SERRL Benenden/Sandhurst 2/3 Road Race

Another weekend, another race

Actually, there were two races this weekend. First up was the CCL 2-up team time-trial on a modified course near Brickendon. Decent warm conditions welcomed those taking part on Saturday in the 10 mile event. I’d paired up with Arlen a while back and luckily (for me) I’d picked the ‘in form’ rider at the moment to drag me round.

Yes. Those are 90mm rims on the back of Arlen’s bike.

CCL TTT

The race was short and brutal, as any ride with Arlen tends to be these days. ’30 second turns and plenty of communication’ was the plan beforehand but it turned out to just be about survival and trying to save (some) face by pulling the odd turn where I was able.

I decided at the last minute to race my new Bowman Palace:R without testing the setup. This was a bad idea on one hand as I didn’t have a long enough stem on (120) to get in a proper position that I am used to. On the other, the course had some ridiculous descents, rough roads and tricky corners which the bike handled much better than my Emonda would have.

We were up against two other RPR teams (Crab + Big Mat and then Skel + Joe Bowers) with no idea how it would play out. Steve Coxshall was also racing but punctured 6 miles in so we never saw his challenge thrown down on the startline materialise. Someone created a segment as a ‘checkpoint’ for half way round in terms of time – here. Some 25 minutes and 329w (355w NP) of wheelsucking at 193bpm later, we rolled in with the winning time by about a minute to Skel and Joe, who in turn were just 1 second ahead of Crab and BM!

SERRL Road Race

Ride on Strava

I’d written a short ‘rant’ about SERRL’s pre-entry policy for races in 2017 (i.e. you can’t), but in the time it has taken to finish this write-up their policy has changed. The situation was:

  • Riders not affiliated to SERRL couldn’t pre-enter SERRL events
  • To affiliate you must be a member of a SE region club
  • Entry was by EoL only – riders entering online had entries returned
  • 42 people signed up to this race beforehand (field max = 60, only under-subbed RR I’ve seen this year)
  • Benenden is a long way to go to risk EoL

Since the race, SERRL now allow pre-entries for non-affiliated riders. The catch is you are subject to pre-emption in field selection to SERRL affiliated riders (which is fair). I.e. if there isn’t a full field of SERRL riders, non-affiliates can secure a guaranteed ride through British Cycling entry. Very sensible.

Anyway, Arlen and I decided to take advantage of the ~20 EoL spots available and drive down to get amongst it on Sunday afternoon. The CCL TTT hadn’t ruined the legs and I think Arlen used the word ‘taper’ at some point referring to the effort…

The Course

Another new course meant new roads to learn. The course starts mainly flat before heading into a bit of a screamer of a descent. The speed quickly comes off on two little drags before the big, fast main road at the bottom. The second half of the course features the real challenge: some bad surfaces with longer and steeper pitches as you climb up to Rolvenden before preparing for the slight drag into an uphill finish. The final ~7 minutes of each lap are usually the most painful. Each lap is approx. 10.6mi (17km) and our race would be over 6 laps.

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Click for interactive map, courtesy of Veloviewer

Race start

Adalta, PMR and Dulwich had big teams at the race, with a plenty of other notables flying solo. The first lap was largely uneventful with an average power of about 180w and the racing largely neutral. You could tell there were a lot of restless legs as we came through the finishing straight – attacks began to fly. The teams were marking each other and a few collective attacks started to form a decent group (with PMR, Adalta and Dulwich) up the road. I thought I needed to represent in the move so I jumped across on the descent.

Arlen and the rest of the bunch caught up a moment later and a big counter attack went. I counted them off and 2 PMR, 2 Adalta, 1 Dulwich had gone with a couple of others. Iwas a bit gassed from marking the previous move and by virtue of sitting next to Arlen in the bunch I told him the move looked dangerous and he needed to be in there (*expletive deleted when he didn’t immediately jump across*). On the next ramp he surged off the front, flew up the hill and bridged up to them shortly thereafter.

I sat around the front of the bunch looking for a cheap ticket to the front of the race but the window to bridge closed immediately after Arlen left and no counters got away – possibly because there was still some 80km to go. Adalta, PMR and Dulwich swarmed the front and jovially discussed how many riders from their respective teams were in the obviously winning break, and who should now be doing the chasing.

A couple flyers went off the front, most notably Oliver Robinson (winner of the SE Juniors champs on this course in 2016), but the break’s gap continued to grow out to about a minute and enough for a car to be in the gap and the break to be largely out of sight. Over the course of the next hour, the break’s gap is directly proportional to James Hayden’s (Paceline) watts. I think he saw the race situation and thought I can sit in a race for 10th, as many others were happy to do, or he could drill it on the front and at least have the chance of winning. Either way, watching him drive the bunch solo was impressive – if a rider got on the front and wasn’t pulling hard enough (they weren’t), he went passed them and did another turn to pick up the chase again. I’ve no doubt that if he was helped out, the race would have come back together. At 30 miles in and again at 40 miles in (on the climb to Rolvenden) the break dangled some 20-30s ahead of the bunch but nobody could quite make the catch.

