Thursday, 3 September 2015

Race Report: Manchester Wheelers 2 Day Stage Race

It's been a little while since my last post about possibly my greatest achievement ever, winning at Crystal Palace. Since then I raced Palace again and got 2nd, races the Summer CX series (Post to follow) and prepared for the up and coming hill climbing season by, well, riding hills.

The weekend just gone was however the Manchester Wheelers 2 day stage race. A cat 2/3/4 race for women and men. Discussions were had and lists were made, the upshot of that is that Phoenix had 8 people entered into the event! 5 women and 3 men. We all made our way up North to Manchester on Friday evening, stayed at Liam's parents (thanks again) and prepared our self for a two day stage race (Pork Pies are good prep no?).

The format of the race was as follows:
 - Day 1: Stage 1: A 1.1k TT around the Thamesside circuit (Ashton Under Lyme)
 - Day 1: Stage 2: A 45 Minute crit around the same circuit
 - Day 2: Stage 3: A 54 mile hill road race up near Garstang.(Oakenclough Circuit)

Day 1 - Stage 1 - 1.1k TT
Nope, that isn't a typo, it really was a 1.1k individual TT. Or exactly 1 lap of the Thameside circuit run in a clockwise direction. It was difficult to gauge how this would work from an effort point of view, however my view was that you basically had to just end yourself, so that's what I did. However it was quite clear that from the warm-up laps this wouldn't be that easy, it was quite a technical course with plenty of turns, including a 180 degree hairpin. Getting a good time would be as much about cornering than all out power. The women were off before, so I spectated and took some photos then went to warm up on the turbo, 15 minutes of gentle spinning to get the legs moving and I was ready, well as much as you can be for a 1.1k flat effort. I had no real idea what time I should aim for, so as I was counted down, 3,2,1 off you go I just set off at top speed. quickly accelerating through the gears, just before a long and tightening right hand bend, spring out the corner, through an S bend and then onto the 180 degree hairpin, taking as low as possible and then really putting the power on, no idea what speed I was doing, couldn't see the Garmin... A tight right hander then followed, which I kind of messed up a little, stood up when I should have really been sat down I lost my balance a little, then onto the final left hand towards the finish, sprinting out the saddle. Literally not a clue if I did a good time, I felt I rode well apart from one corner, and over such a short distance times wont matter that much will they? Results in, and I was 19th our of 50 riders, not bad, but not great either. Official time of 1;19.7 to the winners 1:14.9, so really not much in it at all. Ben did a similar time at 1:19.1 to place 18th and Liam unfortunately came off, rolled a tub on the first corner and came down quite hard, he got the race again, but understandably was more cautious in his effort. 

Day 1 - Stage 2 - Crit Race
So the TT was in the morning and the crit was to be in the after. The women were off at 1:30pm with the men off an hour after that at 2;30pm. In between the TT and the crit there wasn't enough time to go back to Liam's, so as the weather wasn't too bad we all just chilled out, some went for a ride around the circuit, others (me) just ate food. The women's race started at 1:30pm, so we sat down and watched this unfold for a while. The field was huge, 43 women in total with some very strong riders and teams present, plenty of attacks and some great riding! It was now time for another warm up, so 15mins on the turbo and I was ready for the start. It was clear that getting a good position was going to be key due to the narrow and twisty nature of the circuit, so with that in mind I lined up at the front and rolled around to the start, only to be told to keep going around whilst the marshalls deal with an injured rider from the women's race, so I lost my position, ah well. back on the start line, and off we went, around 35 laps in 45 minutes. Pace, as per usual in these things, was quite frantic from the off, with riders and teams all jostling for position. I seems to be positioned around mid pack at this point, some 15 minutes in, riders were getting shelled out the back so the front group was now some 25 riders strong. A few attacks went up the road, but from what I could see nothing really was sticking, until a strong group of 4 went, 2 from the same team (can't recall the name) they managed to stay away for the whole race, so the now depleted bunch was sprinting for 5th, at best. Lucinda and the rest of the girls were shouting from the side for me to move up, perhaps that was extra motivation, but I did seem to be doing as I was told, and now perhaps 10th rider with 5 laps to go. My plan was to try and move towards the front over the course of the next few laps and then sit on/near the front on the bell lap, this has seemed to work well for me before in previous races, so why not here, albeit there is no hill... This was harder than it needed to be, and over the course of the next 4 laps I only managed to move up a few places at best. Bell lap and the pace went up again with a gap to the group behind a few seconds. I wasn't in a great position and a few riders made it across so I finished with the front group, nowhere near the points, but perhaps more importantly we all got the same time. So after Stage 1 and 2 there was only 19 seconds separating the top 20 riders! (I was 18th). So that was Day 1 done, overall not bad, I didn't get any points, which I was I really wanted, but on a course that didn't really suit me (did I mention there was no hill) I placed ok. Tomorrow is hilly though, so that will be better. 

