Graham Crow, Iain Palmer, Leszek Wuziak, James McCarthy and myself were in Milton Keynes for the Corley Cycles E123 stage race this Friday/Saturday/Sunday.

Bit of a long report again – long race.. We had more than our fair share of problems, mechanicals and out right equipment failures over the weekend. The racing was tough and the tone set by a totally insane first stage crit which left us a little lower than we’d hoped in the standings, but overall the race was great experience, teaching us that there are some areas in which were strong enough to play an active role in an elite level stage race, but that there are a few areas which we’d need to improve to do it again.

Going into it, James was only just recovering from a cold and enjoying a nasty cough. I was furious when I woke up on Thursday with a very similar cold, so went into Friday feeling pretty off my game.

Stage 1 Friday night – Milton Keynes Bowl Crit. 1h +5 laps of a circuit which is half drag around the back of the bowl and half technical narrow 90 degree bends. We all started in the middle, and from the start those on the front were driving the pace, braking into and sprinting out of each corner (an effect multiplied by the concertina affect to those further back in the bunch). On the drag, the pace was full out of the saddle sprint on each lap, so very little opportunity to move up there. After 20 mins I saw a gap open up 3 or 4 riders ahead of me and I wasn’t able to make it past those riders and get over, already close to 100% sprint and feeling pretty unwell. The broken up rear half of the race came back together and attempted to chase back, but finished a couple of minutes down on the bunch. I got a flat near the end, couldn’t get Les’ spare 11 speed wheel to fit (wider rim) before the group came around again so d.n.f (plus 1 hour in the time standings). Iain meanwhile was our one survivor in the bunch, but also suffered from a similar group fracture and came in 1m30 behind the bunch. Lessons learned: more spare wheels needed, and crit racing requires specific training – we’re all rather road focussed maybe?

Stage 2 Saturday morning – 55 mile RR on a short circuit with one long drag into a cross wind per lap (25 laps). Nerve racking lap of the course neutralised behind the lead car was unpleasant. Big break went away with the main teams in it. Les gets a nasty blowout in the first 30 minutes but is back in with a spare wheel from neutral support.. I’m still feeling pretty sick but come to the front to do a number of laps as part of the chasing effort with other teams in the latter half with Graham (working hard as always). Breakaway takes less than a minute on the Peloton which we all finish in.

Stage 3 Saturday afternoon – TTT 2 laps of the above circuit. Definitely need to have practised this before hand. In retrospect, through and off a safer option than short turns on the front. We were only 40 seconds down on the leaders over the 9 minute course, and could have made 10-15 of those back if we’d got that one corner just right and had been a bit smoother (I in particular wasn’t too good on that second point). No Mechanicals!

Stage 4 Sunday – 85 mile RR. 8 laps of a gently rolling course. Not much to do but sit in the bunch on this one. A break of 7 or 8 riders went up the road represented by several of the big teams but was caught with a lap to go. Quite easy going with the occasional bit of burn up the slope to the finish. A horrible 500 meter section of road had been de-surfaced and not re-surfaced in time for the race, causing a very high number of punctures, stretching the service vehicles to the limit. Graham got a flat early but made it back into the bunch with a new wheel.

An encounter with a horse caused the race to be halted, but during this, Les’ steerer tube sheared off just below the stem, leaving him on the tarmac and out of the race. Half way through I got my second flat of the weekend but was ignored by the stressed looking service vehicle driver as he was too busy giving a Pedal Heaven rider (who had flatted 20 seconds before me on the same unsurfaced road) a tow back onto the peloton. Race over for me too. Understandable giving the elite guys priority, but pretty gutting none the less.

In the last lap James’ wheels went out from under him on a different patch of gravel. The race ended in a bunch sprint up the hill with Iain and Graham in the middle somewhere. James came over the line a few mins later, having told the ambulance who wanted to drive him back to HQ that he wasn’t interested, dripping blood but far more concerned that he is recorded as having finished the race.

Congratulations to Iain, Graham and James for finishing. Maybe with a bit of different luck, both mechanically and in health terms, we’d have been able to give it a bit more.

Alex Tinsley

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