By Kris Zentek.
Sunday 27th May. Blue skies, warm sunshine, and a decent lie-in as todays TLI race doesn’t start till 12 noon. That would normally be the case, but I have a new toy, and I was keen to test it out. So instead, I set my alarm for 7:00am. Breakfast, load the car up, and I’m on the road for 8, heading west towards Birkenhead. Today, Port Sunlight Wheelers and Onimpex Bioracer RT are joint hosting a closed circuit race in Birkenhead Park.
In the run up to this event, I’ve talked to lots of people who have reminisced about this circuit. It’s been around for a long time – vets of all ages cut their teeth there – but it kind of fell out of rotation for whatever reason. I’ve never ridden it, but the fond stories shared had peaked my interest. I rocked up at 9, smoothly negotiated my way into the *very* exclusive on-site carpark, and was met with a hive of activity. PSW members everywhere, resplendent in their black, white and red kit, getting everything ready inside and outside of the days HQ – a clubhouse on the edge of the park.
I was there early to record the first race of the day – the over 50’s race – due to roll out at 10am. My race started later (under 50’s) at 12pm. First job of the day was to ride round the course and familiarise myself with it, so I pulled the bike out and rolled across the green into the park.
Description…wide, sweeping lefts and rights. Crossing a main road at two points between park gates. One half rough, tree-lined and grippy, one half smooth and sun-kissed. Finish line was positioned on the crest of a gentle uphill drag. Only one bend I would consider to be tight. This was going to be a fast, technical race and I was looking forward to it!
I rolled back to HQ to grab a coffee, and returned to the finish line to decamp the new toy and let it fly. Race 1 started just a few minutes behind schedule, and I followed it round for the next 75 minutes, before I had to head back to get changed and prepped for race 2. Here is a short video of race 1, with the honours going to Andy Bennett from Onimpex Bioracer RT who managed to clip away mid race in a two-up that stayed away to the finish. Great ride!
Onto race2…the under 50’s.
There was a pretty big field here – maybe 60+ riders – covering the Senior, Master, A and B categories. Several teams were well represented, which could either be an advantage or a disadvantage for a solo rider like me. Onimpex Bioracer had 6, and most of them liked to attack. I had no doubt they would control the race well, so my tactic was to follow their moves and hope that others pulled them back on the counters.
We did a neutral lap, and after rolling through the finish line we were off. 90 mins +5 laps, with a single prime on the hour. On minute 1, the attacks started. For a least the first few laps I wanted to stay up front and out of trouble. There was gravel here and there, a few potholes, and two sketchy park gates to go through. It’s not easy to stay at the front when the attacks are constant and the pace is high, but up there I stayed. I didn’t want to stick my nose into the wind too much early on, but I needed to be up there if any dangerous moves went up the road.
20 mins in and nothing was really sticking. A few promising gaps were made, but there were plenty of other riders willing to help pull the attack back. Mike Ashurst had disappeared up the road on his own, but a puncture swathe end to that as we sped past him in the start/finish area.
From here, I was ready to get involved. I started following the attacks and the counters, and after a couple of failed attempts, managed to get into a small group through one of the gates. The bunch had been fragmented and there were a few riders trying to bridge across. On the rise to the finish, keen not to let the bunch pull us back, I made my first bid and attacked. Three riders came with me – Chris Quin, Andrew Disley and Matthew Dennis – the rest were left behind.
From here there is not really much to talk about. the four of us all worked really well to establish a lead of around 80-90 seconds on the chasing group. We all did big turns on the front, no messing about (apart from the last few hundred yards!). It was one of the most well executed breakaways I think I have been in.
When we rolled through for the bell lap, we started looking at each other waiting for the attacks, but this didn’t happen till the roll up to the line. I was 4th wheel (for a change!) and behind Andrew Disley. But when he launched his sprint I just couldn’t follow him. Chris and Matthew could, but they couldn’t get round him. Andrew took the win, Chris second and Matthew third. I rolled in fourth again. But this time I had no excuses…I was in the right position, I just didn’t have the strength to beat three really strong guys at the end.
After the course-side podium presentations I rolled back to HQ to be met by what I can only describe as a banquet fit for the royal wedding! I have never seen so much food before, and it was all really good too. The catering volunteers were only asking for donations, and I hope they got a lot because they thoroughly deserved it!
I’ll finish off the report by giving a big, big thank you to Port Sunlight Wheelers, and Onimpex Bioracer for hosting such a fantastic day of racing. That was my first time at Birkenhead Park, and I am so looking forward to the next time I can race there! The whole day was well executed, well marshalled, well supported, and well enjoyed.
Hats off to everyone involved. I think you’ve set the bar pretty high 🙂
Photo’s courtesy of Robin Hennessy and Ryan Pike.