This weekend was the Tour of Sussex, something that I’d been looking forward to for some time. I’d done it previously in 2013 and narrowly come 2nd. This year it was a very different race however, with an initial TTT, 3 road stages plus an ITT vs just the 2 road stages and ITT hill climb when I did it. Another crucial difference was that there were no time bonuses this time round. Last time I’d got into the position I did mainly because I won the first stage and got a 30 second bonus for it.
For this we had a very good team on paper, myself, Dom, Pat, Gareth, Sam and Tom, most of which had either done this event before, or other stage races with success along the way, Sam was fairly new to it, but had been going well and was keen to see how he would find it after racing a stage race in Wales the previous week. I was staying down in Eastbourne again for the duration as were most of the team, it had improved since last time in that you could now find acceptable coffee on the highst. We had scanned the startlist and to be honest, not seen too many familiar names. It was not being run with Surrey League this year and that, I think, meant that lots of teams you don’t normally see in the SL races had entered, this proved quite interesting as you’ll see! Gareth being Gareth soon started doing his research on everyone and everything (which is useful for the rest of us!) and he realised that among the VCL ranks was recently crowned junior road champ Jacob Vaughan. Added to that a load of other strong juniors they were fielding and a newish development team (DFL) supported by in-gear (who all knew each other as it happened) meant it was a fairly young field. And we were about to see that they were not just young, but also pretty bloody decent!
The first night was the TTT, we felt pretty confident, obviously I do a lot of time trials, Pat is very quick in TT’s, Gareth, Sam and Tom have also done a fair few with some strong results, and Dom was always going to be strong too despite probably not being a tester (he doesn’t believe in aero ha). Disaster struck however when Pat said he couldn’t get into the big ring with about 15 mins till our start time – di2 issues. We said that he should just try and cling on and see how he got on but probably not do much on the front for fear of slowing us. The course was rolling and about 8 miles long, it was probably going to take a bit under 20 mins, the plan was to do hard shortish turns and operate in a paceline (apt). The key was not to go off too hard…
5 minutes later I come through after Tom doing 600w+ in the first 1 minute of the event (idiot) and we all proceeded to go really bloody hard up the first climb. I put myself into the red, and I think everyone else was hurting too. We got it back together though and settled into a vague pattern. Pat was somehow able to contribute, not just hang on, but actually do strong turns both up and downhill despite only having a 39t, nutter! With about half way gone we were starting to split on the hills, and we ended up having to soft pedal a few times to ensure we kept it together. For the official finish time we could drop 1 rider only as we needed 5 to come over at the same sort of time, so keeping it together was key. With the final downhill section I tried to use my ballast to make the most of the situation and we flew over the line all pretty much as one, Pat included. It was pretty tough, and I’d got about 400W avg for our 19 minute or so time, so I knew we would be up there. We got back to find we had come 2nd, and DFL had taken the lead by a fairly big margin, then us, then a few secs back VCL. I think many of the teams expected us to perhaps win having spoken to a few after, but the boys in DFL put in a great effort to win.
It was at this point that we consoled ourselves by thinking that the young boys are probably from track background and would be excellent at this type of thing, but would they be able to do it on the road, over 4 days, well, we soon found out.
This was almost a carbon copy of the stage that I’d won in 2013, only that it was about half the distance, it was a 30 odd mile stage. Bit strange, but there we are. We all said that we would probably treat this like a rest day and just get round without losing time of showing ourself to the wind. 3 minutes into the first lap and Tom is off the front haha (a theme with us). He got brought back and then Pat had a go, same sort of thing happened, it was a very windy day so half the circuit was super fast, the other half quite slow into the headwind. Dom also had a dig, and I think the only people true to their words were Gareth and Sam who didn’t see the need to expend energy. At 15 miles one of the primes had just been and gone and I for some stupid reason thought I would have a go, nobody wanted to chase, which I thought was a bit strange as I’d won stage 1 of the May 3 day in similar fashion, but perhaps they knew the wind was too much and I didn’t. I had 2 laps to go when I went, I rode pretty strong the first lap and had a gap of about 30 seconds, but I could see on the long straight sections that the bunch was slowly closing. I kept going through the finish line and round onto the headwind section, with about 20 mins of full on effort I noticed a small bridge group coming over, I sat up and waited for them to get across – there were 4 or 5 of us, but I could tell we were not riding quickly enough and the frisky bunch was closing in, we were probably absorbed with a little over a mile or so to go, it was good because I could slot on near the front. I thought I might still have something to sprint with, but on the run in there were elbows everywhere and the young lads were right up among each other, the track background paying off here, I’ve not interest in being up against people at 35 mph, but they don’t mind! I rolled over for 12th or something with I think Jacob taking the win on that stage. All PL safely up there despite a crash back in the bunch.
