The Club Championships 2017

On 23rd September 2017 we hosted our annual Club Championships at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. It’s an opportunity for our racers, both current and new, to battle it out amongst each other and always makes for an exciting end of season finale. Photos by club member Jake Lewis.

Phil Barella (organiser)

Earlier this year I volunteered to host our club championships, the 5th annual event, and wanted very much for it to be an expanded format compared to previous years, with a better structure around the handicap race, and also a women’s race, where we were hopeful of a decent field.

It was challenging as our club has not had a women’s race before, and there was uncertainty around numbers and how best to integrate this into the existing race format. I think the solution that occurred worked, it was a great race. 

So, fast forward to the week before and the prizes are collected, and we’ve got Gianluca from ProSport Distribution in to demo some new kit and sell our existing kit for the day’s racing and discuss the future as well as a nice side-line. We’ve got some cake and coffee for the bits between the races and afterwards. It’s all go…

I load up the car and trundle over to Hillingdon, getting there nice and early, pick up the keys from Goals and get to work with help from Artur, Steve, Andrew and others. First race is off at 1:30 and sign in is done.

After my brief, the races are started together and we have four floating marshals to help with the first timers at racing and to ensure they have enough time to crack on with racing. Some of the guys and girls are sharing the work at the front and the pace is a bit pedestrian, but it’s all together, and everyone is riding smoothly. 20 minutes in and it’s still all together so Declan gets the boys left and girls right to allow for a separation, and the marshals shepherd them into the right formations. The girls then are allowed to crack on with their race and the strongest riders break away from two others and a final selection is made. Kasia and Helen seem to be doing a fair bit of the work which ultimately seems to cost them as Alison’s finishing speed puts both to the sword, and the top four finish within a couple of metres of each other. Very close, and tactically it has to be said Alison was very very astute. A worthy winner.

The go ride has some very strong club riders in it and knowing Gez and Dominic Baker from some fast rides out west, I was pretty sure they could influence the result with other up and coming riders, including Ollie (who’s a fast climber), surely up to being capable of springing a surprise, perhaps. However, last lap, and the top three ride away with Gez taking the win by half a wheel from Shaun. The rest of the field is very strung out but everyone gets to the finish safely.

After this we regroup ahead of the 2/3/4 race. There was a theme in the racers WhatsApp group where the guys were seemingly determined to resolve the race around their own tactics and hoping that the overwhelming favourite, Declan, wouldn’t overcome them. I knew where my money was, but let’s get on to the race and how it panned out.

The setup was 4th cats away first, with a 1:15 gap to the 3rds then 30 seconds for the remaining 2nd cats. The 4ths went away smoothly and kept the pace steady but significantly more briskly than the go ride race earlier. Henrik, Jason, Luca and others kept it sensible but fairly tough. The 3rds were by comparison losing time on the 4ths because of a lack of group rhythm and concerted effort, it appeared a bit broken up and those riding fast and smooth compared to weaker riders that couldn’t keep the pace quite as high and were suffering a fair bit. The second cats were in comparison very very smooth and made the catch very progressively, and when they did they then pulled the 3rds along with the stronger thirds contributing with some fall out at the back as some of the weaker 3rds fell away. Similarly the 4ths has a couple of fatigued individuals that dropped away.  During the catch of course, there were the primes. The winner in both instances was Damian Sutton ( who also finished first 4th cat) showing that his race craft is very much to the fore and his finish was suitably good in both instances.

The race now takes on the final half hour as everything slowly comes together with one of the 4th cat diesels, Henrik wrenching his knee on a prime slowing the group up as his turns had been pretty fast, and well measured. Without him the 4ths slow and await the catch. They then ramp up after this brief recovery and several half hearted and full gas attacks start occurring. Nothing really sticks as the pace ramps up until the last lap when Rich, Mark, Rupert, and Declan jump, but are reeled in, with the selection taking up places near the head of the peloton. The last corner sees Declan light up the afterburners, and gap the remainder to win by around 15 to 20 bike lengths, with Rupert gathering up his remaining energy to beat Andrew to second, debut rider Rich 4th and Neil in 5th.

Credit to everyone for riding very hard all race ( Neils numbers were his highest in history for him), and to a variety of riders for influencing and achieving good things in the race.

