The 3 stage, 2 day Manchester Wheelers road race is a race that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the last few years. Although some of the racing isn’t really to my strengths (these are diminishing as the years pass by 😩) the fast and furious smash ups have always set me up for a decent season finale and I’ve managed to finish with some decent results.
So, with ambitions of improving on previous year’s performances, a chance to race against some good friends and some ‘ out of towners’ (A rider from Aberdeen wheelers was possibly from furthest afield) I took the plunge and entered.
Racing with me would be team mates Kris Zentek, coming into form late in the season, George Whittaker, criterium racing regular and potential candidate for this seasons unluckiest rider (down to one item of non crash damaged team kit) and Adam Baines, George’s main rival for unluckiest rider award, who had been enduring a frustrating spell of great form coupled with terrible fortune! (Down to his last pair of wheels having written off a couple of pairs this season)
Unfortunately, Adam didn’t start the race. His terrible run of luck had taken its toll and his season had been drawn to a premature end.
Stages 1 and 2 were being run on the Tameside cycle track. A narrow, twisty, purpose built, race circuit.
The first stage was a 1.1km Individual time trial covering one, clockwise lap, basically consisting of a series of tight, mainly right hand, bends with flat out sprinting in between. A test of right hand cornering and flat out sprinting ability, my prowess in such disciplines being generally inconsistent and questionable!
At least it was dry so I could leave my cornering 50 pence piece at home try and to maintain maintain some decent pace through the bends.
My aim for this stage was to try and avoid coming last, a position I have been fairly close too in previous years. Alas, some braver than normal cornering and a complete contrast to my approach from last year, vividly demonstrated in the pictures below showing me in this years time trial and last year’s effort, gave me my best time yet, just 5 seconds behind the best time and a mid table position.
Vivid contrast in style over the years
Joining me with a 1 minute 18 second effort was Kris, another cornering specialist…NOT. George was a second quicker than us and we were all reasonably pleased with our opening stage efforts.
Stage 2 was a 40 lap race around the same circuit used for the opening time trial but Anti clockwise this time so, thankfully, mainly left hand bends. This is a stage that, strangely, I’ve always enjoyed!
The racing was full on! Non stop, flat out sprinting and cornering with a few crashes to avoid along the way. Kris and I managed to avoid the crashes and finished in what was left of the front group of 30 riders or so. Unfortunately, George, in keeping with recent misfortune, had got taken into the grass following a bit of a pile up during the race and was unable to get back onto the tarmac in time to catch the tail of the group. He lost a lap and at the end of the day was a minute or so behind the leader on general classification.
Kris and I were in 22nd and 24th position respectively but just 5 seconds behind the leader. With so many riders in striking distance of the lead and a difficult stage to come, the race was still very much on!
This stage offered a very different challenge, 5 laps of the tough Oakenclough circuit for a total distance of 55 miles.
As with previous years I was expecting an attritional race with front group becoming smaller as each tough section of the circuit passed. These being the main climb up Oakenclough, the short climb immediately after it (I’ve always rightly or wrongly called this ‘The Telegraph’) and the draggy section on the back of the circuit.
A few attempted breaks failed during the first 3 laps. A former team mate of mine, and all round great rider and decent bloke, Simon Bridge of Manchester Bicycle Club, was doing his utmost to keep the race together for his team mate Tarn Flynn who had started the day in 2nd position overall. This despite the fact Simon was also just seconds off the lead and well capable of challenging for the win. However, when a couple of riders escaped with around a lap and a half to go there was some hesitation and they pushed on and gained a decent lead.
Kris and I were still in the lead group at this time but George had retired following a puncture. More bad luck for poor George and for a moment I felt slightly guilty for having convinced him to start the race when he was having some reservations a few days earlier!
As we approached the main climb for the last time there were around 20 riders left in the bunch. A final push over the top of the climb resulted in a few more riders being dropped. Unfortunately, the casualties this time included Kris.
After the long decent towards the finish the road drags up slightly before the final mile or so to the finish line. At this point the pace of the group slowed and riders seemed hesitant to go to the front and push on with the finish so close. With the race still wide open, and riders still separated by seconds, I decided to go for a late attack. If it was successful there was a great chance of an overall win or high placing.
I went for it! Although not a flat out attack I gained a nice little advantage while the group hesitated waiting to see who would take up the chase. With a small gap I pressed on but not committing fully as I decided a chase, and catch, was inevitable and I wanted to save some reserves for what seemed like the inevitable sprint.
Sure enough the group swept past me with around 600 meters to go, just before the sharp left hand turn into the 500 metre finishing straight. But I wasn’t finished yet!
As we rounded the corner I began my sprint and started working my way through the group of riders towards the front. I managed to sprint strongly all the way to the line passing all but one rider crossing the line in, what I believed for a fleeting moment, 2nd place on the stage. The winner of the group sprint also wondered whether he had won and gained a time bonus that would give him the overall victory. If I had come 2nd I would also get a time bonus that could lift me into the top places on the final overall classification.
However, our pondering was soon over as we saw the two riders that had escaped with a lap or so to go on the side of the road congratulating themselves on their success. After their attack they had stayed clear all the way and finished around 50 seconds ahead of the front chase group.
Still, 4th was a great result and I was delighted with this and even more pleased, and slightly confused, about my fine (by my standards) sprint finish.
With a 50 second gap, the overall winner was likely to come from the first two finishers on stage 3 but I noticed that the winner of the stage, Jude Taylor, had started the day well behind on the classification after some misfortune in the circuit race the previous day, so, only the top spot had been secured.
I would have to hope that a lot of the riders ahead of me on General classification at the start of the day had fallen by the wayside if I was to sneak up the table.
Amazingly, when the final analysis was complete I had jumped up to 6th overall, equal on time with 4th and 5th but placed lower as their TT times on stage 1 were marginally quicker.
Kris has also sneaked into the top 20 continuing his run of good late season results.
Again, the Manchester Wheelers 2 day was a great event with superb organisation by Ruth Taylor and her team. Having organised our team’s road race this year I have a recently elevated respect for all race organisers and can only begin to imagine the stress involved in organising 3 races in 2 days, Bravo Ruth 👏
Ellen and Dan also put in a full weekend shift to ensure that, once more, we have great photos to look forward to after the events. I’m sure that for many of us these are as eagerly anticipated as the results!
With so many friends racing together there is also a great atmosphere around the whole event and I know a lot of riders are already looking forward to next year’s edition.