Words by John MacKellar
After no more than 38 minutes of racing the whole peloton had been pulled in to a lay-by like my maths teacher had done to us years ago. As in both scenarios we were all there for a bollocking and the guilty ones new exactly who they were, on this occasion it was nothing to do with me.
I had done the Tour of Witheridge Moor last year with reasonable success. The course is long at 43 km, three left hand bends forming a triangle and one sizeable climb that takes you out of Tiverton and on to Witheridge Moor and the rest is either up or down. The race is organised by Exeter Wheelers, who are very active in the area, so it’s almost guaranteed to be a good day. Last year it had rained overnight and it was greasy on the descents but this year it was going to be baking hot.
When collecting my race number I saw Ali Stubbs (Royal Navy), last years winner, pulling his bike out of the car. I’d seen his name on the sheet again and as nice a lad he is, I was hoping that he wouldn’t turn up.
We were just rolling out the village and I heard someone say “Alright John.” It was Phil Blundell (High Peak Cycles) who’d dragged his mate along for a rolling course. Definitely not how I’d describe the 1,300m of climbing packed in to an 80km course.
We negotiated the dodgy corners on the first two descents which took a pair of riders down last year and we hit the first climb. Up there, testing everyone’s legs was Ali. We rolled over the top of the course and the descent into Tiverton was a dead straight drop at 80 kmh. From Tiverton the road climbs out of town for 8km and the pace was just starting to pick up when we got ushered into the lay-by.
The reason we had been pulled over and the race stopped was because too many riders were riding on the wrong side of the road and causing a danger. The chief commissaire, ultimately, is the person who is responsible for the safety of all 60 of us and riding dangerously, isn’t clever, it’s just a bike race. Barking at us like my old maths teacher seemed to have the desired result and the racing resumed.
*I say, a piece of cake because up until now the pace had been tolerable for pretty much everyone in the race. The race had not exploded like last year. My legs felt good and I felt strong on the climbs. This ease and the good sensations would be put to an end.
On the final section of the course not much happened, I just made sure that I was right on the front on the descent so that if it all kicked off, I’d be well-placed to jump on any moves.
We had allowed one lone escapee out of the bunch and he had been off the front for at least 10km. The Pontypool rider was just in sight and he still had an advantage as we went over the finish line and started our second and final lap. But when he got to the feed zone in Witheridge Village, he made a meal of picking up a bottle and came to a complete stand still. However, he still managed to leave Witheridge with a handful of seconds advantage.
We came through the feed zone and loads of riders were picking up a 2nd or 3rd bottle and there was a couple of attacks from riders that were self-sufficient. It stretched us out and brought us almost within touching distance of the race leader. Not quite, as 2 cars had joined in our race and were stuck between the leader and us. The cars were unable to pass the race leader and were preventing the peloton from catching him.
We went down the first of the dodgy descents and the cars were still in our race, but the commissaries managed to get rid of them at the top of the next rise. Clear road just in time for the second biggest climb of the course.
I was watching the strong lads but I was a bit further back than I’d have liked to have been. Three nearly got away here this time last year. Ali was off the front and a few were chasing with him I was out the saddle, passing riders, moving up. We caught and passed the escapee. It wasn’t the move but we had reduced the bunch and the strongest had moved towards the front.
The easy race that had been the first lap was over. I was now among the first few wheels as we started climbing out of Tiverton for the final time. A long climb. Each time the road steepened someone would up the pace. At 1km from the top of the climb, Ali went again!. But this time he went hard. I was on his wheel, we rounded the corner and the road kicked up again. “Shit!” I thought. I tried to hold Ali’s wheel, but I was slipping back. It looked like David Kovacs (Team KTM) attacked over the top. This was the split! We reached the top of the climb. A group of 10 was slipping away!
On the flat part at the top, 3 of us carried on chasing hard. Kovacs was back in the group ahead. We hit the descent even harder and just latched on to the lead bunch as we rolled in to Rackenford village. There was about 20km still to go and that effort had put me in the red, my legs were on fire.
Then we took the left hander and headed up the back straight of the course. It was 10km from that turn to the finish. Some riders were rolling through, but others were sitting on trying to save their legs for the finish.
With 5 km to go Andrew Whittemore (Exeter Wheelers) attacked and everyone just looked around, no one wanted to chase. We all looked at each other, no one wanting to undertake the task of neutralising this dangerous move, the gap grew.
We took the final left hand hander, and I was near the front of the group. After this, two descents and the steep kicker up to the finish. The Wheelers rider was maintaining his gap and nobody was chasing. I knew the final descent was on a good surface and could be ridden without touching the brakes. So I went first, full aero tuck and reached the bottom of the kicker at the front. Then the sprinting began. Maybe I had a bit more left in the legs then at Oakenclough, but not much. The sprinters passed and I rolled in 8th – the same place as last year.
Considering the battle to get in to that last group and how destroyed I felt, I was pleased with that result and the few points that came with it. Moreover, I was buzzing about the racing that had taken place on that final lap.
Thanks to all the organisers and marshals from Exeter Wheelers who put on an excellent event on a fantastic course. Well done to Andrew Whittemore for the solo win.