Jul 13

Condor Buckstone Flanders RR

Having never ridden this race before, but knowing that it had a section of unsurfaced road and a short section up a 20% concrete ramp, I followed the race organiser’s instruction to use training wheels and suitable gearing.

Not everyone did, and at the start line this generated a lot of air sucked past teeth given some of the carbon wheels on show but, to be fair, most of them survived the race.

So, with an 11-28 cassette on the back of my Ksyrium SLs and the normal 53-39 chain rings I thought I’d be fine. It was just enough. The 20% ramp was tough but it was the unmentioned, admittedly short, 25% corner that caused me the most difficulty.

From the start the road rises steadily for 2-and-a-half miles onto Saddleworth Moor, then turns left to descend steadily for 3 miles. It was on this descent that I made the big mistake of going off the front and putting in an effort that should have been saved for the climbs to come.

A sharp 120 degree left hander took us off the main road and onto a steeply descending narrow road with dry stone walls. The lead riders have caught me, the road narrows to a single track, gravel in the middle and a big hole on the left. Brakes are on, can’t see where the road’s going, just following the bike in front. Road swings down to the right under the M62 then we meet the left hander that we’d been warned about. Can’t pull any harder on the brakes or I’ll go over the top. Going too fast, thought I was not going to make it! Thankfully I did make it round the most off camber, slightly gritty, bend I’d ever had the misfortune to encounter only to be faced by a short steep climb. Multiple gear changes, out of the saddle, then downhill again towards the gate that marks the start of the unsurfaced road. Why is there a car doing a 3 point turn in the gateway? Braking hard again just as the car moves enough to allow the riders to get past.

(This section runs right next to the M62 eastbound carriageway so you can check it out next time you pass Scammonden reservoir).

The track only has the occasional pothole to avoid so initially we’re going fast but then the track levels out and starts to rise as we approach the concrete ramp. The concrete is broken at the bottom and the holes are filled with stones and gravel. Out of the saddle and going backwards as riders overtake me all the way up. More stones and gravel at the top, wheels spinning and a growing gap to the rider in front. Back on tarmac now, albeit some of the worst tarmac I’ve ridden over, and not closing the gap. Over the finish line, hit the 25% corner and I was cooked, dropped and still 4 laps to go!

The group behind caught me and I got on the back of it. They were working hard to catch the lead group but I was not recovering from the earlier effort. I couldn’t go on and stopped at the side of the road, slumped over my bars. 10 miles into the race and it was over. I was about to head back to HQ when I saw 2 riders coming up behind. Keith Middleton and Tony May are both in my age group and we are regularly battling over prizes. I set off again and we rode together, all taking turns on the front. The lead group was well away but the second group was never more than 400m ahead and, over the next 3 laps, we gradually worked our way back to them.

As we plunged down towards the M62 underpass for the last time I was third in line. The rider immediately in front of me overshot the horrible left hander and I was second in the group going across the track towards the ramp. Keith overtook me at the bottom of the ramp which I rode up seated for the first time as cramp was threatening. To my surprise I went up faster seated than when out of the saddle, and Keith was surprised to find me still on his wheel at the top as he’d previously always pulled ahead on this section. On his wheel as we hurtled across the potholed tarmac towards the line I was pondering when to attack, then the line appeared and it was over.

It wasn’t until we were back at HQ that we found out we’d been racing for 2nd and 3rd places in our age group. Punctures and the attritional nature of the circuit had taken its toll of the front group and only one other rider in our age group made it with them to the finish.

Lessons learnt – don’t attack on the first lap, stay seated on the climb and don’t give up! Bring it on again in 2016!

Neil Dean