My broken collarbone has put paid to any ambitions I once held for the NCRA Two Day Race, and believe me I did have ambitions. Probably too grand, nevertheless, I was sorely disappointed to not try to realise them. Still there was nothing to stop me getting a lift to the race from one of my team mates and cheer them on and over Southwick’s deceptive little climb.
Joe, Alan, Gareth and Ed were racing for St Neots. Joe had had the best performance on Saturday, finishing 6th in the road race.
Whereas Saturday had been wet and miserable, this morning had dawned bright and sunny for the riders; the red kites were making the most of the warming fields and soaring overhead. The riders lined up and after the briefing were off, down the hill.
After the first lap a couple of riders were already off the back, but otherwise everyone else was together. I thought the St Neots boys should have been further forward though, so I let them know. Whether they were listening, I’m not sure as the Southwick climb can be tough when you’re racing up it so their minds may have been elsewhere. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the climb, on the first lap too, Gareth suffered a puncture and abandoned. Having had a good ride on Saturday it was terribly bad stroke of luck and a big disappointment, but as he paraphrased race organiser Rowland later, that’s road racing.
By the second lap a five man break had established and gained over a minutes lead. On the third lap this had gone up to two minutes. A few more riders had been dropped and the first fatigued riders were withdrawing.
Each circuit was taking about 15 minutes and the break was making it interesting. There were some strong riders in there, and if their team mates were cancelling out any moves to chase, they might have a good chance of staying away. So each time they came through, stopwatches were started and we waited expectantly for the bunch. The race cars crawled up Southwick Hill to announce the peloton’s arrival, sweating in the June sun, but each time they were having little impact on he gap.
The leaders kept a solid gap, hovering around the 1.45 minute mark, and while they appeared to be working well, the main bunch were being strung out over the climb more and more by the stronger riders. The St Neots riders had moved forward in the bunch but overall the pack seemed to have little appetite for an organised chase. Perhaps not too surprising. With St Ives, Peterborough, Welland Valley, Fenland Clarion and Arbis Colbert, all strong teams, and all represented in the break, there probably were not too many riders willing or able to close a gap that was lengthening back to two minutes.
A couple of young lads from the club, Andy and Trevor, had ridden over. They stayed for a lap and a brief chat then headed off to Oundle and a coffee, always a wise course of action. Plenty of other club’s riders had done the same so it was good for our riders to see some friendly faces.
With three laps to go the leaders had extended their advantage to 2.45 minutes. Two weeks ago I would have said the end was now a forgo conclusion, but recent experience has reminded that, despite being in a 5 man break with three laps to go, nothing in cycle racing is a certainty. The bunch when it came through already had a defeated air about it. Riders looked like they weren’t trying, especially if they had a guy in the break and so didn’t need to, or were suffering from a rare chance at back to back racing, but I was pleased to see the St Neots lads still hanging in.
On the penultimate climb, with little more than a lap to go, the leaders still had a commanding lead, although two riders who had started their attack on the climb on the previous lap were only 1.05 behind and over a minute clear of the main bunch. The bunch when it came through was spread across the road, Peterborough’s James was having a dig and Alan wasn’t far behind.
Sprinting for the finish line the leaders were no longer together. St Ives’ Mike Cowland took a convincing and well deserved win, followed in no particular order by Justin Garron (Arbis), Joe Clarke (Fenland Clarion), James Cartledge (Peterborough) and Michael Burke (Welland Valley). The two chasers had a tighter sprint for the line with junior Luke Morgan narrowly beating Arbis’ Joel Lewis. The main bunch had been attacked, inevitably, by James Gelthorpe, but he couldn’t quite hold off a challenge from GC leader Jack Beezer who brought the bunch home and making 8th. For St Neots, Joe wasn’t far behind finishing in the top 15 and with Alan also making the top 20 (I think). Ed finished safely in the bunch.
It was a good race to watch, and I did enjoy following it from the sidelines, but I would rather have been in it, so Rowland, save me a place for next year, cheers! Finally thanks as ever to the organisers and marshals today provided by Peterborough CC.