By Stephen Feeney.
The Tour of the Abberleys is an LVRC (League of Veteran Racing Cyclists) 3 day, 4 stage race that has built up a reputation as one of the most prestigious races on the LVRC race calendar in the last few years.
This was, of course, the main cycling event of the bank holiday weekend in the country. There was a minor stage race taking place in Yorkshire but you’d be excused for missing that as the media hype and TV coverage focused on ‘The Abberleys ‘
The folk that regularly read our race reports (I believe a few do!) will know that the team, and particularly Craig Battersby, have performed consistently well in this race over the years. Craig has won the event overall for the last 2 editions picking up various stage wins along the way. Team mate Kris Zentek as also won stages and worn the yellow jersey in previous editions.
This year, having been told the various courses would suit me and also having been tempted after reading about previous editions, I thought I’d give it a bash.
Joining me in the Chronomaster team were defending champion Craig, new recruit Tony Greenhalgh, a former stage winner in the event, and Abberleys regular John Bamford. Daz Acton of Tactic UK, our friend and training partner, was also joining us for the weekend. John had found a lovely cottage for us all for the weekend, just a few miles from the event headquarters.
As the name of the event suggests, the race was only open to veteran riders (over 40’s) there were 2 races, one for 40-50 year olds and another for the over 50’s. We would all be competing in the 40-50 race.
The first stage was an 11km individual time trial, much longer than the opening stage in previous editions, and it threatened to produce some significant time gaps at a very early stage of the race.
My feeling was that it was perhaps not worth being overly concerned with the result. If we managed to do good times then it would just put us on the list of watched riders for the rest of the race. If we finished down the results, this might give us more chance of breaking clear on the following road stages.
In any event, there’s only one way to ride a time trial, push hard and try and keep going until the end! Then keep your fingers crossed when the results start coming through!
The hilly route was clearly to Craig’s liking, he recorded the fastest time of 17 mins and 49 seconds. Mine too, I was joint second just 4 seconds behind (later promoted to outright 2nd by fractions of a second). Tony, Daz and John also posted good times of 18:36, 19:18 & 19:55 respectively.
Craig would start Stage 2 in the leaders yellow jersey.
Here is a link to my ‘Strava’ file for the time trial is below (including very slow ride from the end of the TT back to the HQ) https://www.strava.com/activities/1550824985
The full result from the opening time trial is below…
This consisted of a 42 mile road race which took place just an hour or so after the opening time trial had finished. We were to cover 3 laps of the rolling ‘Astley’ circuit. Craig started in yellow and expected to be heavily marked. Unfortunately, he was correct!
I too was heavily marked and a couple of early attempted breakaways were quickly neutralised. However, the bunch and main contenders seemed happy to allow a large group containing some dangerous riders to get clear and quickly establish a big lead!
Craig seemed to accept that Stage 1 would prevail in this way with a front group gaining an advantage of a minute or so but the pace of the bunch had become so pedestrian that I was concerned that they could be building an unassailable time advantage.
Over the next lap or so I tried joining a few attempts to break clear of the bunch, which seemed to reduce the riders in the main bunch considerably. I finally managed to break clear after joining Daz, Manchester Bicycle Club’s Simon Bridge, Element RT’s Andy Turner, and Michael Clark and Steve Lee from Team Wheelguru. We quickly formed a good working alliance and pulled clear of what was left of the bunch.
Shorty afterwards we were joined by Mark Corbett, Worcester St Johns CC. Mark had recorded the same time as me in the earlier TT and pushed Craig hard for the win the previous year. We eventually hauled in all but one of the front group with just a couple of miles of the stage to go and as the junction was made Mark attacked. I joined him and we managed to get away from the rest of the break.
Adrian Lawson, Latchem Sunwise RT, took the stage 29 seconds ahead of Mark and I (I took the sprint for 2nd place) with the remnants of the break some 25 seconds further back.
Here is my strava file for the race https://www.strava.com/activities/1551367842
The bunch containing Craig, Tony, John and Daz (who had cramped up when in the chase group) finished some 5 minutes later meaning Craig had lost his Yellow jersey (to me 😳) and had lost a lot of time on some strong rivals .
Here is the general classification after day 1 and the stage 2 result…
However, during the post race analysis, we decided that there was no reason similar time gaps could not occur on any of the remaining stages and there was still plenty for us all to race for!
