By Dougal Toms
Last weekend I travelled down to Bristol to race at round two of the Junior National Road Series, the Screentek International Junior Tour of the Mendips. Having raced the two-day event last year, I knew it was going to be tough, especially with the addition of a 7.5km time trial in this year’s race.
Day one consisted of a rolling individual time trial and then a 115km road race in the afternoon. Having missed my first big race of the season, due to illness, I was nervous as to how my legs would be. Setting off six riders from last I knew what time I had to beat, although had no expectations of getting close. I crossed the line in 10:54, 26 seconds down from the winner and fairly content that I had managed to limit my loses on what I knew would be the hardest part of the weekend for me.
Unlike last year’s edition, which was raced in a hail storm and gale force winds, the sun was shining and it was a tropical 20 degrees. Saturday’s road stage involved one major climb (neutralised) then 7 laps of a rolling circuit – a day for the sprinters. I was hoping to avoid crashes and save my legs for Sunday’s queen stage, which I knew would be brutal. The racing was fast and no one was getting more than 30 seconds up the road before being pulled back in. I bridged to a few early moves but nothing went and I was happy to sit in after that and avoid trouble.
With a lap to go, however, the race was neutralised and eventually black flagged after a serious crash meant a rider being airlifted to hospital and the road being closed. I was happy to get the stage over with and rolled back to HQ, looking forward for the next day’s stage.
Living and training in Norfolk isn’t the best preparation for racing in the Mendips, however, I was ready for Sunday’s stage – 80km and 3 main climbs – totalling 1300m of climbing. My legs weren’t feeling too sharp as we rolled through the neutralised zone, however, once the flag dropped I started to feel better. The first, long climb was fairly steady and I managed to stay near the top five, waiting to follow any attacks. Nothing went and the peloton was largely intact over the top of the climb. The second climb of the day came at around 50km in. Although fairly short, it ramped up to almost 25% immediately and last year blew the race apart. I was positioned well coming into it and made the front split over the top 2km later. It would be a group of about 25 who would contest the last climb and stage victory as we stretched our lead to around a minute in the next 20km or so.
The finishing climb, although not necessarily the steepest or longest, was going to hurt. I had made the mistake of attacking from the bottom last year so knew I was going to sit in for as long as possible until the attacks started to come. A group of five eased off the front with around 1km to go, but I didn’t have the legs to follow. I sat on the front, riding at my own pace, hoping it would stretch the group and cause some time gaps.
I crossed the line 2nd from our group and 7th on the stage. Happy with how my race had gone I just had to wait for the results to come in – I finished 12th on GC, just 1 second from the top 10 and 11 seconds off the podium. Very happy with my first national of the year and can’t wait to get stuck into some more racing!
This weekend is a double header with Fakenham Crits and the Alan Rosner Memorial. As always, thanks to our sponsors and everyone who helps out! Pedal Power Cycles, Morgan Blue, TORQ Fitness, Hudson Teamwear and Spectrum SG.