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Strava Flyby of the race. Black line is me in the bunch, Orange/Green is the breakaway. Downward trending Organge line = Paceline was on the front.

A few attacks went to try and bridge across, but I tried to mark every dangerous one and the riders attacking expected me to work to chase down my teammate in the break. The result was no momentum for them, no escape got away and the bunch absorbed us minutes later.

The bunch threw out an anchor at 40 miles with the most relaxed pace of the day taking place on the penultimate lap, before some of the most interesting and aggressive racing I’ve been a part of happening on the bell lap.

  • A few opportunists got away on lap 5 of 6 – Neil Lauder (PMR – orange, below) rolled off the front with a deceptively casual move and started to bridge to the break (blue, below).
  • An escape formed at the top of the climb a few minutes before the finish and 5 guys got away from the bunch (dark blue, below)
  • Craig Joy (Bowlphish Bontrager) attacked through the finish line to take the bell and I followed him (Pink, below)

Sandhurst

With at least 6 in the front break with Arlen and at least another 6 in the gap between, I felt I needed to do something other than sit in on the last lap. We’d been given a time gap of ~2 minutes to the lead group but there were too many guys up the road and out of sight that I couldn’t see whether Arlen (in the lead group) would be caught or not. My attack through the finish to take the bell wasn’t chased and after a brief bit of hesitation I was in a 2up with Craig Joy (Bowlphish). We had 25 seconds to close on the group of 5/6 up ahead and we started to cut into it quite well. We swapped even turns a couple of times but he gapped after a few minutes and I was left to solo across.

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Attacking with 1 to go

I knew I had to catch the break before they turned onto the bottom of the course at Sandhurst or I’d be stuck in No Man’s Land because that bit of road is fast and had a slight tailwind. I could see they were working well just up the road (and in fact they had dropped a few riders) and I wouldn’t be able to get back against a coordinated chaingang on that road.

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The fast descent and little climb disrupted their momentum just enough for me to really push for the last bit across – I almost overdid it (~1m40s at 450w) and had to skip a few turns to avoid getting dropped immediately. It took 3.6miles and 8minutes to bridge the 25s gap.

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HR (top red line), W’bal (bottom red line), Speed (green) and Power (yellow) with lines for AP and NP

When I joined the 5/6 guys in the escape they were riding really hard turns with good organisation. Luckily that is just like a typical morning RPR session so I could get my HR down by being smart. I found the right balance of doing just enough work to keep the group rolling, but not too much so I could recover from the bridge.

Once we turned back towards Rolvenden and approached the lumpy part of the course the move broke down as people started hedging their effort for the finish. This wasn’t going to be good enough to stay away and a few discussions began about whether people wanted to work and place or get caught and not place. Nobody was overly keen to continue working with the move so I checked behind and could see the bunch about 15s back. Not wanting to be caught, I attacked the group over a little kicker with 2.5miles to go and went solo, trying to go as hard as I could up the  6% climb to distance the group.

A shoulder check after a couple of minutes showed Matt Holmes (Arctic Tacx) quickly bridging across and I thought I was in trouble. He looked pretty fresh and I hadn’t seen him attack previously in the race. James Hayden then came across and we caught two PMR guys from the initial break, with Oliver Robinson catching on shortly after. There was a lot of cat and mousing and even more guys caught on from behind, leaving us with a reduced group of about 7. I know Matt has a sprint (I’ve watched him ride away from me in the sprint at Cyclopark on occasion and saw him win the Nocturne last year too) so I was always looking for his wheel for the final. There was a lot of Matt trying to get me to kick first but at about 300m to go he went for it and I caught his wheel and it was a horrible 30s grind uphill to the finish. 750w for 30s later and I’d taken the sprint in our group.

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I got 4th, which I didn’t believe at the time as I hadn’t noticed catching most of the people on the road around the final lap because there was a lot of flat out riding going on. Even better, when I circled back to the finish and found out that Arlen had solo’d away from the break (attacking in basically the same place as me) at 2.5mi to go and came in clear. Two solo RR wins in two weeks for him, two 4ths in support behind for me. It is impressive as he was outnumbered by both Adalta and PMR. When sitting in the bunch their teammates were relaxed because they had two guys each in the break and were very confident of a result. I thought Arlen would struggle in that situation but he said he felt like he had them once the road went uphill, and proved it in the final.

One thing I’d not thought about through the race was the new Bowman I was riding (we aren’t sponsored by them – we bulk ordered a custom frameset). Cornering is so much better compared to my Emonda and I was riding with extra confidence from that. It just made everything a bit more enjoyable. I’d stuck my 140mm -17 stem on before the race and felt like the position was dialled. I just wish we’d have got the frames sooner from Bowman. It’s a great bike, but maybe that’s because of the high-vis yellow..

As ever, thanks for reading. The racing is really kicking off so there should be plenty of write-ups in violation of the 100 words / BC point rule.

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Photo: Digi Dave Photos

Final Stats

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Results

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