Day 2 - Stage 3 - Oakenclough Road Race
I was feeling pretty fresh today, the combination of a tasty Lebanese meal, a few pints and a good nights kip meant I was raring to get going and really looking forward to it. The race was to start at 10am, with the women setting off just 5 minutes after. We would complete 5 laps of a 11 mile circuit, which climbs just under a 1,000ft per lap. We didn't have time (or the inclination) to ride or even drive the lap before, we have 5 laps to get used to it after all... However looking at the route profile it was essentially a long draggy climb over about 5 miles (that sounds harder than it was), with a ramp at 13% towards the top (that was hard) then a long downhill back to the finish, to go around again. Warmup done, briefing done and we were lined up, keen not to make the same mistake as before I lined up at the front, albeit less important that a crit. 
Only a short (0.6k) neutralised section and then straight into it. Pace was hot, but I was feeling good so aimed to stay within the front 15 or so riders. We reached the steeper section of the climb (that 13% ramp) there was a small attack of the front, which I went with, I knew this hill would suite me, so made every effort to stay with the attack. The next section was a very quick descent, I hadn't ridden this before, so I didn't know what the road surface was like, other riders seemed to care less (or know the circuit) as I went from 5th rider on the road to about 20th in the space of about 30 seconds. I always thought I was good at descending? Maybe not... Thankfully there was a sharp left hand bend which then kicked up again for a short time where I could gain most of the places back. The descent back to the start/finish was much wider now, it was quick, in fact, it was very quick. The bunch hit 56mph here, and I was still being overtaken. *Don't puncture, don't puncture* was constantly going around my head... back at the start now and 1 lap done. Over the next few laps nothing really happened. There was a lone Manchester Wheelers rider out front who held around 30 seconds for most of the race (rightly so got most aggressive rider) but on lap 4 he was brought back. There were various attacks during lap 4, with myself and a small group of 5 getting a gap, ok, so it only last about 30 seconds, but it seemed nobody had either the legs or inclination to really push on and work together (me included), so we got caught again, at this point another rider in orange went off, I was on the front, and had been for a while. I didn't seem to have the legs to catch him. I decided to drift back a few riders and try and not take up pace making duties. 4th time up that ramp hurt, I really pushed myself and crested as a lone rider, hang on, was this going to work? I was joined by 4 others, but once on the descent were brought back. Now onto the final lap, the pace had hotted up a bit and there were attacks going off the front, nothing seemed to last too long though and up the ramp one more time there was a lone attack, I was in a poor position, so just sat in. Onto the sharp left hand bend and ramp and I kicked (along with everybody else) and stayed with what seemed to be the lead group now, around 15 riders strong, bit between our teeth, we were all trying to chase that lone break. Ben K then came up alongside me, and I latched onto his wheel, we got a small gap, but there was another furious attack that quickly brought us back. Final few corners and I wasn't in a good position, maybe 20th rider now, the final fast corner opened onto the sprint finish, of around 500 meters. I kicked and passed a few riders, again, poor road positing by me meant I was over on the right, it was all very close but I finished again in the lead group, around 15th, but as with the crit, the most important aspect was we'd all get the same time.

Final results in, and it seems some of the top 10 riders from before the road race hadn't finished that well, so I managed to place 13th in the overall GC. The time gaps were so small between the top 15 riders that I was pretty pleased with that. So still no points, but that was probably one of the best road races i've ever done, great course and such fun.

The women's race and event was fantastic. Seriously proud of Lucinda who finished 24th in GC in such a huge field and against some very touch competition, not only was this her first stage race, it was her first road race ever having only started racing in August this year! Aoife, Petra and Jane from Phoenix placed really well, in 8th, 9th and top 20 in the overall GC. Think we all did Phoenix proud. Special guests of Agi from Rapha, Kat from Essex Roads (soon to be Phoenix!) and Sophie from Feathers also shared the fun with the Phoenix gang and all rode a very strong races, with Agi finishing 3rd on GC! What an awesome achievement.

Huge thanks to Manchester Wheelers and Ruth Taylor who organised the whole event, it was a really well run race, good fun and I, as i'm sure the other London Phoenix riders too, will be back next year. More info here:

*Updated* Just checked BC and I got 3 points! Only 9 away from Cat 2 now, happy days. 

Strava Links:
Stage 1:
Stage 2:
Stage 3:

Thanks for reading.

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