That evening we dined ‘al Fresco’ enjoying the lovely sunshine and scenery, if not the frozen/reheated culinary offerings. There was also a problem with the Guinness pump so my usual recovery drink was substituted by a flavoursome local ale!
Later that night I caused some concern for my room mate Tony. After getting up in the night for the first of my toilet visits (I am a man of a certain age with associated bladder issues and a chain tea drinking habit) Tony noticed I was out of the room, fumbling around on the landing area, for a considerable time. He thought I was sleep walking and didn’t want to disturb me.
The reality is probably worse! Our cottage was in a remote, rural location. There were no street lights or light pollution. I’d managed to find the bathroom as the door was open and the window beyond it offered a faint guiding light. However, when heading away from the bathroom, with no such guiding light, I was faced with nothing but blackness and a distinct lack of familiarity with the landing area I was trying to navigate. Us ‘townies’ are not used to this darkness. I’d experienced this before when staying with a friend on the Atlantic coast of county Mayo, Ireland.
I could only think it must have been like a visit to the ‘Very Dark Caves’ on Craggy Island. After feeling my way around the walls and furniture (completing several laps of the landing area) I eventually managed to find my bedroom!
Today’s stage was the longest of the race. 5 x 11 mile laps of the ‘Hill Side’ circuit. A lumpy route with a climb of around a mile to the finish line. The winner of the stage would also receive the Ramon Minovi Memorial race trophy.
I started the day in the yellow jersey as overall leader and was concerned that I would also fall victim of its curse!
The attacks began immediately. I tried to get in a couple of moves but I was being well watched. Eventually, after around 5 miles or so a break managed to get clear containing Craig. There was some hesitation in the bunch and he and his breakaway companion suddenly had a large gap. Unfortunately for me, Craig’s breakaway companion was Adrian Lawson. He was in 3rd place overall and a strong contender for the overall win.
The bunch was grinding to a halt and in no time Craig and Adrian were out of sight. I thought it would be a good idea to try and get across to them but didn’t want to drag the whole bunch along.
I tried joining a couple of counter attacks but they never got clear of the bunch. At the bottom of the main climb, after some 11 miles, I decided to try and get clear again. This time there was no immediate reaction as I drifted off the front of the bunch so I put my head down and drove on. I caught Phil Whiteley of Worcester St Johns CC, who had got clear just before the climb, and we started working together to get clear of the bunch. After a few miles, Phil’s teammate Mark Corbett joined us. We were clear of the bunch and we had a 3 man group.
Mark was effectively joint overall leader with me and was clearly willing to help make our escape stick. We formed a fine working alliance as we settled into our pursuit but the leaders remained out of sight and time checks were scarce.
With some 30 miles of the race covered we could finally see Craig and Adrian. As we caught them we now had a lead group of 5. Craig told me he was going to try and take maximum King of the mountains points on the remaining climbs (the king of the mountains competition – KOM – had begun today with 5,3 & 2 points being awarded to the first 3 riders across the top of the hill on every lap). He’d already taken maximum points by crossing the line first on the previous 2 laps.
A few miles into the penultimate lap Mark punctured and with no neutral service vehicle near, his race was over. I felt sorry for Mark after putting in so much work on the stage but realised that his misfortune took a serious contender out of the reckoning. With Mark puncturing, Phil stopped working. Fortunately, Adrian was still willing to ride and we shared the work for the rest of the stage.
With a couple of miles of the stage remaining i decided to drop to the back of the group just to have a little rest before the final climb to the finish, where it seemed that the 4 of us would be fighting for the victory.
Phil hit the front and led us to the climb. Phil had been battling Craig for KOM points and so needed watching at the finish. As we turned onto the climb we were all being very cagey.
We rolled along with nobody really willing to take up the race until we hit the steep section a few hundred meters from the line when suddenly Adrian started his sprint. I tucked in behind him as he put in a determined dash for the line and hung on wondering when to try and get past him and whether my legs would be up to it!
With around 50 meters to go I could sense Adrian tiring, I managed to sprint past him to take the stage. Craig came in 11 seconds behind and Phil was another 10 seconds back in 4th. Next man to the finish was our own Tony, 2 minutes behind after a long solo chase. The rest of the field came in over many minutes and split all over the place!
