After waking up early packing the car and shovelling a bowl of overnight oats down me, I was on my way to Newport velodrome, where I would meet up with the rest of the Welsh Junior Team for the weekend’s racing (James, Sam and Joe), along with the DS (Director Sportif) Anthony O’Boyle ( “Boyler” as he’s known by many). Once again I’m proud to be representing Wales.
It was about an hour’s drive to the race HQ so we needed a pretty swift transition of kit bags to the Welsh cycling car. However my bladder thought otherwise, requiring me to make an emergency pit stop a couple of minutes before we were supposed to leave.
On our way down to the race most of the conversation consisted of who we thought was going to win the senior Roubaix on the weekend, along with Anthony’s plans for his next tattoo. When we arrived we went straight to sign on and gear check and then started to get ready for the first race of the day – the 7.3km TT.
Not having ridden the course before I was a bit unsure where I was actually meant to be going, but a very detailed description of the course from Joe quickly gave me an inch by inch lay out of the course. I was scheduled to go off at 10:43, about half way through the rider field. After a quick warm up I was on my way down to the start line. I knew the effort was going to be hard and that I would have to get my pace just right as you could easily go out too hard. As soon as I started I knew I was feeling good – my legs felt as if they were floating – that was until I realised that I still had over 4km to go :). I just focused on staying on top of the gear and pushing on to the finish.
Once I had ridden back to the Race HQ I turned my focus onto recovering for the afternoons road stage (105km on a rolling parcour).
Meanwhile in the TT, James got held up by a farmer in his tractor which effected his time massively. Anthony came over to me and said I was leading, and I was like “Seriously?!”. That was quite a cool feeling. However, there was still another race to focus on. Being in the Leaders Jersey I understood that I was going to have to protect it. Never having been in this position before I was a bit unsure as to how I was going to do that, but I just thought I’m only going to focus on my race and ride it the same way had I not been in the jersey.
After an interesting 10km neutralised section the race was underway. Straight away there were lots of attacks but many of them came back. This was predominantly down to the work of my team mates Sam, Joe and especially James. All three were riding above and beyond. With about 20km of racing left a group of three riders slipped away consisting of Harry Yates, Josh Price and two Spokes riders. The break was strong and looked as if it was going to stick to the end until George Wharton, one of the Spokes riders in the break, unfortunately crashed. The next time round the commissaires decided to neutralise the race, and unfortunately when restarted the break wasn’t’ given the gap it had originally. That was a shame as the break looked strong and would have made the race interesting. Shortly after the restart we were told that the race was to be cancelled due to the condition of the rider still on the floor. Thankfully later that night we found out that George was ok, which was a relief to everyone I’m sure. This meant Stage 1 would have no impact on the GC. However the sprint points were still counted meaning Sam Tillett was to go into the sprinter jersey with James just behind him.
Today was a big one. The Queen stage of the Mendips, with 3 major climbs. The time gaps after the TT were small, meaning the race was going to be very active. For breakfast I had another “mahoosive” bowl of overnight oats to get me ready for what was ahead. We met up with Anthony and the rest of the team in Newport and headed up to the race HQ as a team. On the way up to the race in the car we were all relaxed, with James offering us entertainment recounting his weird dreams about breakfast. Once we arrived we all went to sign on and got our bikes prep’ed and got a good team talk off Anthony – ” just ride boys ” – nice and simple, not too hard to remember. Despite the position we were in we all felt relaxed and comfortable with what we needed to do and were just keen to get the race underway.
Straight from the start when we hit the first climb a couple of riders started to attack, but James, who had done a ridiculous amount of work for me on Saturday, was already on them covering the moves and getting into the early breaks so I didn’t have to do any chasing. Over the top of the climb Dylan Hughes (Spokes Race Team) and Theo Hartley got away and had a 20 second gap on the peloton ( they were in 4th and 2nd place on GC respectively). I knew this was a dangerous move and as a result Joe, Sam and James went to the front and started to chase along with a few of the Catford team riders.
Sam was still positioned high on the overall so understandably pulled off early to prepare himself for the Blagdon climb. Sam, with his “Road Captain” head on came back to reassure me that they would come back on the climb and I didn’t need to panic. Meanwhile James was on the front continuing with his monster turn, he dropped back and looked smashed but somehow about 5km before the bottom of Blagdon he hit the front once again and brought the gap down from 20 seconds to about 10, turning himself inside out for the team – showing what a selfless person he is (on and off the bike) – massive respect bro.
I was positioned near the front of the bunch when we hit the dead turn and went up the Blagdon climb straight into very steep gradients. Almost straight away Dan Coombe put in the first dig causing a split in the peloton. By this point Theo and Dylan were just ahead of us. After Dans attacked I hit the front keeping out of trouble, after the twisty steep section through the houses I put in an attack just as it plateaued. I didn’t look round, just got my head down until I hit the KOM line where i gave a quick glance back and could see I had a gap. Going over the top of the climb into what was now a moderately strong headwind, the Coms car told me I had 25 seconds on the group of 5 behind me.
I pressed on the pedals but could see that the group was coming back to me. Eventually Dan Coombe bridged across by himself and for a moment I thought we would stay away, but the group that was just behind continued the chase, eventually catching us.
Going down the roads leading to the finish our group of 5 began to grow as riders caught back on. At this point the Wheel Base team began to attack with Dan – going one after another. I didn’t want to risk anything getting away so I made sure I was following the moves. With about 5km to go I found myself off the front of the bunch with a little gap. I decided to keep riding to see what happened, but I got reeled in. Soon we were at the bottom of the final climb. I think I got a bit over excited and hit the front straight away pressing on. As we hit the final straight Tobias and Mason Hollyman came round me and contested the sprint for the stage win. As I came across the line at the back of our small group I could see that there was only 5 of us, and very importantly for me personally there was no sign on the other GC contenders.
When the rest of the team finished it was such a good feeling as we got the win. And demonstrated how well we can work as a team. Very proud.
My first Junior win. In fact, my first ever National Road Series win at any age group.
Awesome race. Great organisation. Beautiful location. Awesome hills. Loved it. Thanks for all the support and for taking me Welsh Cycling.
I had great legs all weekend (thanks Pete Georgi @ Epic Coaching).
Thanks BCDS for organising it. Thanks to the Commissaires. And of course thanks to all the volunteers and marshals.