This weekend the team were in Lincoln. Friday evening Will and Jack rode the city centre circuit races, Saturday joined in the Sportive and then the big event on Sunday; the Lincoln Grand Prix.
As a British Cycling Premier Calendar event the Lincoln GP is top drawer racing for the UK. Full time professional teams are joined by the best amateur road racers from around the country to endure 103 miles out tough racing including 13 laps of the city and the infamous Michaelgate climb. A narrow cobbled hill which whilst only 300 metres long is a lesson in pain and bike handling given its 25% gradient. The crowds through the ancient city centre add to the atmosphere with riders encouraged, cheered and sometimes pushed up the punishing climb.
For the team this is a big step up from week on week racing, and the final of 3 Spring Cup races at this level we will compete in for 2017. Our objective for the day was to complete the race inside the time cut off (which incidentally is only 5 minutes from the leading riders). None of the boys had raced this event before so there was also a steep learning curve around how the dynamics of the race were going to pan out.
On paper the course looked to suit the team, once up the Michaelgate per lap.
Our tactics: Keep in touch on the climb and then regroup over the top. Repeat 13 times. Simples.
So the day started well. We all arrived early at HQ, after a couple of detours around some Lincoln housing estates. Follow the HQ signs they said. What signs? Where are the loos? Follow the signs they said. What signs? Where do we line up for the start? Follow the signs they said. What signs? Bit of a theme me thinks, perhaps a business opportunity for a sign maker in Lincoln....
Dave and Jamie rock up to the managers pre race briefing whilst the team get ready and start their warm up. The meeting is a who's who of past racers; now overweight, over opinionated all of whom know each other. Some use it as an opportunity to show their true colours and argue with the judges already, most let the briefing wash over them. Time for us to act like the newbie and keep quiet.
We get a nod and hello from Colin Sturgess, former World Pursuit champion and Jamie's boyhood hero. The draw gives us place 16 in the convoy of cars, not great but better that than in Rutland where we were up front and fighting for space constantly with the bigger teams and somewhat aggressive drivers.
Back to the team we relay instructions from the meeting. "Place 16, mechanical service on the left, ride safe. Good luck." Final prep is completed for the Fadden Feed Service and Annie in the city centre, we await the roll out.
The race rolls out, a little delayed, unsure why, but no-one seemed to worry about it. The crowds in the city centre were buzzing and this was it, time to race.
We had been warned the first lap would be brutal ending with the ascent of the Michaelgate. However all the bunch stayed together bar a couple of stragglers. First retirement a Raleigh rider after 3 miles, no idea why, must be having a bad day. We pass him in the convoy as he soft pedals to the feed zone, his day ending earlier than expected I'm sure.
So now it's all settling down, we get a couple of laps under our belt. And relax. Race radio occasionally bursts into action. Mechanical; Team 365.... Crash crash crash.... Feed required in peloton; Wheelbase.... but nothing required for Flamme Rouge. Absolute 80's is playing on the team car radio. Come on Dave let's sing along to some soft metal. "I want to know what love is....."
A break goes clear, we listen for the numbers over the race radio. None of our boys
numbers are called. Smart move guys, save your energy, this is a race of attrition and we need to be fresh later on. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes clear. The break is staying away but it's still early in the race.
It turns out to be a quiet first hour for the support team at the feed zone and in the team car. The bunch was staying together, a few issues for other teams, no significant crashes. No mechanicals for us, this is going to be a nice day out. Or so we thought....
One hour in, the race radio crackles to life. 27.4miles covered in hour 1. The bunch is hitting 35mph on the flat in a headwind leaving the town centre strung out like a giant elastic. We chase to keep the team car convoy together hitting the speed bumps with a hollow thud and using the whole road to avoid riders starting to be spat out of the back.
4 laps in, rain. Damn. Sketchy on the 15% descent. Riders can't see through rain soaked and mud splattered glasses. Whoever brakes latest makes up the most places on the tight bends. This is a race for those with balls of steel. All still together and things calm as the sun reappears and the increasingly embibed crowds cheer louder. Dave tries a high 5 at 40mph with the crowd on a descent. Ouch, let's stick to just bipping the horn next lap!
6 laps to go, what happened there. The bunch is shredded on the Michaelgate. In 1 lap the break loses nearly 2 minutes. Someone has put the hammer down and the bunch is in pieces.
"Red helmet, red helmet" Dave calls out. It's Matt, he's been distanced on the climb and needs to get back in. We catch him in the flat Lincoln suburbs and administer a very sticky bottle. He snakes his way back through erratic melee of team cars and rejoins the bunch ready for the next climb. Next lap we see Matt again, this time he's cooked and he pulls at the feed zone. A valiant effort, however not his race today.
A couple of laps later we see Will, out the back, he's been caught behind a split on the climb and is in a group separated from the bunch. Less successful sticky bottle this time, being watched by the judges were not as cheeky as other teams towing riders up through the convoy. He stays with the group for a lap, but we're way back in the team car and can't see what's happening. Race radio is quiet and we resort to road side updates from Annie on the climb and team Fadden at the feed. It looks like he's struggling and the group is losing ground. He pulls up in the feed with 3 laps to go, optimistically convinced he could have caught the main group. Another day maybe, this race is really going some now.
"Ok Dave, 2 still in there, all to play for..." says Jamie as we accelerate through the dropped riders, 3 laps to go, hand on horn, at illegal speeds through Lincoln suburbs to see if we can catch sight of our boys up front. We see Alex but where's Jack. We hear from the feed zone that he may be out. Another team car texts to say they saw him at the side of the road. We hope he's not crashed, we see a rider down at the bottom of the climb with first aid present. Not nice to see but at least it's not Jack. We continue lapping behind Alex looking out for Jack, where can he be? He's usually not difficult to spot.
We eventually find Jack near the HQ by the side of the road with Annie. It turns out it was cramp that did it for him. The first aiders were very thorough and Jack now has much paperwork to take to A&E should he need it, stating that he had cramp after an 80 mile race and a long list of things NOT wrong with him!
Back to Alex, penultimate lap and he is in a group of about 10. We get told off by the Moto Commissaire for not asking before we feed him from the car. Insincere apology administered, arse, and we drop back to support our last man standing. It's turned out to be a warm day and you can see the salty residue of hard riding on Alex's torso. He's still pushing through, riding hard, hoping to complete the event.
Billy jumps in the car for a lap from the feed zone. "What's that vehicle behind us?" I ask forlornly, knowing the answer is the broom wagon. Next we see the Moto Arse, sorry commissaire, talking to Alex's group then he speeds off. We can guess what's happening, the group has been pulled from the event with just over a lap to go. Alex calls us up to him just before the feed and we can see he is upset and frustrated. "We weren't going to get lapped, why wouldn't they let us finish" he pleads.
As we round the corner, we see the black flag waving in the road at the feed zone. Shattered, Alex climbs into the car and we load his bike on the roof. He's done brilliantly, surviving 96 miles at an average of 25.4mph and climbing the Michaelgate 11 times. Just a shame the organisers won't let him finish the job. Never mind there's always next year.
So in summary, the race was suited to us, but first time round was always going to be a tough ask to complete with so much to learn. We'll definitely be back next year with all the experience of 2017 in the bag ready to use to our benefit. In the words of another team manager packing up his riders after the race "that's bike racing!"
Photo Credits: Nicola Casburn, Annie Carney, Billy Fadden