Dave Hitchen Two Day Stage Race

By Kris Zentek.

Three stages over two day of a beautifully sunny June weekend. This is my second time at the event, and we put up a strong team for the 2018 edition. Representing TC were Si Deplitch, Tony Greenhalgh, Joe Bowers, Warren Gell and myself.

The format has changed a bit from a couple of years ago; this time we would be starting off Saturday morning with a 60 mile road race on the Town Green circuit (used in the Masters RR Tony won earlier in the year), then in the afternoon we would be smashing two laps of Pimbo in the TTT; finishing off on Sunday morning with another 60 mile road race on the Cobbs Brow circuit.

Stage 1 – Town Green Road Race

stage 1

https://www.strava.com/activities/1626729480

I’ve written about this circuit in previous posts, but if you don’t know it already, it’s fast, flat and exposed to the wind. It’s a great circuit for heavier riders, and ripe for a sprint finish.

There were plenty of attacks early on, but nothing was sticking.  As this was a team event and everyone was fresh, any dangerous moves were being brought back by teams not in the move. That is, until the pace went up and splits started. A decent group was disappearing up the road; Si and I were near the front of the back split, and I heard Si say that there were three Saints in it. He didn’t need to say any more, we jumped across and joined the break while Joe, Tony and Warren managed the bunch to let us get away. A short while later three more joined including another saint. This was now a big group – maybe 20+ in size, and save for some lapped riders.

As we neared the finish, the saints tried to get a smaller move going. Si and I struggled to get in any of the moves, and as a result were leant on to close them, which we did. After I pulled back on of them, maybe 3 laps to go, another went and I had no matches left…This was to be the one that stayed away.

In the remaining laps, other splits happened. Si and I kept trying to close them, but on the last lap the group completely fragmented. I rolled in at the back of the original break, 1:32 down on the stage winner Aidan Quinn. Si had the best team position, 1:25 down on GC.

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The team gathered back at HQ, and discussed our tactic to claw back some time. The TTT was critical now, but two of us were completely spent…

Stage 1 results & GC

stage1

Stage 2 – Pimbo Team Time Trial

stage 2

https://www.strava.com/activities/1627163909

After a quick feed and replenishing our fluids, we drove over to Pimbo. We were 6th team off, at 1:12pm. It was now 12:15pm, and so we had to start our prep.

Rollers and turbos out, I tried to get my legs moving but they just refused to play game. They hurt, and I had no energy – I had no motivation to stay on the turbo and gave up after 15 minutes. I thought riding some laps might get the energy levels back up. But after completing a lap at what I would consider tempo, my heart rate was high and I was out of breath. Not good! So I spent the last 20 minutes just relaxing.

Team order for the TTT…Tony, Joe, Warren, Si, Kris.

Tony’s role was to get us up to speed as fast as possible, and that he did. I expected him to ease off after a few pedal strokes, but just kept going! It wasn’t until we got to the back descent that he settled into position. At this point my legs were already screaming and I had to give it everything just to stay on the wheel! But as I rolled through for my 30 rev turn, I started to feel a bit of life in my legs again.

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By lap 2 we had lost Warren and were down to 4. Joe and Tony were pulling monster turns and kept us going strong. By the last straight Si started to fade and as we made the turn to the finish line we were down to three. I was on the front and emptied the tank. We all crossed the line together in a time of 8:48. Last year a time of 9 minutes something had won it, so we felt good. We knew that Bioracer had done an 8:47, so we knew we were not first.

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But after we had all left for home, we checked the results. 6th overall and Dooleys had done an 8:29!

Stage 2 results

stage 2

We had all moved up the GC, and we had two riders in the top 15, but we had lost more time to the yellow jersey that was now 1:48 ahead of Si…

Stage 2 GC

stage 2 GC

Stage 3 – Cobbs Brow Road Race

stage 3

https://www.strava.com/activities/1629076493

Sunday, the race started at 8:45. After a hard day yesterday we were all feeling the effects, and the warmup we did was minimal to say the least. But it was another warm, sunny day and that made everyone feel a bit better.

Cobbs Brow is a little different to yesterday. It was a much more rolling course, with the finish line near the top of a long, straight, 5% incline. We would be going up there 9 times to round off the 60 mile course.

The commissaire gave his opening briefing, and told us that there were ‘potholes everywhere’ – and boy, was that an understatement! We weren’t talking about the odd pothole, but whole stretches of road littered with them! The neutral start took us down the worst of it, so at least we got a taste, but it made for a very nervous bunch in the first couple of laps. What certainly didn’t help with the nerves was the crash that happened a mile or so after the start, where confusion over a left turn resulted in crossed wheels and a dozen or more get downs. Many of the GC contenders were included, and so we were neutralised again allowing them to get up, dust themselves off, and re-join the race.

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The jersey was being protected by Dooleys as expected, and the GC teams were attacking, as expected. Every move was being brought back, which allowed Chronomaster to sit in and attack ourselves. While Si and myself stuck with the Jersey, Tony, Joe and Warren bid to force a break and go for the stage win. But as GC riders bridged across, other GC teams closed them down.

About midway through, a small group of riders escaped up the road and it stuck. Dooleys and the race leader were clearly tiring, and this allowed other riders to clip off in small groups up the road. Soon the lead group started to swell, and contained GC contenders. There was a new virtual leader in the lead group, and the gap was increasing. I moved up the front, and as a couple more riders clipped off the front, I attacked and joined them, pulling another couple of riders with me. We were a group of 5 and started to build a gap.

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We didn’t expect to see the front group, but we worked hard and within 1/2 lap we had bridged across. We were passing riders who had been dropped from the lead group, so we weren’t sure how many remained. As we made contact, it wasn’t clear if this was the front or not, as the lead car was not in sight. We later learned there was a solo rider ahead, Mike Ashurst, who had taken advantage of everyone else leaning on the virtual leader Ben Joughin, and had clipped away on his own.

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We entered the last lap as a group of 9 or 10 riders, and as we approached the finish the attacks started, but we stayed together for a group sprint to the finish. Mike had taken the win with a 40 second gap, and Cameron Jeffers took the bunch sprint. I rolled in mid-pack, just behind Ben Joughin who had taken the yellow jersey.

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Matt Langworthy, who had attacked the remaining bunch a lap or two earlier, rolled in solo, showing the signs of someone who had closed a 1:30 gap down to just 30 seconds. He managed to take the last step on the podium. Tony came in next in a group of three, Joe and Si arrived with the bunch with Joe taking the bunch sprint.

Final Results

stage 3 GC

That late move put me in 8th place overall, and Si kept his place in the top 15 overall. Aidan, who started the race in yellow, had lost over 2 minutes to the winner Ben Joughin. The podium was taken by all of the riders who made the split on day one at the Town Green circuit, and on any other day we would have been there too. Disappointing, but that it road racing for you – there’s much more to it that being strong – you need to be tactical, and you need an element of luck being on he right wheel at the right time…

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Summary

I’ll finish by saying a massive thank you to the race organisers for putting on such a fantastic weekend of racing. We don’t get the opportunity to race that often in stage events, and we really do appreciate when people like Brian Rigby host them. We can only imagine how much planning must go into these events!

I’d like to pay tribute to Dave Hitchen, who we were racing to commemorate, and to thank his friends and family for being part of this great weekend. All of us riders hope that we honoured him well with an exciting race!

Finally, thank you to Ellen Isherwood who gave up her entire weekend to capture the race as it unfolded over the three stages, and for allowing me to share those moments in this report.

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