2013 marks my first full season on the road, racing for Wheelbase/Altura/MGD. I'll be using this blog to give a bit of an insight into the trials and tribulations of a young rider in the UK scene. For more day-to-day ramblings, you can follow me on Twitter @liamtglen.
It’s often said that stage races are the key to finding that all important form. You hear tales of pro riders coming out of week-long tours flying – no wonder that all the classics big dogs can be found at either Paris-Nice or Tirreno –Adriatico in the lead up to the main events.
Now for the back story. 4 weeks ago, I somehow contrived to break my back (very minor, but still) in a clumsy mountain biking accident that confirmed, once and for all, that I am now a roadie. Fast forward a month, I was chomping at the bit to get back to racing and boy, was I in need of some of that form. With stage races being few and far between here in the UK, and those that do exist, being shut down by the weather, what’s an eager beaver such as me to do in order to wrestle some life into these flaccid legs?
Create my own stage race, that’s what.
And so the plan was formed. 3 races...3 days...and 400 miles of driving?! What on earth was I thinking...
Brand new team bike - Cannondale Supersix Evo - ready to go
Feeling pretty pro
Stage 1: Castle Combe Easter Classic
Good Friday came around quicker than expected, and it was a beautiful spring day, that is, until you factor in the 4 degree temperatures and the 15mph easterly. The circuit itself, more famous for its motorised racing, is largely circular, with only a couple of wide chicanes requiring any braking. Above all, it’s flat and exposed, very exposed.
Shockingly, this was to be my first race on the circuit, despite having lived only 10 miles away in Bath for the past 3 years. The consensus was that the race usually ends up in a bunch gallop, but with the wind conditions on the day, all bets were off.
Predictably, with over 120 starters in the E/1/2, the opening 30 mins were a constant barrage of attacks. Those with race experience will know the surges in pace that characterise road racing, with the peloton stretching with every attack and contracting when facing back into the block headwind.
Coming off a winter of steady solo miles, I found it very hard to react to the changes in pace. Granted, I’ve nary a type 2 muscle fibre in my entire body, but my lack of race miles was keenly felt. A couple of little efforts off the front were about all I had in me, and for the last half hour, I just shut it down, content to finish with the pack.
1hr 40 mins of racing in the bag, time to pack up – no mean feat trying to fit 3 bikes into the back of my ’99 Vauxhall Corsa – and hit the road. Only 5.5 hrs to go to...
Stage 2: Maureen Bain Memorial
Ah...this is more like it. Grippy roads and 4 ascents of the infamous Ryals promised a tough race where hopefully, my lack of top end wouldn’t be such a problem (famous last words).
The pre-race briefing elicited a few raised eyebrows when it was announced that a marshal would be posted in one of potholes on the route. It wasn’t a joke either – the marshal, decked out in a neon orange jumpsuit could be spotted knee deep in t’ pothole frantically waving his hands, every lap. It would’ve been kind of funny if it wasn’t for the million other potholes just waiting to eat some nice, shiny carbon rims. The fact that the roads were soon going to be reclassified as byways due to their state of disrepair says it all really.
The race kicked off amid some light snow flurries and soon, a break established itself led by Maggy Backstedt (who’d also raced Castle Combe and come 2nd the day before) and a couple of Sigma Sport lads. I managed to sneak (read: claw my way) into a bridging group and we soon had the break in our sights as we approached the Ryals for the first time.
Now, I consider myself to be a bit of a climber, but it’s with shame that I admit that I was dropped from the group (along with 2 others I might add) on the 3rd and final pitch. My lack of racing miles came back to bite me - I just couldn’t deal with the lactic acid coursing through my body. 2 meters became 10, then 20, and that was that.
I spent the following lap dangling between break and bunch with my fellow 2 droppees until we were caught on the 2nd time up the Ryals, where coincidently, I started to feel much better (isn’t that always the way?).
Tackling the 2nd ascent of the Ryals in the chase group of 3. Photo credit: velouk.net
By this stage, Backstedt’s MG-Maxifuel team had been struck down by an acute case of puncture-itis and were now all back in the bunch, driving hard to catch the break. The old boy proceeded to deploy all 96 of his kilograms in shredding the bunch to pieces – I had a good, long look at my stem during this lap.
Coming into the final lap, the break was within bridging distance and riders were firing off the front in an attempt to make contact. I made a couple of little moves to get up to the front when I clattered into a big hole and felt my front tyre go flat almost immediately. The service car pulled up only to announce that it had run out of spare wheels and I could either fix my puncture or jump in the broom wagon. Not much of a choice then...
Finishing the race in the back of a van wasn’t what I had hoped for, but at least I knew that I’d mixed things up in the race and that those all important good sensations (spoken in comical Italian accent) were starting to come back. If only those sensations had extended to my left eye, which was severely bloodshot from a hefty dose of road grit. The less about the effect of said grit on my undercarriage the better.
Stage 3: Peter Chrisman Memorial
It was with heavy legs and a very sore bum that I started my third and final race on the trot. Based out of the same race HQ as the day before, today’s course was flatter and the roads were in marginally better condition. What hadn’t changed was the temperature – it was still flirting with freezing.
Things got started with the usual flurry of attacks, but nothing was sticking as the bunch was eager to pull everything back. The pre-race consensus had been that today would come down to a bunch kick, but if this pace kept up, things were going to end up fragmenting considerably.
As it was, the race did split up completely with a solo victory going to Pete Williams of Sigma Sport. A puncture (front wheel this time) took me out of contention on the first lap, though it did mean I got to see all the race action from the side of the road. Coming during a period of frenetic racing, the minute or so I had to wait for the service car proved to be insurmountable - even motorpacing behind said car at 30mph. Determined to get some miles in the legs, I knocked out another couple of laps solo before calling it a day.
The silver lining: getting to tuck into a nice energy
Despite the less than stellar luck and results, I really couldn’t think of a way I’d rather have spent my Easter weekend. Hopefully, the race miles with start to pay off in the next couple of weeks as I’m going to be lining up at the Rutland Cicle Classic and the Tour of the Reservoir at the end of April.
For 5 years, racing was my life and I went all the way from a newbie bonking after 40 miles, to a full-timer plying my trade on the Belgian kermesse scene. Unfortunately, the pro dream wasn't meant to be and these days, you're more likely to find me bimbling about country lanes and sleeping in a bush on the side of the road.