By Jon Fowles
This Sunday was the North West Regional Road Race Championships, possibly the biggest race in the calendar for many, and certainly a target for Team Chronomaster. Adam, Ste and I were representing the team, and the start sheet reflected the significance of the race, with a handful of the region’s professional riders set to take part.
This year the race used the Calthwaite circuit, 80 miles of mostly fast flat roads with a short uphill drag to the finish line. During my last foray at this circuit I’d managed to get in an early break which was unfortunately caught on the last lap, and led to a messy finish of opportunistic attacks and a hectic sprint. I wasn’t keen on repeating this.
On the first lap the attacks began, as ever. I wanted to save my legs as much as possible, so I waited for the stronger riders to attack so I didn’t need to stick my own head in the wind. It’s a bit of a blur as to what actually happened, but it started with Hamish Graham (Green Jersey) and Richard Taylor attacking. I jumped in behind them and then as they tired I took a turn on the front. I (or we?) bridged across to a small group of early escapees just as Alex Luhrs (Brother NRG) came sailing past. I managed to get behind this, and keep the move going.
As we approached the first left hand bend, the peloton had reeled us back in. I wasn’t content with this so I gave Alex a nod and attacked out of the corner. The two of us put in a big effort to pull away from the peloton, and we were joined by Hamish, Ryan Perry (Raleigh GAC) and two other riders. This was a good group, with enough firepower to edge the gap out to around 45 seconds, and we held this for 2 laps.
After the rise up to the start finish line, out of nowhere, we were joined by James Gullen (JLT Condor) and Dillon Byrne (VCUK). Now we really had all the strongest legs of the race in the breakaway, and pushed on at a decent pace. The gap to the peloton hovered below the minute mark, which isn’t a comfortable margin, and despite this some riders in the group kept missing turns.
With 3 laps to go the breakaway came into a bit of a crisis, something had obviously spurred on the peloton, as the gap dropped below 30 seconds. We had to push on hard… really hard! It didn’t seem like we were making any progress with the gap staying below 40 seconds, despite hammering the pace. We stuck with it, and as we crossed the finish line to start the final lap, the elastic snapped and our gap grew to over a minute to the chasing peloton. From then we knew we’d escaped it and it was time to start attacking each other!
It started with a few soft attacks when people weren’t willing to ride on the front, and then James went for it! Our breakaway split to pieces, with Dillon, Alex, Hamish and I forming a quartet trying to chase back to James. We hammered it as hard as we could, but despite this James kept pulling away. I was pretty toast, we all were by the looks of it, and there was nothing we could do. We carried on riding together (just about), until the final left hand bend before the final 500m drag to the finish.
I was on the front into the bend and had a mini attack to see if anyone would come past and so giving me a wheel to follow to the finish. Nobody bit, and I was still on the front. I was probably the worst sprinter from our quartet, so I didn’t intend to hang around. I gunned it from the 200m to go banner, and suddenly had a gap on Alex and Hamish, but as they wound up their sprint I was quickly passed. I hung on to finish in 4th place, with Alex in 2nd and Hamish finishing 3rd. James took a fine solo victory!
Thanks to Rock to Roll Cycles for organising the race and credit to Alex Reed for the great pictures. http://areed.co.uk/