We headed down to a sleepy village on the outskirts of Yeovil, called Queen Camel, on the Friday night –race day was Sunday. Out nutritional sponsors at Fuelit had sent us on our way with a care package and we were all set for the weekend. We got there late, grabbed some dinner and settled in.
Up early on Saturday we kick started our day with some TruStart coffee. This, coupled with the child like excitement that could only be brought by box-fresh race shoes and race socks for 3 out of the 4 riders, had us biting at the bit to get out onto the road.
All riders in the team had got on really well with the AM Sport products, both the bars and the gels, so Fuelit had kindly sorted us out with an AM biased care package! We grabbed a couple of different flavoured bars to try out on the recce ride and hit to road. The road race was 8.5 laps of a 16km course. This resulted in a race distance of just a touch over 140km. The key feature of the route was a relatively mild climb – not too steep , not too long (around 1 minute 45 seconds) but with a long gentle drag uphill after it, and a killer side wind once of the crest of the steepest bit – it was certainly going to be the key feature of the race, especially after 8 times of asking. We did 2 (relatively) gentle laps of the circuit, with one climb up the hill at what we deemed to probably be a gentle to race pace (~500w). We cruised around for another lap and tried out the AM sports bars we had. I used the cranberry ones – as I’d never tried them before, and they were delicious.
After the recce it was back to the house to re-fuel, hydrate and get an early night. This was where we’d learn our first lesson. A couple of mechanical niggles during the recce ride lead me to want to find a local bike shop, to have a few little things corrected. This ended up costing us a lot of time, and meant around 2 hours after the recce ride finished, we still hadn’t eaten – this was TOO LATE. We got back to the house and made dinner, had our recovery shakes, and prepared our water bottles and nutrition for the next day. We sorted out who wanted what, with Matt and myself choosing AM bars for throughout the race, whilst picking up AM gels and TruStart coffee bars as the race started drawing to a close. Mike and Ben went for AM bars with OTE and 32Gi gels towards the end of the race. We had a little sit down with the swannys, and went through roughly what we wanted when.
All nutrition prepped!
You’ve guessed it – up early and we all started with a TruStart Coffee. Perfect.
Packed up and off to the race we went. A slightly nervy ride over to HQ as it was the only bit of the course we hadn’t recce’d. We found it eventually and got signed up with a (little bit) of time to spare. A couple of AM Cranberry bars for me and Mike and AM chocolate for Ben and Matt set us up for the start of the race. With our supplies of bars in our back pocket. We looked around us to notice riders from Raleigh GAC, Madison Genesis, Bike Channel Canyon and Nuun Sigma, amongst others. All of which were well represented. We’re in for a hard day, then!
Ben and I somehow found ourselves on the commissares bumper as the car left the HQ. This proved to be a reasonable place for the neutralised zone, but obviously we were not the only people trying to occupy this space! Mike and Matt were perhaps two thirds back in the pack as we rolled out.
Out onto the course and the flag was dropped from the car, which meant race on. I knew someone would do the arbitrary km Zero attack, so I decided to throw one in there in an attempt to seem relevant! This was immediately shut down as the group didn’t want anything to go. First time up the hill and the pace seemed relatively tame (I’d live to regret this observation).
We went through the feedzone for the first time – obviously not needing bottles or food yet – but took note of where abouts our swannies were placed.
Ben and I were still well positioned, within the front quarter of the pack at all times. Ben had started eyeing up moves, and trying to follow a couple, whilst I was still sat in trying to defend my position and bringing the heart rate back down after my km zero heroics.
As the lap progressed I got caught behind a couple of slower riders around a tight left corner and lost a lot of places within the pack. I saw Matt and Mike pass me on my right and hopped onto Matt’s wheel. Matt, Mike and I spent the rest of the lap together. The teams at the front pushed the pace as we approached the bottom of Snap Hill for the 2nd time. This caused the group to be strung out as we went up the hill, which – whilst the pace being higher – probably made the climb slightly easier as there were less riders to get caught behind. Through the feed zone again and onto lap number 2 (of 8).
