I returned from the Alps pretty tired and my recovery the next week was feeling pretty slow. This might’ve been since I was playing 5-a-side against 12 year-olds at a secondary school; I had started work experience as a PE teacher. But when my phone rang asking me if I wanted to ride the Tour of Sussex with Team OnForm the following weekend I only had one answer…
Stage 1 – ITT/Prologue: 2km
Hot, humid and a strongly negative TSB set me in a snoozy mood for the evening prologue up Ditchling Beacon. Pumping some tunes out on the rollers in an attempt to get in the zone, I cruised to the start feeling a little readier to go.
Having ridden the climb once before on a London-Brighton-London training ride, I remembered the finish was after a right-hand bend. Unfortunately the beacon has several of these bends, all looking uncannily similar to a fatigued, 20 year-old cyclist with lactate pumping through his legs.
I started fairly smoothly, holding a steady effort into the base of the climb. But when the road snaked off to the right-hand side, I proceeded to sprint into it, with the belief I was about to crest the hill. As such, I did a sort of horrific over-under interval, blowing up and having to recover before going max-out again into the next right-hander. It didn’t help that the race manual listed the course as only 1.4 km…
I finished with a time of 6:30 which put me 30th on GC.
Stage 2 – Team TT: 11km
The following morning started with a team time trial. It basically went up one hill, along the top and down the hill again. Not the best for a team with a 50-something-kilo climber (Oli Smee) and a 70-something-kilo sprinter (James Ambrose-Parish). Elliot Joseph and myself made up the four man team. It probably didn’t help that we’d only met the previous evening, never mind ridden together.
With the help of gravity, Oli pulled Elliot and myself up the climb leaving James far behind. He then cowered in the wheels of Elliot and myself (whom gravity favours when travelling downhill) whilst we smashed down the descent to the finish line.
Although it felt like a bit of a disaster, our ride placed us 5th out of 20 teams. But although I had moved up overall in placing, I was growing further away from the lead in terms of time. Team ASL had put in a blistering ride leaving me a whole minute down on the yellow jersey.
Stage 3 – Goodwood Crit: 69km
A peloton fueled up on complimentary protein coffee rolled up for the crit around Goodwood race circuit, which would follow the morning’s TTT. The wind and exposed tarmac meant the difference between riding on the front and in the wheels was laughable. One lap off the front was enough for me to confirm this and I sat in for the rest of the race once g pulled back by the bunch. Although not a massive effort, it had left me feeling a bit wank. Furthermore, my team mate Elliot had made the break of the day which gave me a nice excuse to do absolutely nothing. I avoided crashes, going over threshold and rolled in behind James A-P who won the bunch gallop.
Stage 4 – Ladies Mile RR: 91km
I was eager to leave my mark on this stage, as all of the previous stages hadn’t really suited me. Certainly the results hadn’t suited me! I was also probably the only rider feeling less tired than the previous day, as the fatigue from France dissipated. As such, I was nervous not to miss the breakaway.
Attacking from the gun with one Bowlphish rider, we were joined by others until a group of about 20 strong was working well together, ahead of the peloton. However when the large group was pulled back, I knew another split would go imminently. I dug in and went with the first attack up a steep climb. After a bit of huffing and puffing over the top, a group of five of us was rolling away from the main pack. Our gap grew quickly. The bunch must’ve been tired from dragging back the first break, and were clearly less worried about a smaller group up the road. My team mate Elliot was driving the pace like a man possessed, allowing me to contest the prime sprint. I came second which bagged me 5 bonus seconds: cheeky.
On the last lap a few riders began to slow and I realised others were flagging from their efforts. Keen to hold the peloton at bay, I put in a leg-testing attack in the saddle. Glancing back I saw I had gap of a few bike lengths. This was the moment. I rolled the dice, pushing on in the saddle. Not looking back this time, I emptied the tank and pushed hard on the pedals.
Stage 5 – Beachy Head RR: 104 km
I was confident going into the final stage, now sittting at 4th on GC. The race rolled out from Eastbourne seafront. My top-secret was to hold back whilst the current podium tired themselves out attacking each other, leaving me to hit them late on with fresher legs. The masterplan was soon put on hold. I was going very hard sooner than I’d have liked, as the race was deneutralised on a steep hairpin climb out of the harbour. I managed to emerge at the front end of the field and held this position for the rest of the race. Behind, riders would be steadily spat as the K’s rolled by; each climb up Beachy Head eating away at the size of the pack.
A couple of riders managed to get away after about an hour of racing but I didn’t panic. The current GC podium were all within eyeshot. One particularly tough lap caused a split which saw me off the front along with the yellow jersey (Joseph Murray) and a handful of others. But our lead was was soon brought back by Team ASL who’s riders were sitting second and third on GC.
Frustratingly, on the last lap, cars came between what was left of the main group. Murray, along with two others, managed to steal away a large gap. Myself and the other riders were stuck behind the traffic, powerless to react. Still, I knew I had to try to limit my losses. I felt it hard to move up on the final climb, but managed to contest a top 10 on the stage. At the finish line I learned that one of the riders up the road was now well in contention for the overall win and I was sure I’d dropped on GC. To add to my displeasure, I realised I had a slow puncture. No wonder the last climb had felt draggy.
Still, all-in-all the weekend had been a success. I’d got some quality racing in with some mates, and managed to pick up a stage win to boot. I still felt tired from my block in the alps but hopefully my success would be a taster of things to come in the next few weeks.
Still a chopper at heart
Race savagery rating: 6/10
Final Result: 9th
Learned: If you start a stage race tired, you’ll feel fresher by the end >.<
Thanks to Tour of Sussex for the photos.