By Joe Bowers.
Due to an unfortunate lack of E12 races in the North West in April Jon and I were searching further afield for races to do. We came across the St Ives Spring Road Race, a 130km Nat B on a rolling course, and thought it was worth a shot. However it wasn’t until the night before the race we realised just how far away it was!
The alarm went off at 04:30 and for Jon, who was giving me a lift, it was even earlier. We got in the car and headed South for 3 hours until we reached the HQ near Huntingdon. As we travelled the weather seemed to get progressively worse until, by the time we got to the HQ, it was raining constantly. Fairly unenthusiastically we started to get ready to race. I had my usual dilemma of what do I wear? I opted for my skinsuit but wearing my gilet underneath with knee and arm warmers.
We rolled out just after 09:00 onto the rain-soaked course and after a short neutral section racing was underway. It was soaking; standing water all over the road, zero braking on carbon rims and a constant spray of water from wheels in front meaning you could barely see. Towards the end of the first lap a small break went up the road followed by a chasing group of 4 or 5 riders. Knowing the conditions and how attritional the racing was likely to be today I thought that these moves were pretty dangerous especially seeing as they contained a couple of our pre-race favourites (Rhys Howells – RCC and Arlen – HJL). I moved up and jumped off the front just after a short climb. At first the going was good I began to close the gap on the chasing group and thought I was going to make it. However! I started to get bogged down and the groups ahead merged and began working together. As my heart rate climbed into the 190’s I figured 8 or 9 vs 1 was never going to work and although I was a matter of a few tens of meters off the back of the leading group I sat up.
Frustrated, feeling I’d missed the winning move and a shot at the top 10, I was reabsorbed by the peloton. I sat at the back in a bit of a sulk for a while and had a caffeine gel to perk me up. I exchanged a few words with Jon and we agreed to sit in the bunch for a bit and just see how the race panned out. At this point we figured there was over 2.5 hours left to race so no point burning too many matches. After about 1h45 of racing the bunch pretty much had stopped chasing the break and their gap went up. It was at this point in a brief lull when Jon and another rider popped off the front. They hovered around 15-20 seconds off the front and I surmised given the wind and conditions a group of two would get pulled back. Not wanting to chase Jon down I loitered near the front of the peloton waiting for a counterattack to launch – it did, 3 riders went including Andy Nichols from B38, and I jumped on the back.
We soon joined Jon up the road making a reasonable size group. I went straight through and said something about being f’ing cold and said we should ride to stay warm! So we did. Over the next hour or so we worked together and built a decent gap (around 5 mins by the end of the race) over the peloton. During this time we dropped a couple of riders and gained a couple of riders who’d been shelled from the leading break. Going into the final 2 laps we could see the leading break, it looked like it had split into a 3 and a 3. We caught the first group of leaving just the three leaders up the road. I was buoyed by this seeing as we’d turned a bad situation into a top 10 position for Jon and I as a minimum.
Going into the final lap there were a few attacks. Andy Nichols went on one of the small hills but was brought back and there were a few digs including some from Jon on the final flat section of road leading the to finishing climb and straight. At this point I probably should’ve had a dig, but my legs felt pretty wrecked and I had twinges of cramp behind my left knee. I if I attacked now and got caught I’d probably get dropped on the final climb. Looking around at the group I thought I would probably be able to outsprint most of them. So I sat on the back and tried to stay inconspicuous.
I clung on up the final climb and psyched myself for the sprint. At the 90 degree right hander leading onto the finishing straight a Flamme Rouge rider attacked our group and tried to go long for the line – he succeeded and took 4th. In hindsight I should’ve gone with him as there was a nice tailwind to help up. However I sat on the back. With 200m to go the sprint kicked off and I surfed a wheel or two and came round everyone taking 5th. Jon rolled in 10th after doing some great work and making people in the last lap. Jon’s earned some brownie points for that so I’ll have to help him out in the future when he calls for it.
Finally congratulations to Arlen on the win and gaining his elite licence in the process! Thanks to St Ives CC for organising. It’s a shame ERRL is so far away as we would be down for more.
Superb photos provided by Sarah Kelman