I was delighted to have avoided the curse of the yellow jersey and also take the stage victory while wearing it, especially after such a hard race. I’d also taken the Ramin Minovi Memorial Road Race trophy.
It had been a good day for the team. Craig took the lead in the KOM competition and moved up the overall classification and Tony had finished 5th and also leapfrogged up the overall classification.
Here is my strava file for the stage https://www.strava.com/activities/1553208207
Here is the stage result and general classification after stage Stage 3…
Tonight’s curry, at The Lamb, Cleobury Mortimer, was most pleasant if not a little on the hot side for some!
The 4th and final stage is the shortest but covers the toughest terrain.
The first part of the race was a flattish, 20 mile loop away from and back to the HQ. Then there were 2 further laps of a 9 mile route. The 9 mile loop included 3 main climbs, the hardest being ‘Fetterlocks’ which had 17% ramps to contend with.
I’d started the day as overall leader with a slender 13 second lead over the 2nd place rider Adrian Lawson, and 1 minute 40 seconds ahead of Phil Whiteley in 3rd. The 4th placed rider was almost 5 minutes back so I decided to focus my attention on those 2.
Craig started the day in the KOM jersey.
The attacks began as soon as the race started and a group of 6 or so riders, including Tony, soon got clear. With none of the main contenders for the overall prize amongst the escapees the bunch seemed happy to let them get clear.
The pace in the main group was sedate and when we reached the end of the 20 mile loop the break was almost 5 minutes clear! Craig could sense my panic here and assured me that the gap would come down as the course got tougher.
At the top of Fetterlocks for the first time, with around 10 miles of racing to go, the leaders ‘ advantage was down to under 3 minutes and, thankfully, Craig’s prediction was correct. Craig put in a turn over the climb and over the finishing climb and I’m sure this ate further into the lead.
Contrary to my previous aggressive racing tactics, today was a cagey affair. I kept close to Adrian and Phil but had no need to attack them. I saved my strength for when the likely attacks against me would come.
As we started the last lap Craig came to see how I was. He was keen to try and take the stage win but needed to go in pursuit of the escapees. I told him to go for it! I knew my job was simply to prevent Adrian and Phil putting any time into me and felt confident I could do so!
After Craig attacked, and feeling pretty good myself, I toyed with the idea of jumping across to him and seeing if we could get clear together. However, as soon as I upped the pace slightly on a climb Adrian was straight on my wheel so I sat back and reverted to the original plan. Sit on and be attentive!
Fortunately for me, Si Bridge was in our small group and seemed content to do most of the pulling to the climb of Fetterlocks. Adrian didn’t move from my back wheel. As we started the climb I stayed near the front ready to respond to any attacks.
Sure enough Adrian launched a couple of attacks but I was able to respond straight away! We did manage to get clear of what was left of the group though, including Phil, so ‘all’ I had to do now was sit on Adrian’s wheel and hope he didn’t put 13 seconds into me on the final climb.
I stayed glued to Adrian’s wheel until the finish line was in sight and then managed to sprint past him and managed to stay in front of him until the line just to make sure! A couple of minutes earlier Tony had taken the stage win. He attacked at the bottom of the lastclimb and soloed to a fine victory.
Here is my strava file for the race https://www.strava.com/activities/1555362017
Here is the final stage result and overall classification…
It had been a great weekend for the team and we dominated the race. Craig took the victory on stage 1, was 3rd on stage 3 and 7th on stage 4. Unfortunately, he didn’t hold onto the KOM prize as one of the riders in the break took full points on every climb on the last day. He also won the prize for 1st ‘A’ category rider.
Tony had won the final stage, finished 5th on stage 3 and finished 2nd A category.
I’d had a good weekend too! 2nd on stages 1 & 2, winner of stage 3 and the Ramin Minovi Memorial trophy and overall winner. For me winning was also something of a relief. Karen had told me that I’d better win after leaving her on her own over the hottest bank holiday for years!
John had a quiet weekend by comparison (this was his first race of the year) but he looked after me on the final stage making sure I didn’t have to close any gaps early on and kept me out of the wind (as much as his diminutive frame would allow!)
I will end by saying a massive thank you to the organiser Mike Amery and his army of helpers who put on a superb event! I’m certain we’ll be back next year and there’ll be even more eligible Chronomaster riders as a few more pass the big 4 0!
Can we get another name on the Trophy?