The Black Train: (l to r) Dan Staite, Ben Pochee, the editor, Brett Perez and Richard Wilkinson
celebrate someone’s Birthday (before the start)
After a blistering start around Milland Hill, the Tour of the South headed, um, West for more pain a suffering. Here’s an in the saddle account of the action up to, and including, the last day.
Stage 2 – Oakley Circuit
A simple stage around a mainly flat circuit and after yesterday’s pain and suffering on Milland Hill we’re (well I am) looking forward to some R&R in the bunch… there’s no chance of that as the flag drops and the bunch get’s up to speed for the first two circuits – it’s lined out at 30mph+. Nice recovery ride this.
Stage race ‘veterans’ always say that after the first hour the legs get used to the pain, so survival is far more likely. Get through that and you’ll be OK, well that’s what I keep telling myself anyway. It did actually stay together despite the pace and constant attacking. Recycling and PCA didn’t let a thing go all day and used their radios to best effect. You know when the pace increases that the break is over two minutes and it’s time to reel it in, the line out starts and you find out that you do need 53×11 after all.
A lead out was required for Brett, our sprinter, and we duly obliged. In a comedy mix-up of timing the Black Train hits the front together, but about five miles too early. Oops. The Recycling train take over with about two to go and all but Dan Staite (our number one rouleur) remained in the front, it’s a 35mph+ finish and Chris Macnamara stays away to take an audacious but perfectly timed win. That must have hurt.
Stage 3 – Malmesbury circuit
Today is my last day as a senior bike racer. So I manage to sneak into a break after a couple of laps and spend the next twenty minutes wishing I hadn’t… do we have to go this fast? I’m motivated though, especially after we hear that we have a good gap. Tony Gibb’s radio tells us that we only have a lap to go too, huh? was I asleep for the past lap? I was certainly starting to drift off somewhere or perhaps dreaming I was…
An overnight gravelling to a section of road meant that stage 3 was shortened. Thank you. I could cheer. Ironically this was the section where we made our time gap stick as the peloton slowed to negotiate the piles of stones lying on fresh tar, we could press on in a smaller and faster group. We take the bell. I’m now feeling fine, forget shortening the stage I feel like ten men. It’s amazing what a bit of good fortune does for the morale and, in turn, for your legs, they’ve gone through the painful bit now – I’m going to get some time back! Ten men turns into ten hamsters for the sprint and I bag 18th place. Not even one BC point for all that?!
OK, so it’s hardly a race winning move and Chris Newton won’t be looking out for number 35 tomorrow, but a few minutes means a lot to me and a chance to move up the GC… One place. Is that it? I’m beginning to worry about Dartmoor now and what that breakaway has done to my legs…
Stage 4 – Tavistock to Tavistock
A text comes through on my phone from a mate who knows these roads well. He says if you can race around Dartmoor you can race anywhere… Thanks, as if I wasn’t worried enough. The Rapha Condor RT have something(s) to defend today. We’re 4th placed team on GC and we have our own Ben Pochee in 10th place. Added to this we also have Brett Perez in the top twenty and supporting cast all well placed on GC. Oh, and it’s my Birthday.
Everyone is convinced that the Recycling boys are going to belt up the 4 mile hill to the first KoM point. Well I’ve never been close to one all week and I’m not changing that today, I want a steady warm up and plenty of wheels to follow, it’s all about survival today.
Somebody wasn’t telling the rest of the team this though as we smash up the climb out of Tavistock. Already riders are falling backwards and I’m one of them. A long string of riders in front and very few behind. I’m already in trouble and we’ve only been going 3 miles. The next ten miles is all about not panicking and following wheels back to the safety of the main field. My mate was right, Dartmoor holds no favours for cyclists.
The next hour and a half is spent at a more civilized pace, but there’s still plenty of action up front and the road is either up or down. Drifting towards the back to eat and drink on a long descent is the biggest mistake I’ve made all week, onto the next hill and it goes crazy. Fighting for wheels and hoping for the pace to settle (again) and I’m through the red zone and into a very dark place. I know I can get on, it’s just going to hurt like hell… back through the team cars and there’s still no let up – didn’t anyone tell them it was my Birthday? A group is still 200 metres away, I might make it. just get through this mini roundabout… wallop.
Lying on the ground in a patch of moist road I’m swearing and shouting. How unlucky does it get? Still, I must get on again, I can still walk. I still have a bike that works. No excuses then, get going. Road rash smarts a bit, but not as much as a DNF… especially after driving all this way.
Fortune shifts again as Richard Wilkinson from our team catches me, he’d been in a bit of trouble too with a stiff knee after stage 3 but was coming back around and wasn’t going home just yet. I was very glad of the company as we had at least 2 hours of riding to go on the stage and we’ve lost five minutes already – the Team GC is looking iffy. The message is simple: we have to finish.
I’ll spare you the hell of the next hour or so but needless to say we finished the final lap in a state of ragged exhaustion. Chasing is hard enough on the flat, but this is just brutal. The rain stings the road rash, but my legs hurt way, way more than that. We even go off course for a mile or so at the final turn. It’s not been the best day out. We’re ten minutes down and we’ve lost the team place. I could cry, well that is if I had any liquid left in me. Richard keeps driving on, but the final road to Tavistock just about breaks me, there’s traffic all around now and we pick up a couple more riders, I’m toast as we climb up once more. Bloody hills. Bloody Dartmoor.
Next year then?
Most of the Tour of the South is about planning. There’s loads of transfer driving and one of our team spent more time in his car than he did racing or, more importantly, resting. More stages would help, but it’s clear that we need more marshals and helpers if the Tour is going to gain momentum. It was very well organised, just slightly under staffed and under spectated. Teams also need a big supporting cast and for most club teams this is very difficult.
We were very lucky, our helpers were fantastic: Sophie, Rene, Eric and Jim all made life a lot easier for us and the feeding and support was second to none. Special thanks to them.
The Pro teams took all the prize money, but it is their living and they do work very hard for it. Stage racing is always hard, fortunes are always mixed and mine were certainly that. I can’t say I enjoyed the relentless pace but when it wasn’t hurting it was great to race with world champions and top class riders. But one thing is for sure, Dartmoor is off my holiday list, it’s back to Crystal Palace for me…
All the stage results and final GC standings are available at www.londoncyclesport.com