By Jon Fowles
On Sunday I made the long drive to Scotland for the Anderside Classic road race. In fact, this race started from the same town (Strathaven) as my previous foray into Scotland, and once again the weather forecast was…. for rain. Luckily the route for this race was far more spectacular, with three separate loops taking in a number of different hills. Perfect!
All the riders crammed into the race HQ for the rider briefing under sunny skies, and when we came out, there’d already been one downpour of rain. We set off in the neutralised zone with the rain clouds rolling in, and by the time we started racing the skies had opened and the rain was nailing down. I was less happy about this.
The first small loop of the race was windy and exposed (and wet), I kept out of trouble at the back of the pack and tried to keep my legs warm, unsuccessfully. Despite some eager attacks from riders, and a fast prime sprint, the race was all together as we passed back through Strathaven. We would now begin the 15km run to the longest climb of the race. I headed to the front of the peloton, primarily to get in a good place for the climb, but also to try and follow some of the attacks and warm my legs up, which felt like jelly after the cold rain. Fortunately the skies were clearing by now.
My plan didn’t quite work out, as I hit the bottom of the climb almost at the back of the peloton and with freezing jelly legs. I proceeded to nail myself into the ground for about 8 minutes (although it felt like 30), bleeding out of my eyeballs, to pass almost the entire field and get onto the back of a 15 (or so) man group that had managed to break clear on the climb. A technical descent followed, where I sat on the wheels and tried to get some energy back.
After the descent the terrain was generally rolling, and the group had grown to around 20. The long climb and rain had subdued many of the riders, as the pace wasn’t particularly high, some took this as an opportunity to attack the group. Somewhere between taking my sodden gilet off and smashing an energy gel, I followed an attack of Dillon Byrne (VCUK) and two other riders. We managed to get a decent lead straight away, so Dillon and I took it upon ourselves to smash it and pull out as much of a gap as possible …..with still 70km to go.
The smashing was clearly taking its toll on the other two escapees, who weren’t very keen to help out with the pace making, and by the time we were half way up the second climb we’d lost one. After a descent, we turned into a strong cross wind. My legs were really burning by now, and we were told we only had 1 minute on the pursuers. Dillon encouraged us to keep the pace up, and we pushed on.
As we came back into Strathaven to start the final loop, with 30km to go, we had a minute gap on 3 riders chasing us and a further minute on the remnants of the original group. The wind was directly in our faces now, and it was a real struggle to keep the pace up. With 15km to go our trio hit the final climb with our time gap intact. There was a tailwind and rolling terrain taking us to the finish, and I knew it would be hard to force a move later on, so I set a hard pace up the climb. I managed to drop the third man, but Dillon stayed with me.
It was now a two-up ride to the line. I knew Dillon was the stronger sprinter, but I also knew I probably couldn’t hold him off all the way to the finish. So I decided the best tactic was to ride with him, but conserve as much energy as possible and make sure I was behind him for the sprint. With 1km to go, my plan was working, I stuck on his wheel ready to sprint. Unfortunately the finish took us both by surprise, with 300m to go we were still on a tiny country lane, without much room to manoeuvre. Dillon opened his sprint up early, and despite my best efforts to draw along side him, I couldn’t quite make it past before the line. Plan failed.
Nonetheless, I was pretty happy with second place. It had been a long hard day in the break, with some serious competition. I even survived the rain shower!
Many thanks to VC Astar for organising a spectacular race, its very refreshing to not have a race doing multiple laps of one circuit. Thanks also to the sponsors who provided a generous prize fund.