This was to be about 50 miles road the Ladies Mile circuit – I’d not done this before but Pat and Dom who both had assured me it was a big ring job, which was good news. Its the finishing circuit to the Bec CC race, which is notoriously tough. The only curve ball was that we were also going to use the Bec finish which is a fairly decent little 3.5 minute climb up to the line. Not something that is all that common in SE races to be fair. Anyway, this race I really was not looking to do anything, and I think most of the other guys were of a similar opinion, apart from Pat. Pat was very active in this race and was away numerous times, I thought it might stick at one point for him, but the fast downhill was quite useful for the bunch to bring moves back it would seem. Gareth was last man, but had said he was going to come through near the end to try for the finish. I was trying to stick near the front and stay out of trouble which I did without too much issue. But being quite a rolling circuit I still felt like I’d had a workout without really doing any attacking #lard.
With the race now all together into the final climb it was obvious that some people had not had a look before hand as there were a lot of casualties who sprinted way too early. I was feeling ok moving up, gave it a bit of beans and saw Gareth fly up the outside of me, I kept going to the line to finish just behind the front few without losing much time, which was good. Gareth had got 5th and Pat was just behind me, but the other chaps had lost a bit of time here, a tough finish indeed. Gareth I think could have won this stage if he had started a touch nearer the front at the bottom! He did the same watts as me and it was evident as he was going pretty quickly!
GC was now a bit different, but still the juniors were up near the front with Jacob getting 3rd I think on that stage. From memory it meant Pat and I were in the top ten with Gareth pretty close at hand. However we were not going to make a call until after the TT that evening, after that we thought it would be clear how to ride the last stage, who to ride for or whatever else. In theory.
Normally the thought of having a time trial in a stage race would light up my day, this one however was more of an unknown! Firstly, much like the TTT, it was roadbike only (which is fair), but more importantly it included the climb from the sea front to the top of beachy head, then a lap of the circuit, which had a fast downhill followed by a long 5 minute climb back up to the top. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough it was 35mph gusts down by the beach, and if you’ve ever been up to the top of the head, you’ll know its pretty bare, it was even windier up there!!
Normally I don’t bother so much with shallow wheels and such as I don’t suffer too much in the wind, but after having looked out the window to see a large mature tree being blown horizontal, I opted to put a shallow front wheel in.
As per earlier in the race, I was now beginning to wonder if there was any weakness to the junior teams, my last hope was that because they were all still growing, that they might find it hard in wind like that, and may lack the outright power to put in a strong time in a 20 min time trial. I was off near the end, with Pat 1 min in front of me. I got off to a start and straight away felt how bad the wind was, I felt like I was crawling up the first hill, trying all the time not to go too hard. My legs felt good, but I knew there was so much to come. I got to the top and the wind was suddenly a cross head and it was brutal, not quite enough to push you off, but not far away. I really pushed on knowing this was likely the only place I could make time.
I was feeling good and even managed to get decent speed down the hill into the block headwind, the moment I turned the corner onto the last climb it went from being loud like a wind tunnel to pure silence. I think Simon & Garfunkle missed a trick personally, they should have added ‘tailwind’ to their song title, as to me, when it all goes quiet, that means the wind is RIGHT behind you. And sure enough, up the lower slopes of the climb I was doing over 25mph, nuts. I thought the finish was approaching a lot sooner that it was, I was quickly backing off when I saw Pat cresting the hill up above me round the hair pin, at least another 2 mins to ride. Damn. I crossed the line with about 20.14 on the garmin, 406W average and 21.5mph avg speed – the worst return for watts you’ll ever get! I chatted to Pat and he said he done a similar but slightly quicker time, which he had, about 6 secs better.
