Whilst putting myself at severe risk of stating the blindingly obvious, I must say that the Tour of Galena is a seriously fun weekend of bike racing. You all know that by now. I had one of my best racing experiences to date, marked by fast, safe-ish racing with the masters group, brilliant XXX teamwork, and the overcoming of my own usual weaknesses on the bike (riding up hills) to secure a great final result.
My targets going into the race were to feature in the omnium, and perhaps go for the crit, where I usually feel confident with a half-decent sprint on a good day. I wouldn’t have a chance in the road race (and was easily dropped by the lead climbers last year) so that would just be for fun or helping team mates…
The TT is short, and not so sweet. I gave it everything on the way out and just tried to hold on to the pace as much as possible on the way back. I was definitely well spent by the line, which I know is probably a good thing, and was delighted to finish in 6th place to pick up a few points.
The Road Race was a surprise to say the least, and the result will be a happy memory that may last for a while. A large front bunch mainly stayed together for the first lap or so, and XXX did a lot of work. Adam, Kevin, and Jim set a good pace for long sections, with other strong riders taking long pulls as well. I took a few myself and tried to push the speed on a few flat and downhill sections to mix things up a bit too. There weren’t too many mammoth attacks until the closing stages. There are two key points for the Galena course which I kept in mind throughout, and used to good effect:
1) get to the front of the group at the start of the climbs so that you have time to fall back without getting dropped, and
2) make an early charge on the closing stages of the finish, before the sharp, difficult corners coming back into to town.
I followed point 1 as much as possible on each climb, including the final ascent of the North Ford Road Winery hill. The lead group did not hit it at a fast pace, and, crucially for me, nobody made a huge attack at the start of the climb. I started the hill at the very front of the race and dropped back many places, but felt I was still in it as we crested the top, where a small group had gone off the front. I could see it was a now or never moment and summoned a second wind to give an all-out chase to the lead group of about 6 riders. One other rider tried to go too but didn’t make it, and I had just enough in the tank to bridge solo, joining just as we hit a long descent. Myself and Mark Elsdon, of Great Dane Velo who eventually finished second, both sensed that the break could stick and screamed at the others to work together as much as possible to keep it going; we kept a tentative lead on the chasing group, which was still in place at the start of the final Guildford Road climb. I have dreamt of getting into a bona fide break since I started cycling and loved every second of it: there would be no way I would allow myself to be dropped on the final testing hill. I dug very deep and stayed in touch to the top whilst we shed two or three of the others, leaving a final group of (I think) four. Fourth would be a great result for me on a race like this, but as we approached Galena I started to think about my potential as a sprinter, and focus on the strategy for the finish (Point 2 above). The other guys were clearly much better climbers, but perhaps none of them had fully gone for it on the hills, so I had a chance to capitalize. We had to keep working to maintain the break, and most were happy to pull, while the few lone attacks on the closing flat and downhill stretches were easy enough to hold on to. As the town came into view I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Sitting in about second wheel, I bided my time as we took the left-hand corner downhill into Galena and attacked just before the tight right-hander, took the lead and gunned it up the small sharp hill. I lead the race into the first left turn, and the second, went as fast as I dared around the final right hander onto the finishing straight, then stood on the pedals and opened both taps for the line. A textbook Randy Warren Bike Throw just in case and the win was mine. I still don’t know how far behind the other guys were, but I know that starting the technical final section in the lead was crucial. Happy Days.
The Omnium table was very tight overnight, meaning Sunday was going to be fun. Mark Elsdon and Peter Monko (of Spidermonkey) had finished behind me in the road race, but at the front of the TT, meaning they shared a 3 point lead overnight. But I happened to fancy the crit, and there were tons of points on offer. Still on a high from the previous day, the crit was such fun to be a part of from start to finish. XXX set the pace for a good chunk of the race and I had some strong team mates to follow. Andrew Lowe of Psimet Racing made a brilliant lone attack after an early prime and did a great ride to hold off the pack to the end: I was happy for him and he wasn’t an omnium threat. In retrospect perhaps I could have tried to go with him for maximum omnium points, but it wasn’t an option if I wanted to feature at the end of the race too. Nikos’ solo move on the sprint points to take the Cat 3 omnium was a thing of beauty, but there is only one of him on the team.
I tried to be as aggressive as possible in both the mid-race sprint and the finish, and teammates were right there as usual. I went head to head with Monko for both: he beat me by a tire width for fourth in sprint, but Elsdon didn’t feature so I cut his omnium lead on me to two points. The recovery was very tough but I managed to stay near the front as the pace ramped up again for the finish. In the final two laps, the Barclay Wheel was a brilliant one to follow and pulled me right through the start/finish straight at the head of the race; just as Jim began to tire, Kevin came through perfectly and I surged to get in behind him. Kevin pulled all the way round to the final corner at an amazing speed, and was very close to catching Lowe, who was still hovering out in the lead. After some controversial maneuvering, a Got Wind rider attacked from behind us but couldn’t pass Lowe on the line, who held on for a nice win. Behind them I was left to duke it out with Monko again, and this time beat him in the sprint to the line, finishing in third place. Elsdon was too far back, so I overtook him for the second step of the omnium while Monko finished two points ahead at the top.
A full set of awesome Bill Barnes original medals was a nice prize for a great weekend: bronze for the crit, silver for the omnium and gold for the road race. Adam and Kevin both got top ten results as well, while Jim got the annoying 11th spot, no doubt as a result of working too much for others all weekend. Saturday’s breakaway and win were a highlight of the weekend, as was flying round Sunday’s course on Jim’s and then Kevin’s wheels at the front of the pack on the final lap. I hope I can return their awesome sacrifice sometime soon and can’t wait to help them in future races: perhaps I’ll mow their lawns and alphabetize their DVD collections as well.
My good fortunate came whilst other far more talented team mates had some rotten luck with far too many nasty crashes over the weekend, and it was too bad to hear about the various falls and broken bones. RIP Josie III, Long Live Josie IV.