My monthly blogs have turned in to lengthy race reports so I’ll try to keep this one a bit briefer, try….
June kicked off with my first ever Pearl Izumi Tour Series. It just so happened to be Stoke-on-Trent, only a few miles away from my home town of Stone. Oddly the Stoke Tour Series round was the first ever bike race I went to watch 4 years ago. I didn’t ever think I’d be the other side of the fencing, so it was cool to have the opportunity to smash it round! Planet X Northside were competing in the northern league and Stoke was the final of 4 rounds. We were 1 point down on Altura Wheelbase going in to this race, so needed the win to take the overall. The basic game plan was get at least one of us in the lead group and go from there. Tour Series is just a game of going as hard as you can for as long as you can. We got 3 of us right to the front on lap 1, caught behind a few guys parking it up outside Liquid nightclub on lap 2 and then a VCUK rider rolling a tub on the same corner a few laps later. Some big efforts got us back in to the lead group but when the hammer really went down 10 minutes later all 3 of us were distanced. We rode the rest of the race as a 3-man team time trial to keep the time lost to the Wheelbase rider in the front group, collecting dropped riders as we went. Our group swelled to around 15 riders, including Pedal Heaven, Madison Genesis, NFTO, Team Wiggins and Raleigh GAC. Going in to the last couple of laps a few attacks went but nothing stuck and I managed to get off the front of the group on the last lap with 2 others. I crossed the line 22nd overall. A quick bit of maths said it might be close on the Northern team result as Wheelbase had 1 guy up the road but 3 behind our 3-man group. Unfortunately, it turned out we’d missed out by just 30 seconds on the cumulative time. Still, a good team ride. I’m looking forward to riding more Tour Series races next season.
The following weekend I rode across London to Hog Hill on an overcast Saturday to watch Molly clear up in the women’s race, surprisingly she actually rode smart for once. I originally had no intention of racing the men’s Nat B race with regional champs the following day. But after a lot of indecisive I signed on and pinned up. No trademark skinsuit or overshoes though. The race went out very hard with both Matt Webster and I hitting it from the gun. Harley Matthews chanced his luck with a solo effort that stuck for 20 minutes. Once it came back together everyone pootled round. We even had to shortcut the track one lap as the 3rd cats were about to catch us. I decided to have a roll of the dice on the last lap and gun it from out of the hairpin, giving myself a nice 1-minute max effort to the line. I cocked up through the hairpin, clipping my pedal but still going for the move. There was a big line out trying to get on my wheel but I managed to gap the field a bit. Lewis Atkins, who had been sitting in all race, did the work to shut me down and I was caught 50m from the line and rolled in for 5th. Not bad, just bad tactics. Worth a go….
Sunday was my first ever regional champs, the Central Div RR champs. I hadn’t looked at the course but the start list was pretty stacked. Once I arrived and signed on I realised where we were, just the other side of Brill. I’d spent many hours training around here and knew full well it wasn’t flat. The first lap confirmed that. It was either going up hard, or going down hard. Not my kind of course. A few attacks went early on, including myself. I ended up in a 4 man break with some decent guys including Ed Clemens of Spirit Bikes, but it wasn’t to be and we were shut down on the Ashendon climb. After 3-4 laps Liam Stones of NFTO decided to split it up and hit the Brill climb hard and kept it lined out over the draggy top. This thinned the field down to just 11 guys. We built a solid gap with some decent through and off until the final lap up Ashendon where Liam hit it again. By this point I was feeling pretty knackered. I’d already been dropped up the finishing climb the previous lap and ridden back on. I rode on the limit up the climb and was 9th guy over the top. I did the only thing that came to my mind, attack. A quick kick over the top and straight in to what my mate Gav calls the “Underhand Mongolian Death Grip”, basically an underhand grip of the bars and sitting over the top tube/bars. It’s a bit sketchy but it gets the job done. I gapped the 3 guys I was with and set about closing the 5 up the road. Along the flat section I was gaining good time and caught them at the bottom of the next climb. Liam and both the CC Luton guys quickly dropped us, Ed was struggling and got distanced. Lawrence (Nuun Sigma Sport) was just in reaching distance. I caught him over the top and tried to attack, but Lawrence was quick to get on my wheel. We rode hard to the finishing climb to keep Ed at bay and I managed to distance Lawrence in a pretty grim effort up to the finish. 4th place. I was happy but pretty knackered. Hills and heat are my enemy.
