I have been up north before, primarily to Manchester to the Velodrome, however never before to the host towns of the North West Youth Tour, Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster. The format of the race saw a short 2km Prologue in Blackpool on Saturday morning, followed by a road stage that afternoon. We then had another two stages in Lancaster before the final stage in Preston on Sunday morning. So off we set, Germain Burton, Mum and me, a nice five hour slog in the car to "The North".
My Prologue went reasonably well, it was an out and back course, starting with a strong tailwind and then turning to return into the headwind. I liked it that was around, allowing me to ride into the effort a little. I felt like I had absolutely flown along the slight downhill opening kilometer and the turn went well as I started to push into the wind. I ended up losing about four seconds, most of which must have been due to my misjudgement of gears into the wind. Choosing to spin a little too much, rather than grind my way into the custard like air.
The afternoon saw us using the same circuit, with the race to be run over twenty eight laps. I liked the small climb, rough in the center and with a tight corner at the top followed by some rough stuff and a slight bit more uphill with the wind behind you. The only real event of the race was a puncture about a third into the race, about two hundred meters after the line my rear went down in an instant and due to the rules I had to ride the rest of the lap on it. This wasn't too much trouble and I was confident of staying with the group, the tire was making an absolute racket and very nearly slid of on the corners, however luckily not. I loved how everyone in the Bunch felt the need to tell me I had punctured, like I didn't already know; with the combination of its flapping and banging around, plus the fact I was riding on the rim (not all that comfortable), it was pretty evident.
With it being a British race I had the luxury of a lap out, however riding on the flat was still good practice for Kermesses and such abroad, where no laps out are given. A couple of times I had tried moves up the hill but nothing had worked, the winner of the Prologue had managed to break away however, and although the bunch came close to catching him, he eventually won by eight seconds. The Brits where marking eachother very tightly with today being the final qualifier for the European Youth Olympics, a fair tactic, however until the last lap it did neutralise the racing a little.
With the bell on the line I set myself up for one final go up the climb, pressing on through and after the corner for hopefully maximum effect. It worked and I had jumped away with Chris Lawless (MaxGear RT/North West Region), we span ferociously away from the bunch and I won the sprint for what I thought was second. However somehow, and I am pretty disappointed about this, as it means I wasn't being as observant and aware of moves as I should of been, a Czech rider had also managed to escape the bunch and nick second.
I was in second on GC, however nineteen seconds down on the Belgian Nathan Van Hooydonckx.
Sundays course was a pretty tight and short mile long affair, with the racing run in one direction in the morning, and then again in the opposite direction that afternoon. The morning was wet, something I was pretty pleased with as it would make the course more challenging. As usual rumors circulated about how slippy the course was, everytime riders heard this they would let a little more air out the tyres. I tried to stay out of this a little, trusting my own judgement and getting in race mode. I had a few digs of the front, however nothing was sticking on the flat. I was pretty well positioned coming into the bunch kick, getting my elbows nice and shiny and eventually coming in third. Ollie Wood prevailed with what turned out to be the quickest sprint in the race, however I had grabbed a few valuable seconds with third and was still in contention.
The afternoon, unfortunately, saw the sun coming out and the course drying up. It made for some very tight and nervous racing, and eventually another bunch sprint. However in the meantime, with about five laps to go, I went flying over the handlebars, I havent a clue why but I can confirm there was some very dodgey riding in the bunch that day. I remember going over and over in slow motion, then landing on my back to the sound of three or four riders smashing in behind me. I jumped up straight away, thinking "GC, GC, GC" (General Classification. I was soon back on my way and after a laps chase I started to move up the bunch. I entered the sprint just inside the top fifteen and finished about twelfth, really annoyed to have crashed, feeling that with one more lap I might have been able to get right back to the front of the racing and contend the sprint. As it turned out afterwards I had taken a nice chunk of flesh out of my elbow, my first crash in a while, but had come of pretty lightly compared to Luc Hall and Matt Flynn, the two riders who had jettisoned into me, as I took a nap on the tarmac. Luc had cracked his top tube, and Matt broken his brand new rear wheel in half, sorry lads! But I am confident enough in my own abilities to say it was my fault...
Sunday and with a pretty stiff elbow and hip I looked forward to some more wet and windy racing. Germain and I talked that night in our hotel room, about any efforts to get away the next day, both knowing it would be hard to make anything stick on another flat course. With some pretty tough conditions, plenty of dirt and rain, it was great racing, but unfortunately anyone high up on the GC was being marked very heavily. I got in a few breaks, including one with a Czech and two Belgian riders, the two Belgies sat on and the Czech rider and I dragged them round for a couple of miles, before we where eventually caught. It was frustrating as now fourth on GC, I really wanted something to go, to gain some time and hopefully go for the win. It was not to be and I finished fourth on the stage, grabbing a few seconds of time bonuses and holding my place on the General Classification.
With Fourth overall, I was a little disappointed not to have gained more time on the Blackpool Stage but also pleased to have put in a decent result.