  • The Winner, Declan. For riding the race that he needed to, for closing down the breaks that wanted to ride away from him, and showing the others how to win a race, by being adaptable.
  • Rupert, best of the rest this year, and the only person on the course capable of posing Declan a problem in the bunch kick, though he had to make up time round the last corner, and did what he had to do to get 2nd.
  • Andrew for a very well thought out 3rd place, never burning too many matches, and always being there or thereabouts.
  • Rich Seabrook for being highest finishing debutant. Rode a composed well thought out race as well.
  • Neil Grunshaw and Seb for pulling the 3rds round and launching some pretty well planned attacks, also for Mark Aldred for launching a few attacks as well and riding very well to help the 2nd cats to close the gap to the 3rds.
  • Henrik and Jason and Luca and Craig and Will for keeping the 4ths away and organised.
  • James Whit for his robot celebration at the end. Actually the highlight of the champs. If you missed it, you haven’t seen a man in severe oxygen debt, after being dropped like a stone, and deciding that doing the robot is his way of celebrating an eventful championships. It was very funny.
  • Everyone else for taking part and making it a memorable champs.   

After we’d finished racing we had a presentation from Gianluca, from Prosport with Steve G-H’s assistance, that allowed the club members the chance to try out kit and we generated quite a few sales. We also handed out the prizes.

The team who helped out with the clean-up and the people to take photos should also be credited. There are some great pics online, see the forum for links.

Also, this will be the last event I’ll be hosting for the wheelers, and hopefully someone else can take over and do a good job.

Liane Farrer (first time racing)

“Come and have a go at the Club Championships” they said; “It’ll be fun”, they said. “We just need more girls this year to get make it an event”. Well, after a summer of watching the Grand Tours on TV, I really wanted to have a go at racing and find out what it was all about.

The club’s own race would be a great way to start, I thought – none of the pressure of going to a race track where there would be girls in team kit, doing proper warm ups and knowing exactly what they were doing.

And the Club Champs was exactly that. The girls – who’d invited me along so they would have enough people to beat – were lovely and so encouraging. And they were terribly nice and grateful after they had beaten me!

Declan and Alison, our eventual club champs, both chatted with me before the race as if we were going for a spin in the park. Neither gave the impression they were any good at racing themselves. No one showed any competitiveness (overtly at least). The most serious I saw anyone get was eating a banana before the race.

It was great to understand what’s involved – how it works in a criterium. Until you’ve tried it, it’s hard to envisage. And it’s the best way to learn – just to jump in. Until I ate a fruit and nut bar five minutes before the start, I had no idea that would make me feel really sick twenty minutes in!

Half way into the race, my office-based fitness started to tell and I eventually fell off the back of the peloton. The angelic volunteer race marshalls – our experienced club racers - worked hard to try and get me back on. Realising it was a lost cause, they brought me back across to another newbie racer and we worked as a pair against the brutal winds of the back straight at Hillingdon. We kept each other’s morale up, as did the crowds at the club house and on benches on the way round the mile-long track.

On the approach for the finish line, the men loomed round the final bend behind us, threatening to lap us. With the adrenaline pumping, we were not going to be beaten. We sprinted and pipped them on the line. But the bell rang again (this time for the men’s last lap) and in a state of adrenaline fuelled confusion, I did an extra lap. I’m calling it ‘my victory lap’.

Afterwards, we cheered the boys on in the categorised race. Special cheers went out to those guys whose first race it was too. And whilst waiting for them to circuit, we chatted about our where we might next try our hand at racing.

Helen Bridgman (third in the women’s race)

After my first season of racing I was excited to have a go at my first club champs. Seven women took to the start line, including two complete newbie racers, Liane and Emma, who threw themselves into this challenge full tilt! We were grouped with the men’s Go Ride group for most of the race, with the women doing their fair share of the work on the front. After about 25 minutes I saw an opportunity to have a dig when everyone sat up and I went for it to the sound of cheers from the clubhouse! It didn’t last long as the men chased me down, but it was fun while it lasted!

Shortly after that the two races were split so we could finish independently and it was left to four women to bring it home. Coming around the penultimate bend I was third wheel and I saw Alison Wyatt start to make her move from behind me with about 250m to go. When we came around the final bend everyone dug in deep to push for the finish line with Alison managing to hold on and be crowned our Women’s Club Champion. Chapeau to all who raced and I look forward to a growing group of women racers within the club giving it a go next year.

Kasia Madej (second in the women’s race)

Fun race day out and even better cake! The etiquette and organization of the event was great. No one seemed to endanger anyone else there, even though a mix of skills was present. There was certainly some pain and grit present as well, with riders really giving it their all, no matter the finish. Looking forward to attacking the next year’s race already.

Alison Wyatt (winner of the women’s race)

The club champs!! I'd had the date in my calendar for ages as I wanted there to be more woman racing than last year but it didn’t stop me from wondering why I was there. In the end there were seven women and we started at the same time as the Go Race. This probably suited me more. Kasia led for the first 2 laps with Helen and then me tucked in behind.  I’m not sure where the men were at this point but eventually some of them started to do some work!

