By Stephen Feeney.
At last! After a frustrating few weeks I finally got my 2018 season off to a start!
Bad weather had forced the cancellation of my races thus far this season but the freezing temperatures and snow had given way to altogether more spring like conditions and the promise of a race under clear blue skies.
As spring like as it looked though, clearing the ice from my car before leaving home and the temperature gauge showing a disappointing 1 degree, reminded me that it was still March!
I arrived at the HQ in Rainford just behind teammate Kris Zentek. It was great timing on our part as we grabbed the last 2 parking spaces.
There were 2 races taking place today. Both BC ‘Masters’ (old people) events. An event for the youngsters (40-50 yrs) and another for the over 50s. Craig Battersby, Tony Greenhalgh, Kris and I were in the 40-50 category. Si Deplitch was on his own in the over 50s group.
Craig, Tony and Kris had all put in good performances already this year, as has Si, so we were confident of getting a good result in both races. I had no idea how I was going but hoped to get involved in the action at some point.
As we got ready for the race it dawned on us all just how cold it was. Craig and Si, showing their intent on getting stuck in and having a hard race, braved wearing short pants. I don’t think hard man Tony ever considered wearing anything but shorts. Kris went with knee warmers and I went for full longs, it can get cold in my usual position marshalling the rear of the bunch!
Kris had been quite clear about his race tactics, attack from the off and try and stay clear! He was true to his word and as soon as we reached the course, to complete 7 laps and some 50 miles, he went for it!
Craig stayed near to the front keeping an eye on proceedings while Tony hovered around the back of the pack with me.
Unfortunately for Kris, he wasn’t able to break free and repeat the feat of a race long breakaway that took him to a victory last year, and was bought back to the bunch after a lap or so.
A flurry of attacks, counter attacks and chases ensued with Craig, Tony and I all being quite active at the head of the field.
Some way into the 2nd lap I noticed 3 riders gain a small advantage. I recognised one of them as Mark Dziobhan of Lancashire RC. He trains with us and is on great form so I decided to try and get across to them. I managed to bridge the gap and we formed a foursome that soon became 7 as 3 more riders came across including Tony and an old friend and rival Andy Martin.
We all got stuck in straight away and over the next 5 laps our lead grew steadily. As we entered the last lap we were the best part of 3 minutes clear of the chasing bunch, which was fragmenting under pressure being applied by Craig and Kris!
The course was flat and open, a wind made it tough in sections and this probably discouraged early attacks from the break.
With around 5 miles to go, and as Tony went through to the front, nobody followed him through! Suddenly, he had a small gap. I rolled to the front and eased off significantly and, as I’d hoped, the riders behind me sat on my wheel. Tony now had a small gap, he looked back and quickly realised this could be the moment to push on and decided to go for it!
2 riders realised the danger and jumped across to Tony. This meant 3 riders up front with a small gap and 4 chasers behind.
I sat at the back of the 4 man chase group not contributing to any chase. As the 3 leaders pressed on, only Andy Martin seemed capable of putting in a concerted chase and quickly the gap to the front 3 became insurmountable.
The chase group became 3 and with the front group well clear, I decided to try and leave the chase group behind and claim 4th.
I had a good feeling that Tony would be too strong in the sprint for his breakaway companions and he was! He sprinted to a great win!
I rolled in just behind for 4th while Kris and Craig claimed 9th and 10th so all of us finished in the top 10!
It was a great start of the season for me and great to be racing again with the lads!
It was also a great event organised by Brian Rigby, of St Helens CRC. Brian is a regular, and well appreciated race organiser, and this course was a new one he’d worked hard to get approved by BC.
Many thanks to Brian and his team for all their efforts!
Thanks also to Ellen Isherwood for all the great pictures! Today must have made a nice change to standing around in the snow and cold for hours!