Friday was a flatter affair with Silverstone 9up TTT. I’ve ridden this for the past 4 years, always guesting for other teams and this year was no different as my housemate asked me to drop in for Eden Veranda RT. They’re a strong local team that have been steadily growing and demonstrating their power from regional to national level. We also had Peter Harrison in as a ringer. Pete is going for the BBAR this year and rode a 3:30 100-mile TT a few weeks ago, strong. There was plenty of inter-team banter, with Rob Orr and Matt Sinclair of Lutterworth Cycle Centre thinking they had it wrapped up before they’d even turned a pedal. The TTT itself is road bikes only and takes in 3 laps of the complete grand prix circuit. In all honesty, it’s an absolute clusterfuck. I’ve never ridden it where the whole team is smooth and nobody gets dropped; there’s always issues. Ours started off in the pit lane. Ken’s start holder was too busy checking out Ken’s monster quads and forgot to let go of him, not ideal. The front few guys didn’t hear my shouts and kept trucking on. I let Ken do his thing then dropped back to pick him up when he was within 50m of catching us. His first 1.5 mins was over 600w, casual! We settled in to a decent rhythm until Pete took his first turn and ripped through the pack, pulling us up to about 60kmh. The team split and we had to regather at the start of my turn. I aimed for 1.5-2minute turns at 500w. We managed to keep the team together for most of the remaining 2 laps with a few close encounters to dropping our 5th rider. With 5 to count that wasn’t really an option. We crossed the line in 21:17. We didn’t immediately know the results but after some discussion with the other team we thought we’d clinched it. We dropped out bikes off and legged it all the way down the pits to the presentation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on the F1 podium like it has been every other year. We had taken the win 16 seconds ahead of Wellingborough Cycles, and were only 19 seconds off the course record set by Trek Richardson a few years prior. Solid night!
With Prems taking up the majority of my early season Nick Clark Memorial RR was going to be my first Nat B RR of the year! I headed over with teammate Will, we also had Esteban and Fordy riding so were looking for a solid team result. Pre-race was pretty wet and cold, which of course meant skinsuit. Not sure why Esteban went for the many layers of waterproof kit in June, not very aero… The race a short lap of around 7km, 15 times with a 45 second climb each lap followed by a decent descent that you could smash down. Planet X Northside started it off early with me dropping Will’s wheel on the first lap, giving him a lovely opportunity for a solo break from the off. He dutifully obliged, pretty sure he hated me for that! Another rider bridged over to him but after a few laps it all came back together. PX were in every move. Nothing was getting away with at least one of us in it. I had a few digs of my own that didn’t come to much. Fordy then came up and had a word with me, wise words to calm it down and follow wheels. A London Dynamo mad man had been away solo for an hour with nearly a minute gap. With 3 laps to go Will pinged off the front with Lawrence Carpenter. They worked to get over the Dynamo rider, leaving the rest of us to mark the park. 2 laps to go, Connor Swift and Jake Tanner (both of Giant Envelopemaster) rode to the front just prior to the climb and hit it hard. Fordy and myself both jumped and I just managed to get on to their wheels. With Will up the road I earnt a nice easy ride around for the next lap. I was tempted to ride with the peloton looming down on us, my unmistakeable housemate Ken Buckley was on the front undoubtedly doing some silly watts to pull us back. Just before we hit the bell the gap to the peloton was tiny, maybe just 200m. Ed Clemens of Spirit Bikes made the jump across, smashed the climb and opened the gap on the peloton again. At the bottom of the descent the break was in sight and Jake Tanner had just punctured. I made the decision to start working and within a couple of minutes the break swelled to 6. Will was looking a bit worse for wear after his day of being off the front. With 2km to the line we rolled through and with around 1km to go I noticed both Connor and Ed take an easy peel off. I took my opportunity and hit them hard. They hesitated and I quickly got a gap. Head down and drill it. I wasn’t really aware of how close the line actually was so I kept riding right through it. Job done, first Nat B RR of the year, first win! Will managed to grab 5th place after all his hard work.
