WHAT. A. RACE.
Don’t get me wrong, Pimbo, the Frank Morgan Memorial, Salt Ayre etc are all fun events but they’re hardly bike racing at it’s finest. Real attacking full-gas racing up big hills, knocking lumps out of each other like boxers POW POW POW, that’s what racing is about for me, Liege – Bastogne – Liege style, not Prudential Ride London… really shitty weather adds a bit of spice to the fight.
So for an enjoyable and fun Easter Ste and me (and team Batto swanny, Tricia, bag man Ethan and leg-licker Buster) headed to the cold frozen North where they all talk funny and eat weird stuff, but fortunately they have HILLS.
The iMann 2-day is a stage race based out of Stamfordham, using circuits previously used for the Border 4-day organised by the lovely Maureen Bain R.I.P., a race that’s greatly missed. The iMann / Blumilk team put together two fantastic 65 mile stages, day 1 using the Ingoe circuit and day two using the fearsome climb of the Ryals, amongst others.
Ste and me met at the HQ in Stamfordham at 8am, race start was scheduled for 9:30am but due to the ‘interesting’ weather the UCI Fowl Weather Protocol was being enforced and there was talk of delaying the start, or possibly cancelling the race. It had been a bit of a rough drive from Team Batto’s digs but I really didn’t consider it that bad, however, I have experience of racing there back in the day, at the Borders, with Randle, Tanner, Butler etc, names that would strike fear into the hearts of any riders back then and not only that, trying to hold their wheels in white-out conditions riding sideways due to the wind in single vehicle wheel-tracks in snow just hoping you didn’t hit ice, or in some cases hoping you did. Old skool hard knocks. In these days of litigation and H&S it’s not the done thing to let 60 blokes on 23mm tyres go and race in the snow so the Commissaires deliberated while the riders put on every piece of clothing they had in their bags.
10am start- the Comms declared 30 minute delay so the race got underway at 10am. At 10:02am my Garmin ejected from my newly purchased super-lightweight mount never to be seen again, so no STRAVA kudos or KOMs for me, old skool. On the plus side my bike was now a few grams lighter- bonus!! Today’s circuit was 12 miles long and we covered 5 and a bit laps. A Blumilk rider had attacked and stayed clear for most of the first lap, after he was caught there was a sprint for the first time up the KOM climb and then a slight breather so at that point I attacked, with about 55 miles to go.
I hadn’t actually missed having my Garmin up to this point, after a few minutes of going fairly hard I realised I didn’t have any stats, no HR, no Watts, no distance, nothing. I did have time checks though- first one 40 seconds, half a lap later – 1 minute. I took the second lap KOM points, having been clear for about 15 miles now and definitely more than a little concerned that there was still 40 or so miles to go and no sign of anyone joining me. Fortunately half a lap later Alastair McNicol (Dooleys Cycles) and Eugene Cross (B38 Underpin) joined me and we cracked on working well together.
I knew Alastair, having raced against him early last season at Castle Carrock where we raced in equally shitty weather, and again both made the break. I knew he was strong and we’d have a good chance to stay away, Eugene was unknown to me but I quickly realised he was very strong. The time checks were now coming down, so unfortunately the bunch hadn’t cracked. At one point I glanced back after a left hander and could see the bunch approaching the corner, it seemed we were sure to be caught. The three of us were clearly of the same mindset though, each of us responded and we buried ourselves for the next lap in the hope the bunch would crack, and start looking at each other rather than a co-ordinated chase and that’s exactly what happened. With one lap to go we had over a minute and the gap was increasing – happy days!!
Alastair had been missing turns and going up the main climb announced he needed to sit-on, I made sure he wouldn’t be contesting the finish so it would be between Eugene and me. Unfortunately it didn’t really play out like that… Alastair did miss a few turns, but not that many and if I were him I certainly wouldn’t feel obliged to take 3rd place. He obviously felt the same approaching the finish as he checked with Eugene and me- “no objections to me sprinting eh?”, neither of us could honestly object. It had crossed my mind several times to attack but given this was the first stage and my objective was the overall GC I didn’t want the bunch eating into our lead, now well over 1 minute.
So we approached the finish and the sprint started, Alastair took the win…
Stage 1 results:
So yesterday’s ‘bad weather’ had all the riders dressed in every piece of clothing they could find, this is the scene as I drove to the start of stage 2….