As we passed through the feed zone I made the mistake of going to the back of the pack to discard a water bottle and pass a message onto the swannys. This proved to be lesson number 2 of the weekend, don’t give up position in the pack! I never really recovered from this. The pace on the 2nd lap got increased and no one wanted to be caught at the back. I ended up in a constantly circulating group of riders that comprised the last third of the peloton. I managed to work my way back up to Mike and Matt, and tried to get some shelter – but again, the teams on the front drove the pace as we approached the bottom of Snap Hill. I survived up there the 3rd time by the skin of my teeth, having to dodge dropped riders at the back of the pack as we crested the hill. Chasing back on (only 10 meters or so) in a pretty horrendous cross wind.
Back with the group (albeit still at the back) and I managed to get one of my AM sports bars out of my jersey pocket – we were an hour into the race at this point, and I was aware that is was important I started getting some carbohydrates into me, whilst keeping hydrated. I love the AM bars, not only do they taste great – but they’re one of the few items of sports nutrition that both satisfy my want for food and also have a notable physical effect on me.
The next lap settled down a little bit, this is where I made mistake number three. Take your opportunities to move up through the pack. Whilst the gas is on, it’s hard to move up through the pack, especially not when you’re competing with riders at this sort of level. I should’ve taken this opportunity to move up – but unfortunately the temptation to remain where I was, and grab a breather, was too great. By the time we got back to the bottom of Snap Hill for a 4th time, I was once again in the back third of the peloton. This time the pace slowed down at the bottom – almost scarily slow, before the teams at the front injected a burst of power – and it split apart on the climb. I got caught behind 3 riders who were being dropped from the group. I had to get on the brakes, get around them and try and chase back on as we got over the hill. I had around 3 other riders with me at this point, and we started to relay, but unfortunately the pack kept the gas on after the crest, and this was to be the last of my meaningful involvement in the race.
Meanwhile further up the pack Matt and Mike had stuck with their position, and Ben was still further forwards yet – towards the front of the pack. A break of 3 riders had got off the front by this point and had a gap of about 35 seconds. This break forming and establishing itself had obviously been what had driven the pace up the lap before. I took up additional swanny duties, giving the lads left in the race 3 opportunities to grab bottles. The break came through the feed zone on the 5th lap with around a 25 second gap over the peloton – they were being reeled in. AS the group came through it was evident the pace was the highest it had been yet, with the peloton entirely strung out, coming through in single file. On the bit of road exposed to a side wind - splits began to form. Ben managed to make the favourable side of the split, with Matt and Mike getting caught in a groupetto behind. Ben tried to grab a bottle and 32Gi gel to help him out, but dropped it – he also went for the 2nd swanny’s supply – but dropped that too, leaving the swannies without enough time to grab extra bottles for Mike and Matt.
The next lap must’ve been horrendous, as the 6th time through the feed station, there was no longer a peloton and more like 7 or 8 groups on the road. A few riders had bridged over to the 3 that were clear and comprised a breakaway group of around 8 or 9, whilst the best organised and complete chase group, comprised of around 20 – including Ben. Ben had done a great job of keeping his nose clean and maintaining pack position. Unfortunately by the time the race passed the feed zone the next time, the chase group of 20 had split up further, and Ben was in the last group on the road – probably around 40 seconds down on the lead group – which was now made up of the existing 8 or 9 plus around 10 of the 20 man chase. He grabbed a AM caffeine gel and water bottle off the swannies and pressed on.
Ben held in with his group on the road to finish the race on the lead lap around 3 or 4 minutes down on the lead group. Tristan Roberts of Raleigh GAC took the win, with Joe Evans (Madison Genesis) and Ben Strain (Radeon) coming in 2nd and 3rd in a reduced bunch sprint.
Racing a Nat B was a fantastic experience and is the level that we aspire to compete and be competitive at. We know that there’s probably a few more humbling races, and a handful of lessons still to learn – but with the support of our sponsors and the incredible products we get to fuel us from Fuelit – we know we can make our mark. In the meantime, at least the team has a tight shoe game.