sized main climb and lots of draggy headwind roads that felt like riding through sand. Fair play to Richard Harris (Cwmcarn Paragon) and Dave Griffiths (Mammoth Lifestyle RT), both got clear early on and stayed clear!
With almost 2 laps completed we were heading back toward the main climb, Si Bridge again in his proffered position at the front of the bunch with Adrian assisting him in the chase when possible. These two were doing some hefty work and I really didn’t feel like joining in, they were doing very well!
Si tried to encourage me and my team-mates many times to join him and several times he encouraged me to stick my wheel out front but me being a scrawny climber I figured I would only hinder their progress! As we turned onto the main climb I took advantage of my scrawnyness and pressed on hard, unfortunately only Adrian came with me…
Around a lap later we were joined by Mark Corbett and Si, at this point I reckon all the strongest guys in the field were now at the head of the race and from here on and the final stage tomorrow the overall in both Yellow and KOM was still up for grabs and we were going to knock lumps out of each other to get them.
So the situation was now, Richard and Dave up the road with Si, Mark, Adrian and me chasing. Actually I’m telling fibs, Si and Mark were chasing but Adrian and me were missing turns whenever we could, me because I was being a bit sneaky and Adrian (I think) because he was smashed.
As we headed back to Great Witley for the final time we could see Richard and Dave up the road, we turned on to the finish climb and Adrian immediately hit reverse and ended up losing just under a minute on me but hanging on to his lead. Mark and me all but caught the two out front and Si rolled in just off our wheels. All in all a really successful day for me as I’d also taken 3rd every time up the climb to grab 8 KOM points.
Despite John’s earlier troubles he sprinted in a fantastic 7th to take the bunch gallop, Leaving Team Chronomaster as the only team to have two lads in the top 10.
Evening film choice: Patriots Day, no interruptions apart from the odd curry rumble, another excellent film with Marky Mark.
Monday morning in the house of champions and it was almost possible to taste the simply fantastic currys we’d again enjoyed the previous night. There was a lot of talk about purchasing some Pampers stay dry for John, the frequency of his visits to the loo being a concern given we were about to start a really hard stage.
In all honesty though, even though John was clearly feeling a little delicate he manned-up and never once considered quitting and deserting the team. Fair play John! By the time I rocked up at breakfast Kris was already talking about heading home, probably already decided!
As I sat down with my porridge and Kris started – “I won’t be any use to you today anyway…”, yeah OK Kris, see ya later!
I’ve only got one way to describe this stage. AWESOME. It’s a classic. 20 mile flattish big loop followed by two 9.5 mile circuits with 4 climbs per lap, yes that’s 8 climbs in 19 miles. It’s a short stage, but really brutal.
Fetterlocks is the main climb: https://www.strava.com/segments/1104606?filter=overall
By the time we rolled out of the HQ the drizzle that had Kris worried had stopped, it was getting quite warm and the racing was full gas. My substitute team-mate Daz had escaped up the road with the Dring brothers, Steve and Paul.
These two both deserve a combativity jersey – at the start of every stage they both attack, and whenever the road flattens out, they attack, downhill? attack! corner? attack!! It’s ace to watch and and is exactly the kind of mentality racing is about for me!
Daz and his companions stayed clear for the whole of the first loop, something which seemed to concern Si Bridge again greatly! Si’s a super strong lad but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one questioning his tactics this weekend, he spent more or less the whole 20 mile on the front to pull back lads who were no threat to the overall (or probably the stage)!
I considered Si as one of the main threats to taking yellow or the KOM jersey so was happy to see him burn some matches! As soon as we reached the small circuit the road climbs, I hit the front and drilled it, I figured I just needed to put pressure on all the contenders whenever we hit a climb.
Over the top of climb #1 and I was clear alone, hadn’t planned that so I didn’t give it 100% to stay clear, down the rapid sweeping descent to the valley and I was caught by a fairly large group. I remember James Fox (CC Luton) being a little vocal about wanting to carry on to avoid the bunch catching us, I wasn’t really concerned as I planned to go again on Fetterlocks only harder this time.
By the top I was away alone again but this time I went full gas, there were 15 miles to go and I needed to put 30 seconds into Adrian and Richard to take the overall.
Without time checks I didn’t have any choice but go full gas for the duration, I really went deep and emptied the tank. I crossed the line alone 2 minutes clear, taking the stage win, KOM jersey and Overall race win for the second year!!
John again crossed the line at the head of the bunch this time taking 8th. Showing great form, if he attacked a bit more he’d be right up there!!
‘The Abberleys’ is #1 on my list of targets for next year again, love it!! John, Kris – thanks again for the support and Daz and Ben – cracking weekend lads!! Well done getting 8th on GC Ben!
Thanks to Callum Hibbert and his Worcester St John’s CC team mates for the pictures! Check out more here: http://callohibbert.wixsite.com/calphotog/client-showcase
Lastly HUGE thanks to Mike Amery and his team of volunteers (72 I believe!!), keep up the great work Mike!