Team Backstedt battle in the National Champs

Report written by Mattie Dodd.

Last weekend the National Championships took place up in God’s Own Country (Yorkshire) on the edge of the Howardian Hills (I seriously question why we live in London when places like this exist). Both the TT and the Road Race used the same 17.5km lap (with 275 metres of elevation), albeit with different start and finish locations on the lap for both races. We travelled up on Friday and rode the course that afternoon. Dylan and I being the only Backstedt riders doing Saturday’s TT, we were the advance party as it were and rode the course together. We rode a lap on both road and TT bikes then I rode to our hotel to get the ride up to an hour and a half and to spin my legs out completely before the racing got underway. The course effectively consisted of two parts – a lumpy part with various small kicks and drags and the main climb of the course, the 20%+ Bulmer Bank and a flatter, fast part of the course with a 85kph+ descent and a small kick up into Sheriff Hutton village. The finish to the road race was halfway up one of said drags through the small hamlet of Terrington.

The TT started halfway round the RR course, effectively making it a three part course – and tricky to pace. The flat, first part required you to keep everything under control and not make the rookie error of assuming you feel insane given the amount of adrenaline in your system. Over the lumpy part, the best way to pace it was to squeeze over the climbs and get back up to speed, before easing off as the speed increased. This cycle continued until the final descent, where I had planned to be pretty empty by, before you hang on for dear life until the finish on the fast tailwind section at the end. I felt like I paced it reasonably well, maybe going to hard too early on the final, fast part, but generally pretty well. That meant 5th for me on the day, a result that created mixed feelings. I was content with it, nothing more. My target had been top 3, but the result had showed that I was going pretty well ahead of tomorrow.

With the arrival of Euan and Huw, the full team rolled out from Terrington Village Hall, rudely interrupting various Jubilee preparations that go on in a sleepy Yorkshire village. The race was 119 km with over 1,800 metres of climbing, there was no particularly long climb in the race, it was just rarely flat. With the flag drop at the top of the fast descent, it was a smart idea to be at the front. Sadly, Huw’s race ended fairly abruptly with an early puncture and the team car being told they weren’t allowed to pace him back on. Pretty quickly a break of 4 riders formed up the road, including the eventual winner. The race then went pretty tame once they got away and the gap grew to a minute and fifty seconds at its biggest.

The first two times up Bulmer Bank weren’t full gas by any means. They were simply a decent tempo that didn’t result in the bunch blowing to smithereens. The third time up the climb, however, the front rider went flat stick in an attempt to either blow the race up or get a gap himself. Going over the top of the climb, I looked back from 4th wheel and saw a gap had formed. I then tried to capitalise on this and went to the front to try and draw a small group clear that would work well together and possibly bridge to the break. A few other riders clearly had the same idea but the gap didn’t grow and the bunch didn’t split and five minutes later the pace was tamer once more.

At around a minute and twenty seconds in length, Bulmer Bank was probably a bit too short to blow the race to pieces in one ascent, hence the lack of said pieces. The race continued to be a case of either on or off for the next three laps, with the times when it was “on” taking chunks out the break’s gap, only for the “off” parts to see it grow again. With an hour to go, I had two caffeine gels. The marvelousness of this piece of information may seem small, but I don’t drink coffee nor consume hardly any caffeine, you see. Thus the issue was that after the race, I’m not sure I stopped talking for about 5 hours, so I apologise to anyone who had to listen to my overstimulated chatter. The penultimate time up Bulmer Bank was the final chance, in my eyes, to get a big enough gap to bridge to the leaders. I gave it a go on the right hand side of the road about halfway up, getting a small gap but getting brought back as we turned into the headwind.

Then about 10km later and with about 15km to go, the race as far as bunch was concerned, lit up. The break out front had thinned down to one rider, the eventual winner, and attempts to bridge were now going fairly regularly. I jumped away from the bunch just before the small kick on the flat part of the course and bridged up to a group of 4 or 5 hanging off the front as we went over the top. As I looked back, I saw the bunch had strung out with gaps all along the line. I once again tried to exploit the small gap we had but the move was brought back and the bunch compressed once more a few KMs later.

A group of three then attacked and got a small gap just before the descent into Bulmer Bank for the final time, with no one in the bunch wanting to make the move to chase. The final time up Bulmer was once again just a decent tempo as people kept a close eye on each other. As we turned left into the headwind and the section with multiple short, rolling kicks the group of three had about 5-10 secs and was hanging out there.

Over one of the kicks with about 3-4 km to go, an attack went that was followed by everyone. Then from about 4/5th wheel, I countered over the top of the kick and got a gap straight away. I tucked up down the short descent off the other side and squeezing over the next kick, caught the three out front. One of them immediately dropped off the back and I went to the front straight away, knowing the gap to the bunch was fairly small. Both other riders were clearly swinging as we went full gas to the line, knowing a let-up would mean this opportunity we had, would disappear. Going into the final 500 metres, I was sitting second wheel and launched my sprint early with about 300 metres to go knowing the bunch was breathing down our neck. I held on for second, a few seconds ahead of the bunch, the lone break rider having stayed away.

I know I should be happy with second, and I am – I think. But there is always an element of “what if” with these things though. Having missed out on national stripes doesn’t always sit comfortably.

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