I don’t remember much of the race. It seemed to be windy wherever we were and most of the time I managed to avoid being in the front. Call me lazy but the one time I did end up on the front my heart rate went through the roof! I didn’t really have any plan apart from trying to hang on for as long as possible. At one point Helen made a break for it but fortunately for me she was chased down. With a few laps to go they split the race and Kasia again took the lead. There were only four of us in the lead group by this point, Kasia, Helen, Isabelle and myself. It seemed to take ages for the last lap to come but eventually it did.  I made a half-hearted attempt to break at the uphill S bends but I wasn’t strong enough so I tucked back in behind and then had another go. I didn’t think I was going to make it but I just managed to catch Kasia on the line, Helen was third and Isabelle 4th. If you look at the photos you can see how close it was. I was very lucky!

Rupert (Second in the men’s race)

We all pulled up to the line for a club photo and quickly soon we were ready to begin.  As the 4th's rolled off the excitement started to build as the 3rds lined up. 

I still wasn't sure how easy it would be to catch the 4ths although the Surrey handicap championships the week before had proven that riders like Seb and Dec can close quite big gaps by themselves if they put they mind to it, so subject to a major screw up I thought we should be able to do it.

Anyway it wasn't too long before we were getting the 15 second countdown and we were off.  I wanted to get us off to a fast start so was prepared to drive away from the line. Seb clearly also had this in mind as he started with a bang and was sprinting to get up to speed, I was third wheel and had to put in a small dig to latch on the wheel in front such was the force of Seb's start, I was soon coming through to do my turn, and I banged out a 10-15 second turn at around 450 watts and as I pulled over I thought with this start we'd be on them in a few laps!  Coming up to the start finish line I looked across and noted the position of the 4ths, the next couple of laps we seemed to close a bit but the turns weren't very smooth and as a result were longer and at a slower speed than they needed to be.

About 5 laps in I thought I heard a time gap of 1 min 20 called, although I thought I must have misheard, but at about this stage I noticed the gap started to hold, it was a few meters if that each lap.  This went on for the next 15 minutes and whilst we started to catch and pass a few 4ths that had dropped we weren't really catching the main group.  Whilst a little concerning I wasn't too bothered at this stage as I thought there was time for them to tire in the second half of the race.  In general, the pace was pretty comfortable at this stage and I felt like I was doing some reasonable turns when it was my turn.

Also over this time I was keeping an eye on certain people. 

Seb - Whilst still doing his share of the turns, I was surprised with how little work he was doing compared to a normal race, where I'm used to seeing him camped on the front, constantly attacking he was very quiet.  I wasn’t sure if he on a bad day or saving himself?

Neil - Was putting in a lot of work, too much probably, as he would do most of the race.

Rich - He looked so strong at Milland Hill I had him marked as a danger man before the race, so I couldn't help but feeling he was trying to conserve energy a lot of the time, using little tactics like delaying coming around the lead man and doing slightly shorter turns, I knew he'd be one to keep an eye on later.

TY - God only knows how he was still there and doing his turns!

About 25-30 mins in the 2nds caught the 3rds and Mark and Declan rolled through to the front in a show of dominance.  Andrew clearly was above this level of macho behaviour!

Now with these two organising the group the gap started to close rapidly, it was about this stage I also decided to gamble on no one attempting a break until we reached the 4ths so I was drifting much further back in the group than I usually do to keep longer gaps between my turns and rest up a bit.  Dec was also back there quite often so I was just making sure I was close enough to him that if something did happen I could react when he did.

At the end of the 3rd to last lap Mark attacked and Dec went with him, they had about 5 - 10 meters on Rich followed by me another few meters back, coming up the hill the gap started to close and as we came across the line the gap was sufficient that I thought this is going to be the race winning move, that was until Dec chose not to do a turn, I now knew his game was to stop the attack not to support it and this was proven shortly after when he said something like "if you want to succeed you better ride".  Had I not misjudged the situation this would have been a good opportunity to have counter attacked but I was already close to my limit so it probably would have fizzled out and Rich or Mark would have most likely chased me anyway.  Anyway that was enough to let the main group catch back up, although we didn't get swamped as could have easily happened, and all 4 of us managed to keep a good position.

On the last lap Mark attacked again as we headed up the back straight and was pulled back just before the bends by Dec.  I had been toying with the idea of a full on attack going into the little hill but Mark put pay to that idea by attacking again just before the spot I was going to go, Dec again closed it down quickly followed by Rich and Andrew, I was well placed now 4th in line, although I knew for sure I now had no chance of beating Dec, I thought I had a great chance at 2nd.

