Last weekend saw me leaving the red and black Cch kit at home for the Eastern Region 'Royal Blue' Uk School Games skinsuits.
The Sainsburys Uk School games, in Newcastle and Gateshead this year, was in its 5th edition, the second with Cycling as an event. The games are a huge event with 1600 athletes, 1000+ volunteers and two huge opening and closing ceremonies.
We met at midday at Stevenage Station; four boys, four girls and two coaches. We boarded the 3 and a bit hour train journey with the Central cycling team after putting all our bikes, rollers, spare wheels etc in the British Cycling Van. Upon arrival at Newcastle we all jumped into a coach, along with some fencers and drove to our accommodation. The games where putting all staff and athletes up in the Newcastle Uni Student housing, single rooms felt like such a luxury after a season of 6+ doorms, although at the same time having to go out into the communal area to talk was a little of a drag. My conclusion: less sociable but so much better for sleeping!
Friday started with a team crit around a very tight 1km circuit around a park, it was narrow, had a sharp corner and a decent 200m uphill sprint. I liked the circuit, the team competition was similar to the way a tour series is won, with the first three riders from the teams positions counting to an overall score. I got in an early break and stayed away with about 8 riders, after half the race I had already lapped two teammates so knew the opportunity for sucess would be limited, I decided to push on and secure the best result possible in a hope it would atleast help! On the day I came 4th, I would very much like to think I would have had 3rd but for a whole bunch of lapped riders blocking up most of the finishing straight. I finished pleased with my ride and looking forward to the afternoons individual race.
The afternoon race followed a similar pattern with about 45 mins of racing at high speeds and very close quarters. With lots of adrenalin flowing from the fast and tight course, guys where all over the place bumping and bouncing off eachother like a true belgian kermis! I stayed well placed throughout the race, and made numerous attacks, I had come into these games with nothing to lose, however a very strong North East team controlled the race and it finished in a bunch sprint, I came in around 20th. I was happy with the mornings work but annoyed that I had not made something of a good course in the afternoon.
Saturday was the day of the TT, Individual in the morning and then a Team Time trail in the afternoon, it was a great course with one draggy hill and shorter hill with a few ramps. It was a technical ride with sharp corners, lots of wind and a very narrow section along the side of a river. I managed to borrow an Aero helmet of a friend, and although I wasnt feeling 100% I still put in a decent ride to put in 6th, not all that far from the Podium, beating quite a few good guys, I deffinetly felt my lack of TT experience, finding it hard to no exactly how hard I could push myself and still last the distance, the answer I think would be quite abit harder.
The afternoon was the TTT (team time trial), it would be contested on the same course as the morning. The team went well over the two laps, and we briefly sat in the holding pen, however two or three rides later and we where off back to the camp to recover for the Road Race the next day. It was not a bad performance for a team riding for their first time together, espeically considering there where rumors that some team had been training together for 'atleast' a couple of weeks!
Sunday was the final day, and with it came the biggest and best race of the long weekend - the Road race! On a similar course to the TT, with two decent hills and some very exposed roads, it was going to be a very interesting 70km of racing. First lap and other for a wrestle for the corner at the bottom of the steeper hill it was very uneventful. The second and third came with digs on the hill but nothing much to properly split the field. Fourth time up the hill and the bunch lined out a little, after the hill was a km long straight, with a strong headwind and sharp corner at the end. Just after the corner I put in an attack coming into the finishing straight and got clear with two other riders, a welshman and a north east rider.
After 10km of a 68km race I was well off the front smashing. It wasnt all so simple though, the games had an overall prize for the best team over all races, Wales and North West where the two teams battling it out at the top. Everytime we passed the finish line, the team coaches screamed at the two riders with me to stop working, and I shouted at the to work more! The other issue was that after the hairpin the peloton had full view of our break, this allowed them to be in complete control and judge our gap every lap. Around half way through the race and we had a comfortable 2 minute gap, I was pushing hard, possibly to much for the time! Then with around 6 laps to go on one of the straights I crashed! The rider infront slowed down every so slightly as some wind hit me from the side, I hit the side of his rear wheel and started to lean over slightly, I managed to free my wheel and then slammed left onto the roadside. Next thing I new I was sitting on my arse on the road side, I jumped up, and got back on the bike. Read any cyclists version of a crash and you will hear the same, you jump up, jump up and down, then jump on! My chain got jammed but then the support car driver jumped out and pushed me away. I sprinted away and felt a very stinging pain in my lower back and coxic, the riders up the road where hesitating slightly so pushed on through the pain to get across.
Just as I bridged back across, 3 riders from the peloton had done the same. Jonathon Dibben the race favourite had come across. Next lap the Welsh rider I had been all day was unceremoniously dropped, next lap Dibben attacked and the lap after the North West lad was gone. Jon Had a huge gap but we still pushed on, all three of us knew eachother well from the recent Ronde Van West Flanders where we had been team mates, but I was really hanging on for dear life. The pain in my back had come back, I guess the adrenaline that had been pumping all day had run out! With 2 and a bit laps to go I went off the back for the final time and lost contact, the next group came past but I had completely blown and was in serious pain. I eventually finished around 18th, I dont remember much after the line other than my coach pushing me to the medic tent! Turned out I had cracked my helmet in about 8 places, got some very sore whiplash and heavily bruised my coxic!
Was still a very good days racing, and something we need much for often in the Uk!