We got back to the hotel and had a celebratory beer and how well we thought we had gone. And to be fair our (Pat and I) times were good enough for top 10. Gareth, Tom, Sam and Dom slightly down, either by design or by circumstance. I was 8th and I think Pat was 6th in that one. However, our fears were confirmed when we learned Jacob had done 19.42. Which was almost 20 seconds quicker than anyone else and over 30 secs faster than myself (ironically the only other people near that were from DFL or VCL). A staggeringly strong ride for someone so small in those conditions. I’m not often impressed by a lot of the ‘full timers’ we come across in the region as most would be better served getting on with their lives vs chasing a dream that isn’t coming, but Jacob could very well have a big future in the sport, and a few of his mates likely too. He clearly has a mighty big engine on him – it was a touch depressing when we learned he was only 17! Ethan Hayter better watch out, looks like VCL has another potential pro in the making. Not surprising they subbed out Glowinski to Cutmill for this race with the talent they had onboard😉
After getting back late from the TT and wolfing down a steak and assorted veg, I wanted to try and get some sleep before the big day, sadly the seagulls had other ideas, sodding things. The results were in and Pat was 6th and I was 9th, 29 and 34 secs back on Jacob the new leader after the TT. And points jersey holder too. We decided that we should keep our powder dry and see if we could influence the race in the latter half, but the first hurdle would be stick the pace up the initial climb onto the circuit. Last time I did this stage, half the bunch were dropped here never to return. We started very near the front to mitigate that risk! And we all made it up there thank god, biut of a shock to the legs it was mind you. 5 minutes later Pat was up the road with a few others in the first move of the day.
It was quite clear that he was in a good move, and a few laps in they had over a minute and Pat was virtual yellow jersey. Meanwhile in the bunch, Tom had succumbed to the hill and peeled off, and Sam was yo-yoing. The following lap had me doing the same, and I was finding it tough up the steeper section, Gareth helped me get back on the 4th or 5th time up, and I said to him I had nothing to give and would probably get popped the next time. Over the top I saw a move go with Jacob and his chums present, I thought I would do one last job of trying to close it down, so I hammered it over the crosswind section into the downhill, it just about all came back together. These boys had been attacking each other all race like it was a 40+5 crit at Hillingdon, Jacob looked to be swinging the bike about, but clearly he still had something to give. The next time on the early slopes of the climb where only 12 hours ago I’d been churning out 400w and doing 25 mph, I was now struggling to hold that power and going considerably slower, I didn’t have it in the legs and let the group go, at this point yellow and green jersey had created a split and were off in pursuit of Pat and his breakaway companions. I said to Gareth that was my lot, he agreed that he had nothing left to give either. We both peeled off with 3 laps left to go – we could have limped round, but it wouldn’t have got anyone anywhere, and we would rather see Pat do the business, and hand him anything he needed from roadside (that is the party line anyway).
I went down to get the car and such as it was pretty cold up top, and came back up with one lap to go, sadly Pat had been slightly distanced from his breakaway group after running out of energy, perhaps another gel or one less lap and it would have been different. And there were now a couple out front being pursued by a relentless Vaughan and another junior. Rich Cartland and stage 3 winner Tom from ASL were out front, but I knew Jacob would make it over, and as they all approached the finish, out of the hair pins came Tom again to claim a 2nd stage win, followed by Cartland, followed by the yellow Jersey. Meanwhile Dom had been churning away with what was left of the bunch, and there was really not much of it. And his group sadly for Pat just caught him on the line. A cruel way to finish 3 hours in the break for Pat, but a solid ride from him and Dom to make it round what was a horrible stage.
There were not many finishers, and I’m not really counting the ones that trundled round to finish 20 mins down, there were a lot of casualties out there, and some of the young boys went so deep. Maybe it was a couple of laps too long, who knows. It sure made for a spectacle, and without doubt the strongest rider(s) were the ones who finished in the top few. Nobody could beat Vaughan, and perhaps rightly so given he was recently crowned junior national champion. The standard was much higher in general this time round. There were barely any clubs, no Dulwich, or Dynamo etc, now the race was full of teams, full of lean people with matching kit and bikes. Cycling has moved on a lot since 2013, and with the junior dev teams, this was a much tougher race than it was last time. And longer, of course. I would have preferred this to have come in May when I’d had a decent block of training behind me, but I didn’t feel like I was unfit, perhaps just lacking a bit of endurance owing to less riding in the first few weeks of a new job.
Pat finished about 10th, and Dom was not too far behind, a great weekend, was good fun and hard work. I wonder how much road racing I’ll do going forward as its not ticking the enjoyment box like it used to, but I’ll always be up for riding with a team from PL, it makes it much more fun than it would be as a solo rider. My only regret is not being any use to either myself, or anyone else on the last stage, but I probably have myself to blame for that for essentially doing a 20 min max effort every day leading up to the last stage.
All rides on Strava, and I’ll probably add pics to this when they come about, but hope you enjoyed reading! Next up for me is a string of time trials leading into the national 10 (where I expect I’ll be rubbish as its v hilly) and the 25, where I hope I can be towards the top again, and then I’ll do the Handicap champs and maybe the odd road race here or there, not sure yet.