By Neil Wood
Another early start for me. I woke up at 04:50 when my 19 year old daughter came home from a night out with her friends all back from uni. My alarm was set for 05:00, so just decided to get up instead of lingering in bed for ten minutes. She looked at me in astonishment that I was up so early to compete in a bike race. These early starts are a regular occurrence of course, but she has no idea as she’s usually getting out of bed by the time I have finished the race. This being new to her, she told me that I was “a bit daft”. I have to say, I actually agreed with her. She went to bed and I got my breakfast.
I collected John Myburgh on the way who recently moved to Buckshaw in a new build house on a newly built road. It’s so new, his postcode was not on Google Maps and it took me to the wrong location. Coincidentally when Google told me I was there, I was outside another new build with an identical car to John’s in the driveway which caused some confusion. We had to resort to an old fashioned phone conversation, turn left here, right there etc.
Eventually after this faffing around we were on the M6 heading up towards Carlisle to race in the Rock To Roll Cycling Club road race at Smithfield. We love the Rock to Roll races. They are always well organised, on great courses with stunning Cumbrian scenery. They attract riders from around the North and the competition is pretty fierce, which makes great competitive racing. Of course the tea and cakes afterwards are the best yet. The skies brightened and the sun made an appearance and it looked set to be a perfect day for racing. We met our team mate John Bamford at the HQ as well as team mate Jon Fowles who was racing in the E/1/2 race. A few team tactics were discussed and the race was underway following a good length neurtalised zone.
As we made our way to the start line, I began thinking about this same race last year where I came 5th when I managed to get in a breakaway group on the last lap and gained about 30 seconds on the chasing bunch. It was a move that worked well for me. I decided that if I was to improve on last year, then I need to employ the same tactic again this year. If so inclined, my report on this race can be read here…..
Greyhounds out of the traps is one way to describe the start of the race once the flag was dropped. A couple of teams took to the front with the intention of smashing the race to pieces. To a large extent this worked as riders began to be shelled out of the back early doors. At the end of the race my Garmin recorded an average speed just shy of 25 mph, so a pretty fast race. We kept ourselves near the front to do our usual thing of marking any attacks and where the opportunity presented itself, initiate our own attacks with the intention of getting away.
John M and Neil teamwork. Picture by Ellen Isherwood
This happened towards the end of the second lap. I was making myself busy with a couple of others chasing down a 4 man breakaway group. They managed to get a short distance for a few miles, but we brought them back. I happened to be at the front when they were eventually caught. It was then I saw two riders from Horwich CC take an opportunity to counter attack as we approached the 500 metre uphill drag to the start/finish line. They got about 20 metres and I was not going to do any more chasing at this point. I was hoping that John B or John M would see that I was at the front and not going to work, thus giving one of them a chance to jump across to the Horwich lads and get away. Intuitively, John Bamford saw this, sprinted past me and caught them, his presence gave an additional impetus as they sped away up the hill, whilst I still plodded along and made no effort to chase, with the entire peloton behind me. This worked for the best part of a lap, the three of them got out of sight, but were not forgotten and a concerted effort was made by the chasing bunch to eventually bring them back.
John B on the attack with his two Horwich CC compatriots. Picture by Ellen Isherwood
Around half way through the race we saw Jon Fowles by the side of the road watching our race go past, we were not sure what happened to him, but afterwards he told us, in his words “Was doing a corner attack….but the ground attacked me instead” Jon has had a phenomenal season so far with a top 10 in every race he has entered including coming second to pro rider James Gullen of JLT Condor in the Elite race at Cockermouth. He’s fine and so is his bike, some torn clothing but most of all, this little mistake has proved to us that he is actually human after all and we like him all the more for it!
I made several efforts to try to force a break by putting in some big attacks with a couple of other riders. We soon got caught though due to a lack of cooperation in sharing the work. When chasers caught us, they wouldn’t work either, they were happy to just chase us down.
Neil on the attack. Picture courtesy of Robin Clark
This went on for the rest of the race, but nobody got away. The last lap was a bit frantic, there was a big crash that myself and John M avoided, but John B got caught behind it, fortunately he stayed upright, but did have to stop as at least 6 to 8 riders were down in front of him. This affected his position in the bunch so had to chase hard to get back on. On the final lap, we entered the final stretch of road which carries on for about 3 or 4 miles before the left turning to the uphill finish line. The two previously mentioned Horwich riders took to the front and one of them was giving his team mate the lead out of his life. At least 3 miles of rolling road with a decent tail wind and pace was set at around 29 mph. Fortunately for me, I was fourth wheel taking advantage of the lead out and John M was on my wheel. We were in a great position, especially since the bunch got completely strung out single file due to the pace set by the Horwich rider. A few attempts were made by riders behind us to better their positions by coming out of position and riding up the line, but they couldn’t do it as the pace was too intense for them, and they fell back to their positions.
Entering the 500 metre uphill drag I got to third wheel and just started chasing the wheel in front of me, I could see he was strong so stuck with him with John M chasing my wheel. I was doing well, a cursory look behind and we had some distance on the main bunch, just a few scattered riders chasing us up the hill. Around 20 metres to go just when I thought I may be able to win this, the two riders in front sped up to try to take the win. I began to lose the wheel in front of me! I made a big mistake here, I decided to get out of the saddle to keep on the wheel and immediately cramped up in both legs, this cost me about a second or two and promptly slammed back into my saddle. This lost couple of seconds allowed two of the chasers to pip me on the line by a wheel and half a wheel’s length. I rolled over for 5th place and John Myburgh got 7th. John Bamford came home in the bunch as he was never able to recover his position after being caught behind the crash.
Front bunch on uphill drag sprinting for the line. Picture by Ellen Isherwood
I was a bit annoyed with myself for trying to sprint out of the saddle, but still pretty happy with 5th place – the same as last year, but this time in a bunch sprint rather than being in a breakaway group. In the process of getting 5th, I accidentally got my second category promotion. I have always maintained that I would rather be a decent 3rd cat who can compete well, such as in a race like today’s rather than be a struggling 2nd cat. But there you go. It means that I am just going to have to train like a demon over the winter if I want to succeed next year. With our winter training programme and team mates around me offering endless encouragement and support, it’s a certainty that I will be working hard and living up to expectations. So no alternative. Rather than this year be a decent 3rd cat, I am going just have to be a decent 2nd cat.
Many thanks to Robin Clark at Rock 2 Roll Cycles for another fantastic race
Many thanks to Ellen Isherwood for her continued presence taking great pictures