The 4th of June was the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo Road Race event held near Peterborough, and five Racepace athletes were competing. The race acted as a qualifier for the 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships - essentially the world amateur champs, to be held in Albi (France) in August, so competition was fierce. Racepace would be well represented with coached athletes Victoria Kollard and Ben Slaven, and cyclist Jason Heald all aiming for qualification. In addition were coach Rodger Wilkins and myself (Beau) who both had slightly different objectives; for me, it was a great opportunity to test both my recently enhanced skills and fitness as well as learn more about two of the athletes I coach.
Having travelled down the day before and stayed in a great place just a few miles from the event HQ it was great to to spend some time with Ben and Victoria in the run up to, and directly before the race start. Travelling down, enjoying a pre-race evening meal and staying in the same accommodation together all made for a good team atmosphere, and made the weekend a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Furthermore, being able to speak to two athletes I work closely with directly after their races was invaluable in being able to evaluate the race and get the best possible sense of how each of them went about everything.
The race comprised a flat and fully closed-road 127km course around the countryside to the South of Peterborough with the start and finish at the Peterborough arena. It was a great venue with plenty of parking for the 8000 riders taking part and space to assemble everyone before the start. I was in the first group to set off along with all the other male 18-34 year olds; Ben was in the next group three minutes later, followed by Rodge and Jason, and then Victoria, all in their relevant start pens.
The flat route made for fast racing and there were plenty of great road surfaces to be enjoyed, which was conducive to some large pelotons forming as people tried to stay in contention with those in their age group. However it wasn't all plain sailing as brutal crosswinds in the middle section of the race and headwinds in the latter stages made it tough going and really broke up the groups. I managed to stay in the front group of less than 20 in my age group and enjoyed being challenged, having never really raced in cross winds before - it was great to see an 'echelon' in action as people lined diagonally across the road trying to shelter from the wind. I was happy to make the top 20 in my category in a very strong field, finishing in 3.03.09, and would definitely say it was the hardest three hour ride I've done!
Rodge and Jason were in one of the most competitive races, meaning they set off in a very fast paced group, from which the overall quickest riders of the day would come. Having the ability to really produce a lot of anaerobic power can give a person the ability to sprint in the finale of a race like others can not, but it also means if they're forced to use this energy before the end of the race it takes a long time to recover. Rodge, who wasn't aiming for qualification, used the event as training for his draft legal triathlon races later in the year, so he gave his absolute all to stay in contention in the top group and unfortunately, after two hours of intense racing, the strength and power of the bigger riders pushed him to the point where he couldn't stay in there any more and had to try and recover to make it to the finish. Jason, having initially been in that group, did want to qualify meaning he did what was best to get his quickest finish time. He ended up in the second group when the initial peloton split, and rode at a more appropriate pace for him, and subsequently was able to re-pass and finish more strongly than Rodge which placed him in the top 25% of the category to successfully earn qualification.
Both Ben and Victoria were able to put to use some of the tactics and skills we've been working on in training as well as their fitness. It was also brilliant to hear Victoria's feedback that some of the things we discussed directly before the race were still with her during the heat of the battle and she felt it was beneficial to her performance. After a really tough day out for everyone it was great to hear both had qualified for the World Championships by finishing in the top 25% of their respective age categories, with Victoria doing fantastically well, pushing into the top 20 positions. Ben managed himself well in a very competitive age group, maintaining his focus on the task at hand to finish in the top 20% of his category. In both cases it is certainly testament to their hard work, commitment and willingness to be challenged that they have been rewarded with qualification. Both are now excited to train hard, prepare meticulously and then race in the World Champs in August, where Jason will also compete.
All in all it was a great event and I'd definitely recommend it to any competitive cyclist or particularly to any triathlete looking to challenge themselves and broaden their skill set.