This weekend was a big one in the international cycling calendar with 2 massive events taking place. The Tour de France and the VC Beverley Road Race.
With Chronomaster having narrowly missed out on selection for ‘le grand boucle’ I was taking part in the VC Beverley Road Race which, despite the apparent disparity in media coverage, I think we all know is the big one!
As most of my team mates were, in the words of ‘ Smashy & Nicey’, ‘doing great work for charity’ by cycling in the Dolomites, I was the team’s only representative. It was up to me to try and get in the mix.
I had a long drive to get to East Yorkshire and the Race HQ in the lovely village of South Dalton but the 11am start meant I didn’t have to wake at too much of an unsociable hour.
As I arrived at the HQ the sun was shining and it was nice and warm so I was able to have a nice ride before the race. This, I convinced myself, could pass as a ‘warm up’.
During the pre race briefing we were told that the circuit was narrow and sporting. I had never ridden the course but, as we were to cover it around 8 and a half times for a race distance of about 60 miles, I guessed I would soon become familiar! It was essentially a square circuit which went through the village of South Dalton, left, follow the road for around 2 miles, left up the finishing hill which was around 500 meters long then around 2-3 miles along a roller coaster of a road back towards South Dalton, turning left through the village where we’d started out from to complete one lap.
After a brief half mile or so neutralised section the race turned left and we were off! I’d started at the back (as usual) and it immediately dawned on me that this was an especially bad place to be on this occasion. The road was only a single car width, the bunch completely blocked it and there was absolutely no way of moving up the field. I was stuck at the back and decided I would have to change my usual tactic and somehow get to the front.
I could see 2 riders attack immediately and they were getting clear. I was in no position to do anything about this if I had been so inclined.
After 2 miles or so into a block headwind along a completely straight, slightly undulating road, we turned left up a hill. This was the finish straight, or at least it would be in another 8 laps. As the bunch strung out I saw this was an opportunity, perhaps the only one, to move up. Despite my legs complaining I managed to get very close to the front. On the drag through South Dalton, a few miles later, I managed to get to the very front.
As we turned left onto the long, straight headwind section we could see the 2 escapees but they had a good gap. Jake Birkin from Clay Cross RT jumped clear and gave chase. I joined him and together we got a small gap. With over 7 laps and 50 miles of the race still remaining we put our heads down and went in pursuit of the breakaway.
After around 4-5 miles we caught the leaders, Tom Wood of Prologue Racing Team and John Heapey of Squadra RT. With a small gap and 4 willing riders we committed fully to the cause not really knowing how the race would unfold. At this time we had a slender lead and 45 miles still to go!
We rode in team time trial formation with each rider doing their turn. As we pressed on the lead grew but only ever up to around a minute over the bunch.
As the laps passed by we didn’t seem to falter as a foursome and held our lead. With 5 and a half laps to go John started missing the odd turn and seemed most disheartened when there was still 5 laps to go but we persevered and, in my opinion, didn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
We were committed down the headwind stretch and shared the work perfectly, we rode sensibly up the climbs and seemed to smash it round the back, tail wind assisted section.
I later learned that the bunch had been fragmenting with chase groups forming but, thanks to us being able to hold our pace, nobody had been unable to cross the gap.
With 2 laps to go we lost John but as a threesome we didn’t seem to lose any momentum. We knew we were fully committed now and had no option but to keep going and try to stay clear. If a fresh bunch or break caught us now, our efforts would surely leave us weakened and our chances of glory diminished.
We pressed on. No cat and mouse tactics and no shirking. We could worry about the finish when we got there, if we could stay clear.
With 4 miles or so to go, and still holding our lead on the group, Tom cramped up (simultaneous leg and arm cramping he later revealed) on the penultimate climb, the drag up through South Dalton, leaving just Jake and I out front.
We both knew we had to keep going. On the final push along the headwind section we kept working and there was absolutely no glass cranking! We could worry about our finish tactics if we kept clear.
As we reached the final left hand bend towards the finishing climb I managed to manoeuvre Jake to the front. We’d been quite well matched through the race and I had no idea how the finish would unfold but thought my best chance would be to let Jake start things off.
I thought Jake might try and wind things up from the base of the climb to test the old fellas legs but he rode fairly sedately so I was waiting for him to start his sprint. I had no idea how my legs would react when he did.
As the finish approached we were both being cagey and didn’t want to start sprinting too early and blow it. With around 100 meters to go, and feeling like I had 100 meters of decent uphill sprinting in me, I went for it. I expected Jake to get on my wheel but when I glanced backwards I could see I had a slight gap so I just buried myself, ignoring the screams of mercy from my cramping legs, and I wasn’t slowing down.
As I looked back again I had some 15-20 meters lead and, with the finish line now right in front of me, I knew I had it. I even had chance to think to myself ‘do I have time for some self indulgence?’. I did, so up went the arms for a great finish line photo!
Jake was second but Tom and John had been caught by the chasing group before the finish and ended up in the minor placings.
My victory was especially satisfying after such a long break away and, despite my tiredness, the long drive home would be no chore in my high spirited state.
I’d like to thank VC Beverley for organising a great race on an exciting and challenging circuit and Jason Brookes & Simon Posnett for the photos.