By Jon Fowles
Last Sunday I raced at the Danum Trophy, near Doncaster. This would be the 4th time I’ve participated in the race, and it’s a circuit that I enjoy. There’s a punchy climb half way around the lap, and an exposed windy section approaching the finish line, just enough to split the race up. However, this year I’d done the Oakenclough road race the previous day and absolutely rinsed myself to come 10th in a strong field. As usual, the start sheet at Danum was scattered with some of the best domestic professionals in the North West. This would not make for an easy race!
Cruising around before the race (trying to warm up in the freezing conditions), my legs felt ruined from the effort the day before. I was near the back of the pack as the race rolled out of the HQ along the neutralised section, hoping that my legs would find themselves. The race lit up going into the bottom of the climb for the first time, and I felt like I was in trouble, so did others by the looks of things. The race was strung out and gaps opening up everywhere. Luckily as we began the cross wind section, the race died down a little and I had some time to breath and think about moving to a safer part of the peleton.
By the time we approached the climb for the second time I was mid pack, and as the majority of riders slowed down for the grind up the climb, I was able to nip around the outside and secure a position at the front end of the peleton. We completed the fast section after the climb and I found myself at the front taking the slow left hand bend before an incline preceding the windy section.
I put a little bit of effort in, and found myself with a gap to the peleton… then pushed on a little more. Soon I found myself alone in the cross wind, but with the gap behind me opening up, not entirely what I had planned! Regardless, I had to push on and not admit that this was probably a terrible idea. VERY fortunately, Josh Hunt (Vitus Pro Cycling) bridged across the gap to me and the pair of us started working well together (we know each other from training/racing previously which always helps). On the second lap one of the motorbikes told us that we had about 30 seconds to a chasing group of 5 riders…. it seemed like the race had completely exploded behind.
The 5 chasing riders caught us, and we were pleased to see that it contained most of the top riders in the race, including Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis), Connor Swift (Madison Genesis) amongst others. This was a strong group and we worked hard for about a couple of laps. Matt was keen to keep pushing on to open the gap, although my legs were feeling the effort I helped as much as I could.
Despite all our hard work a large group of riders managed to catch us, and we formed a group of about 15 riders. This break contained pretty much all the favourites and in most cases multiple riders from each team. With this many riders it was easy for riders to hide at the back and save their legs, the work ethic of the group diminished and I didn’t have the legs to keep driving on. I also didn’t have the legs when the inevitable would happen and the favourites would attack.
The logical (stupid?) thing to do is therefore attack a group full of top hitters, and this is what I did. Approaching the climb with about 2 laps remaining (it’s all a blur around here) I was on Joe Evan’s (Saint Piran) wheel. He started putting in an effort to hit the climb, this was our chance, and we managed to get a gap and push over the top. There must have been some confusion behind because our gap was increasing, and riders were trying to bridge across. Once again we were joined by Josh Hunt and Matt Holmes, as well as Ed Hopper, Adam Kenway (also Vitus Pro Cycling) and Keiran Savage. My legs were destroyed but I knew we could make it to the finish, after missing a few turns I joined the effort to press on.
One of the motorbikes gave us regular time checks and 5 riders were chasing, but our gap was extending, and as we crossed the line to start the final lap it was time to start thinking of the win. Nobody seemed to be sandbagging too much as we approached the climb, but suddenly Matt attacked into the bottom with Adam on his wheel. I was lucky to be on Adam’s wheel but both of us were gapped. Matt had a significant advantage at the top of the climb, and that was about the last we saw of him. I rejoined the 4 other riders and with Adam in our sights we tried to chase him with everything we had.
Unfortunately everything we had clearly wasn’t enough, as his gap extended even as we hit the cross wind section approaching the finish line. With about 500m to go it was obvious that we were going to have to battle for 3rd. Ed went long, and I stood up to jump onto the back of this sprint to immediately find my legs were toast. My sprinting prowess gaining me 7th place (i.e last from the break). Matt took a strong win with Adam second and Ed third.
Considering how my legs felt at the start of the race, and to be racing against some of the best domestic riders in the country, I was happy. Now I’m keen for more!!
Thanks to the Danum Trophy race organiser, Martin Maltby
Thanks to our sponsors, Leisure Lakes Bikes, Specialized Bicycles, OTE, Pearson Ferrier, Chronomaster Wristwatches
Fantastic photos by Alex Reed