Words by Adam Baines, photos by Ellen Isherwood.
It has been said that ‘La Vuelta’, for some, is the race of redemption. An opportunity for those pros who’ve had an ‘anno horribilis’ to salvage something from a season they’d rather forget.
So, in that vein, today was my Vuelta. John MacKellar and I were lining up in the rescheduled Aughton Road Race, just outside of Lancaster. After a pretty terrible year on the bike I was hoping to finish the season with a top ten result. John, having just returned from some well-earned R&R said he was just hoping to get around.
When we arrived at the race HQ, it couldn’t have been any more different from the Vuelta if we tried. Race HQ today was a quaint little Scout hut on the side of a hill, which looked like it hadn’t seen any sunlight or funding since it was built (I’m guessing circa 1973). It appeared to be held together with mould and moss, which was understandable given the current weather conditions. Far from the 30+ degrees of Spain we were faced with torrential sideways rain and temperatures just breaking into double figures.
But despite the basic facilities and grim Northern weather, I was filled with fun, nostalgic thoughts of cub camps at Waddecar and Saturday morning school rugby. Mixed together with the familiar faces of the North West racing scene, I was very happy to be there and looking forward to getting stuck in.
At the race briefing it soon became apparent that the majority of the 60 names on the start list didn’t feel the same way. A disappointing turnout of 22 riders made up the full field. The others had obviously decided the lure of televised Spanish sun was more appealing.
In my mind the small turnout meant that those who had taken to the start line were committed and this wasn’t going to be an easy race. The race consisted of 8 laps of a 7-mile circuit. From the start line, the route hit a fast descent which was followed by an undulating section before a long, stepped climb into a block headwind back up to the finish. There were no real areas where you could relax. The reduced field contained some strong lads so I just had a feeling it would split to pieces. Any early breaks would be difficult to bring back with such a small peleton, so I decided I was going to get involved straight away.
When the flag dropped I soon found myself on the front, I put in a bit of effort to get a small gap and see who would join me. I was quickly shut down and a Croston Velo lad rode over the top and got away. He was left dangling for a short time before we hit the steepest part of the climb, a 300m stretch of road at 10% (a stretch I would later come to hate!). A few of the skinny guys went after him and it was soon all back together again. Straight away Dan Ellis from Bella in Sella countered and I was ready for it. We went for it, each doing turns full gas. We were increasing the gap and things were looking promising. Carl Potter from Lancs Road Club joined us and we were going hard but it seemed like the peleton were catching us. The peleton thought they had us and they eased off. This was the moment. The move. In that split second, we went again and this time we made sure we got away. We soon turned left onto the finishing straight, gained a tailwind and really started to make the break.
Half a lap later we were joined by Phil Jones (Transition Race Team), Dan Dry (Lancaster Uni CC) and a local racing legend Karl Smith (Bott Cycles Race team). We were now 6 and working well. The next few laps were the hardest miles I’ve done for quite a long time and I began to suffer! With the realisation we had another 5 laps to go I decided I needed to conserve some energy and miss a few turns just to stay in the break.
This obviously didn’t go down to well with some of the others but I reassured the complainers that despite my extended recoveries, I wouldn’t be contesting the win, so there was no need for them to worry! I did what I could, when I could.
With 4 laps to go, we were told that the bunch behind had been decimated and there were 3 riders chasing at 2 minutes back, with a few riders in 1’s and 2’s behind them. At that point the pace relaxed but it was still fast enough to maintain the gap but now at a pace I could contribute to fully. However, despite this reduced pace, the fact I hadn’t raced since June was starting to take its toll. I could only hope that the attacks wouldn’t start until the last lap.
With just over a lap to go we were heading into the headwind about to hit the steepest part of the climb. I was on Phil’s wheel when his chain dropped, there was a split second when I waited for him just to see if I could help him but by then a small gap had opened to the other 4 lads. I had to chase back on and reached them just as we hit that steep section. It was at this point the attacks began and I was doomed! There was nothing I could do, I didn’t have anything left in my legs to go with the attacks and they were soon up the road. My only hope was Phil would come past and I could jump on his wheel.
But when Phil did appear, he flew past me like a train. In fact, I’d have had more chance of jumping on the London to Glasgow Express from a platform in Carnforth Station than getting on Phil’s wheel. I was now faced with a tough solo lap to hang on to 6th position. I tried my best to measure my effort so that I wouldn’t completely implode on the headwind climb. It was a long, lonely, painful lap and as I turned onto the finishing straight the first of 2 chasers passed me. Finally, with 100m to go, despite my best efforts, I was passed again and had fallen to my finishing position of 8th.
It was almost a bitter pill to swallow but that’s racing. I’d achieved my goal and I loved every minute of it. John put in a great post-holiday performance and finished not too far behind me in 10th
Congratulations to the winner Dan Dry who looked strongest all day, Dan Ellis who came in second and Phil Jones who put in a heroic effort to chase back on after his mechanical and finished 3rd.
A huge thank you to Graham Jones and his team of helpers from Lune Valley CC for not giving up on the race and turning out in the grim conditions to make the event happen.
Thanks to all the BC Commissaires for all their work this year and to the ever present Ellen Isherwood for the wonderful photos.
Thanks to our sponsors Chronomaster wristwatches, Leisure Lakes Bikes, Specialized, OTE Sports and Pearson Ferrier Estate Agents.
And from me, the last one of 2018, always remember to #PDH