Beaumont Trophy was to be my second UCI race and after the crap luck at Rutland CiCle I was hopefully this might go a bit better. I’d been seeing multiple physios for a back injury I’ve been carrying since I got knocked off in November, it’s recently worsened and I’ve been trying to not aggravate it as much as possible. Hoping 4.5 hours of a UCI Europe Tour race wouldn’t make it any worse. I’d seen Danielle Pain of The Pain Clinic a few days prior who had given a full programme of exercises and stretches that had begun to help. I’ve written a full race report for those who want even more reading, check it out here: http://www.truestartcoffee.com/blog/beaumont-trophy-race-report For those who want a briefer synopsis, here goes…. My teammate Ben got in the early break, 100km away and getting up to a 6-minute gap. This was ridden down by Pedal Heaven and NFTO. Once it was caught, a break of around 20 riders got away. I was badly positioned but managed to move up, got off the front and was joined by 3 others (One Pro, Zappis and Wheelbase). We bridged over to the break. It then split and 6 of us were off the front, which soon turned in to me going solo. I got the gap up to 45s on the final big lap but was caught by 12 chasers over the top of the Ryals climb. Going in to the final lap on the small circuit Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis) attacked, I got on his wheel, we worked hard and got a gap of 17s. With 5km to go, Liam Holohan (Team Wiggins) and Dion Smith (One Pro) got over. The next few k was just us attacking each other. Matt got dropped as Dion finally got away with 3km to go. Liam then sat in on me to the line where he promptly jumped me as I wasn’t prepared for where to kick off my sprint, amateur mistake. I came round him but didn’t close the gap enough even with a big throw. 3rd place and a podium at my 2nd ever UCI race! Chuffed was an understatement. There was no signal whatsoever at Stamfordham so the next 1.5-hour drive to Carlisle was spent on the phone to everybody to fill me in on what actually happened in the race and what was being said! I got to Carlisle, picked up some 3G and my phone lit up. So happy to have been able to justify the belief people have put in me this year!
This confidence rolled in to the National RR Champs the following weekend. These were another bloody long drive away, 5 hours of M40, M1 and A1(M), joy of joys. I went up on the Friday and spent Saturday scouting out the course and generally chilling out. John drove the motorhome down to the team area Sunday morning so I got a lovely sleep, waking up right in the centre of Stockton-On-Tees. The course was rolling with a few key sections of tight roads that needed good prior positioning. Weather was warm but forecast rain later on, so of course I went for the Velotoze, marginal gains and all that. I was warming up on the finishing circuit and heard “Ben Bigham!” shouted at me, close enough, wonder what they want. Turned out to be the Cycling Weekly photographers who wanted some photos for this week’s edition. Not one to shy away from a photo I obliged. Definitely pulled some cracking poses. I nabbed a good front position on the line and kept in the front few through the neutralised section. I’d been pre-warned by Rob Orr that it’s pretty much lined out for 95% of the circuit, he wasn’t wrong. It went out hard and didn’t really stop, the average speed for the first 2.5 hours was 45.5kmh. I followed a few moves by the big dogs: Cav, Dowsett, Thwaites etc. but they came to no avail. After 2 hours a solid break had established itself including Alex Peters (Team Sky), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon Cycling Team) and Adam Blythe (Tinkoff). A group of 20 riders were in the middle. I ended up bridging over to that group with Dowsett, Rory Townsend and a few Team Wiggins and NFTO guys. I was already feeling it before I even got in to that move, so when I finally got over I was suffering. I sat in for a lap but didn’t really recover and I was feeling a bit sick from the volume of water I’d drank. One Pro got told that they needed to ride the break down and they quickly lined us out. Through the crosswinds over the top of one of the climbs I got put in the gutter and had nothing in me. Ridden off the wheel. I sat up and was collected by the peloton 15 minutes later and spent the rest of the race pack surfing until we got pulled at 170km. A mixed result really. I’d gotten in to the selection that made it to the finishing circuit, but didn’t have the legs to stick it out. With only around 20 guys finishing it seems I wasn’t the only one. It was my first National RR champs so I was happy to go away knowing what I needed to bring next year!
June has been my most successful month of racing yet. A huge thanks to my team and sponsors for all of their help and support that allows me to be up there competing in them, and of course Molly for handing up bottles, pretty much got it dialled now! Apologies for the massive essay, congratulations for anybody that made it to the finish, you’ve won a free waxed chain (just kidding, go buy one…)
Daniel Bigham (PlanetX-Northside) and Madison Genesis’s Matt Holmes made a significant move as the race entered its last 20km loop with conditions worsening as the threatened rain had arrived many hours earlier than expected. Liam Holohan and Dion Smith bridged across and on the fast roads leading to the finish, it was the attack by Smith that stuck which saw him get his hands in the air. The sprint for second though was much tighter with Holohan getting the verdict over Bigham who had his biggest result to-date.