“We’re here to win this race. It’s no use coming up here and being happy with second,” Roger Hammond, Madison-Genesis team manager tells his riders before the Beaumont Trophy rolls out of Stamfordham, in Northumberland.
The former British champion and northern Classics hard man is in his second year at the helm of the Milton Keynes-based outfit, and his team have been enjoying a purple patch of late.
Rising star Tom Stewart, meanwhile, won in Woking and Jersey as the Series drew to a close. They also arrive in Northumberland as defending champions, with Dean Downing having won last year’s race.
The race, which forms part of the Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling, takes in six laps of the undulating Northumberland countryside – two over a shorter circuit, and four over a demanding big loop which takes in the Ryals.
And Hammond – as ever – will be watching proceedings unfold from the team car, with RCUK invited along for the ride.
He is expecting a much different race to last time out, when a young Madison-Genesis squad set up Downing for victory in a bunch sprint.
This time out, more experienced and with the likes of NFTO – who opted not to select Downing for the race, with him having to settle for Leazes Criterium selection instead – looking to light the race up, the key is to get riders at the front of the race.
“Move up, move up,” he demands of his riders as the peloton rolls past before jumping into the team car and getting going.
Almost from the off, the race radio buzzes into life as riders make attempts to earn a gap off the front.
Hammond, with team mechanic Sam Hayes, remain unperturbed, however – only when a big break goes clear, he says, will he start to worry.
Instead, as he moves up through the fleet of cars to the position allocated to the team for the day – number six – the early part of the race is spent eating lunch and waiting for Hayes to scribble down the rider numbers whenever something comes through on the radio.
Jonny Bellis, representing the Isle of Man, is dropped from the bunch early on as he suffered with a knee injury – Hammond checking in on his former Great Britain team-mate as the car pulls past.
The attacks keep coming, with Hayes having to scribble ever faster as more and more riders find themselves off the front – the good news for Hammond being three Madison-Genesis riders in the front group and two in the chasing pack.
The bad news is both groups number more than 20 each. “Well that’s it then, this lot might as well go home,” Hammond announces of the peloton when the gap grows out to more than a minute.
For those brought up watching WorldTour races, it may seem a little pessimistic but Hammond knows what he is talking about as he waits for the signal to move up through the peloton.
Now, a professional peloton moves fast – and the car’s speedometer proves as much as the convoy of cars pushes their way through, horns blaring.
Hammond’s is no different and the sight, as the frenetic power of the bunch rolls into life around you, with riders from all teams looking for a good, safe road position, is inspiring.
In the hot seat of the car – quite literally as it happened, with heated passenger seats allowing Hammond to make any guests in the car sweat it out almost as much as the bunch we are speeding through – it is incredible to see.
Ian Bibby is among them, of Madison-Genesis, much to the ire of his team boss who had already suspected the early attack would not be to the liking of a rider who prefers to burst into life later in the race.
Watching him ascend the Ryals, Bibby moves to the front, but the peloton is not going to catch up with those up the road – and with good reason: it takes a fair bit of speed for Madison-Genesis to join the convoy behind the second group, where immediately he finds riders in need of drinks.
Hayes scrambles around the back for the bidons and tactic are discussed – Tobyn Horton, Scott Davies and Tom Scully are all in the strong front group, Liam Holohan and Tom Stewart, meanwhile are in the second.
“What do you reckon?” they ask Hammond, as drinks come out. The order is to ride, and ride hard – it has already split the chasing group once and the manager is keen for it to happen again to get support to his three men up the road.
And then it is back to full gas and up the road to the front of the race, where the process is repeated but with the opposite tactics – no need to ride hard, you have two riders behind you.
As predicted, race radio and the race itself then eases out – no more frantic attacking, and significantly less time gaps, just the occasional lecture for teams not following protocol in the car.
“You ask every time you want to move forward,” one of Hammond’s competitors is told, like a naughty school child called before the head teacher.
With a mixed field of leading domestic riders, and several composite teams alongside them, it is clear not every soigneur or driver is aware of the rules and regularities associated with the convoy of cars, and the feed zone.
When Scully is nearly taken out by a musette in the feed zone by one such person, it prompts some furious horn blaring from the Madison-Genesis car.
“Can you imagine if that had brought him down, in the feed zone!?” Hammond exclaims.
It is fortunate, for everyone’s sake, it didn’t.
As the incidents die down however, the mood of the car relaxes – so what do teams talk about when following a race through the countryside?
Well, anything goes really – you could be forgiven for thinking it was a friendly road trip as Hayes’ knowledge of history and maths is put to the test.
That is, until race radio crackles back into life and a group of riders have gone off the front of the leading group on the Ryals – a blur of colour up the road from the team car.
The numbers come through, and none of Madison-Genesis’ three riders have made the split.
When the race is brought back together on the descent, the inquest has already started – perhaps they knew, Hammond speculates, and just stuck together for the faster descent.
To find out, the team car pushes forward to the bunch – bidons and gels at the ready.
Davies, the youngest rider on the team, admits he is tiring as Hammond tries to get men covering the dangerous Rich Handley (Rapha Condor-JLT) and Mark Christian (Team Raleigh).
Horton is passed the same instructions, before Scully summons the car for a more frustrated assessment of the panic which set in when the break went clear.
Confident, however, and safe in the knowledge they were not the only team to miss the split, they all in turn return to the group.
Next time out, Horton is ready and catches the eight-man group – but finds two men each from Rapha Condor-JLT and Raleigh in among them.
Hammond, ever the master tactician, is straight onto the team phone to those waiting in the feed zone – no riding for Horton is the instruction, if the group fails to stay out it is to Madison-Genesis’ advantage.
Unfortunately for the team, however, strength in numbers tells and Kristian House (Rapha Condor-JLT) ultimately takes victory ahead of Mark Christian (Team Raleigh) after the two went clear – Horton rolls in fourth.
Not the victory Madison-Genesis wanted, and not the ideal result to accompany the long drive back down south, but at the very least another sign that this young team, with Hammond at the helm, is going places.