Dec started his sprint just before coming out of the last corner, Rich and Andrew accelerated, as I stood up to start my sprint I wobbled a bit and it through my rhythm off for a split second, however in doing so gave me a little gap to get a run on Andrew, I knew Mark was out of it as he was off to the side with no protection and the gap between Dec and Rich also meant he was going to be in trouble.  Andrew moved to the right of Rich and I sat down and focused on just keeping my momentum to the line, timing it pretty much perfectly to come past Andrew just before the line to the screaming joy of my fans on the hill!  A great day out as always in the most hotly contested race of the year, can't wait till the next one!

Declan (winner of the men’s race)

I came into the late season, generally in good form. A mixture of high volume all year and a naturally tapering off towards the end of September means  that for the past few years now, the fatigue leaves the legs, the fitness comes down but the freshness goes up.

There was a much hype before this race. This was based on a few things. James Whit being rode off my wheel on the president’s run, putting the hammer down on the skills day and putting in one hell of a ride in the Surrey League handicap champs the week before, meant I knew I was in good form, and many knew that. I was the favourite but I believed that 1 or 2 could cause me hassle in my quest to retain the Club champs title. Of course the recipe to beat me is very simple, keeping attacking me, make me chase down moves and hope that I went pop. I know how to beat me, but expected everyone else did too. They would have beaten me last year had Rup not punctured. So coming into the race, I knew I would have my work cut out.

The 30 second gap from the 2nds to the 3rds I was okay with. I believed that it would be hard but I did not believe it was impossible.  I had been part of a Trio that closed down the gap of 30 seconds before. I expected it would take up 15 mins of hard riding to get it back. What it transpired to be was 21 minutes of chasing, average speed 27.5MPH, 310wAP/322wNP. The riding was smooth, very smooth with Mark and Andy.

I rode on feel, I knew that I had done 320w for 10 mins the Sunday before in the club champs after an hour of racing so figured I could prob do 330w as part of an early chase and be okay. To be fair, I rode on feel, I didn’t ride to power. I had speed/HR on my Garmin as that is the only metric that matters, I could see that the speed was pretty equal across Mark and Andy’s turns and when I was in the wheels I could see my HR drop and speed remain okay so I knew the turns were smooth. Thankfully the home straight is quite long and lap after lap I could see the back of the 3rds getting closer and closer as we crossed the line and could see the bend heading into the clubhouse. When the two groups came back together  I came straight to the front and tried to get it organized. I was surprised to learn there was some hesitance in doing so. It was not as smooth as it should have been and did require some cajoling but I figured this was part of the tactics. Part of this may have been the headwind that was howling into the finish straight. (looking at one segment on Strava I can see I was pulling 450w turns into that wind thank god they only lasted 30 seconds! It as only about 300w when I was in the wheels though). I guess that in a bit group like that, no one “had” to ride. Who would want to bring me to the line anyway?

Thankfully there was some honesty and after having to stop the rotation of the chain gang and get it rotating back the other way to get riders to continue to ride through, he pulled back a gap of over 60 seconds very quickly. I am not sure what happened up front as our speed didn’t change that much but the gap fell dramatically and quickly. Once the race came together, it was just a case of staying in the wheels.

There was a few helmets/socks I had my eye on and didn’t want to go up the road and thankfully they didn’t go. I was happy for individual riders to try and head off, but didn’t want groups. There were a few times that little groups formed but I was never far away and hopped on the back of them.Thankfully they never amounted to a major move. To be honest, I expected more attacks or organized moves to wear me down and waited for an onslaught, but it never came. I was more than happy to surf wheels all day, which I did. Even took a tow off a seat post at one stage!

With 3 laps to go I figured some one was going to do a kamakazie attack and got into about 4th wheel.  Nothing came. 2 laps to go, I figured defo going to be an attack this lap, nothing. So bell lap I thought it is either going to slow down to a pedestrian pace, at which point I would jump everyone, or someone was going to go hard.

I was in 3rd wheel at this stage, headed into the headwind and toward the clubhouse. This late into the race I figured it was going to be Rupert or Mark who could attack, but felt I was well enough positioned to be able to respond. Sure enough, Mark attacked on the drag but it wasn’t hard enough as I go into his slipstream and he carried me up the drag to the right hander, with momentum carrying us around the bend on out the other side. For me, this was ideal. By Mark attacking, it meant that the race was lined out a little, a sprinter's dream as it allows space to sprint but also the pace is high enough to prevent an attack.

The 2nd last left hander (before the left hander onto the finish straight)  is roughly 25 seconds from the finish line, so I knew I just needed to get about 20 meters out of that corner and I would have a 20 second sprint. Which is exactly what I did, I came out of Mark’s wheel and unleashed a Watt Bomb,  1,250w for 17 seconds, with a peak of 1,710w in there too.

The rest is history!