Amazingly, on arrival at the HQ there wasn’t even any suggestion of delaying the start!! This time the Commissaires decided to drop two laps from the race, making it 45 miles and twice up the infamous Ryals climb. Initially I was disappointed on hearing this, I figured if we could race 45 miles we could race 65. I spoke to Eugene and Alastair and they felt the same, we also chatted about tactics but no plan was hatched- neither Eugene or me were happy with 2nd and 3rd on GC so we were never going to race defensively.
Everyone kitted up and headed out, it had stopped snowing but waiting on the line for the off was blisteringly cold. After just a couple of miles Alastair joined the constant attacking and went clear, very unusual for the race leader in a stage race to go on the attack! He was pulled back quickly, shortly after this we hit a stretch of road with craters down both sides, I hit one of the bigger ones and my right brake lever shunted down the bars, this had the knock-on effect of pulling the cable causing my brake caliper to pull-over and all of a sudden I was riding with my rear brake on and nothing I could do about it!! I drifted to the back and put my hand up for service, the mechanic who jumped out couldn’t understand a word I was saying, either because I was high on adrenaline, shivering from freezing my nads off, or maybe it was my Bolton accent?? Anyway we got there in the end, re-centred the brake and straightened the lever and I shouted to give me a tow as I set off. It took a couple of miles at 40mph right on the bumper but I returned to the bunch, which from the back I could see was now getting much smaller. I had no idea how long we’d been riding, how far we’d done or what distance to go, what I really wanted to know was how far to the Ryals. I gave up after asking a few lads and just concentrated on staying up front and close to Ste. We’d talked before the start and Ste had a plan- he intended to smash it up the Ryals the first time in an effort to thin down the competition, both Ste and me can climb so this was a sound tactic.
We hit the Ryals and the situation was three lads away with a gap of around a minute, Ste turned on the gas as soon as the climb started proper, Alastair and Eugene immediately moved up and I was on their wheels, I wanted to see if they showed any sign of struggling as next time up I planned to go for it.
Over the top and Ste had succeeded, Alastair, Eugene, a couple of others and myself had got clear. Unfortunately having the top 3 on GC away in a break together the obvious thing happened- we each didn’t give it 100% in an effort to watch each for the inevitable attack. We were caught by a small group of chasers and these lads had the motivation to chase the three up the road. We descended on the twisty circuit all lined out switching from gutter to gutter, unusually this is where the decisive moment of the race occurred. On one of the little rises/corners Eugene opened a gap, not huge but considering we were already going full gas it was worrying, about 50 metres. Alastair immediately started chasing – he only held the GC lead by a few seconds. I helped but glass-cranked a few turns, Eugene was holding the gap and I could see Alastair was going full gas to get him back. I offered Alastair a few words of encouragement as we swapped turns – “this is your race to lose Alastair”, he put a huge turn in and the moment he moved for me to go through I jumped and got across to Eugene. The situation at this point was the three lads up the front had around 45 seconds on Eugene and me, and we had around 5-10 seconds on the small chase group with race leader Alastair chasing hard. Eugene and me made it up to the three chasers after only a few more miles having put substantial daylight into the gap behind, we now had around 20 miles to go (I think!) and one more time up the Ryals.
Eugene had everything to gain at this point, he was now race leader, I had moved up to 2nd so we formed an alliance and worked hard! The other lads were obviously happy to allow us to bury ourselves but to be fair one or two did do a few turns. My thoughts now turned to how to get rid of Eugene, he could obviously climb well… We hit the Ryals and we both went hard, the group split to pieces but over the top we were all together, probably due to the headwind.
It was now just a few miles to the line and my chance of taking the overall was getting slimmer, I put a dig in on a rise, being a bit cheeky just as Eugene went for his bottle. Unfortunately the other lads were racing for the stage so weren’t keen to let anyone get away. We were now on the final couple of miles to the line, Freddy Jagger (B38/Underpin) jumped clear and held it taking the win by a few seconds from Eugene and the rest in our group, I rolled in 7th and happy I’d raced hard and put maximum effort into trying to win the overall.
I finished 2nd on General Classification, Eugene Cross (B38/Underpin) took the win and Alastair McNicol (Dooleys Cycles) 3rd. Huge congratulations to both and I really enjoyed the brilliant aggressive racing!
Thanks to Darran Moore for most of the shots above.
Also thanks to Jack Earl and Andy Hindmarch for images.
Congratulations to the iMann organising team, you’ve put on a great event and I will definitely be back next year!