The penultimate round of the 2018 HSBC UK | Grand Prix Series would be a thrilling, positive race; bombing through a castle and surfing along cobblestones at full-speed sounds fun and was fun!
The 2018 Leicester Castle Classic was probably one of my best races yet 🙂
Damp roads, blustery winds and grey skies lingered around my house as I set-off, hoping for a change in weather. Arriving with a couple of hours till the race began, the weather-scene was identical to being back at home
After signing-in and having my bike gear-checked (for those of you unaware, I’m a junior and have gear restrictions), it was soon time to warm-up. The rain had eased, but wet roads remained as the clock ticked down towards race-time.
Below: De Montfort University was right next to the circuit and was en-route to the circuit from where we were parked.
T-minus 20 minutes
After a good twenty-minute spin on the rollers, it was time to inspect the course by bike. The 4km (2.5 mile) circuit started and finished on Western Boulevard, and would see riders head around the city for 20 laps, totalling 80km. We would circle King Power Stadium, home of the 2015/16 Premier League Champions Leicester City, before making our way up to Leicester Castle, where we would tackle cobbles and narrow chicanes.
Described as a technical circuit, the course would prove to be relatively challenging to riders. Gauging your entry speed into corners would be critical, especially with less grip due to it being wet.
Arriving at the start/finish with 10 minutes to go, I found myself at the back of the 100-man peloton with the likes of Ed Clancy, reigning Olympic, World and European Track Champion. This wasn’t anything to worry about though, as I knew I would work my way up through the peloton during the neutral lap and race.
GO GO GO!
The race began with a neutralised lap, led by a TV motorbike and a commissaire. The corners and “road furniture” such as speed bumps and pedestrian-islands led to bottlenecks in the peloton. The amount of accelerating followed by almost immediate braking was incredible; my rear wheel drifted a few times, caused by such erratic riding!
The smell of carbon fibre and rubber, created by this kind of riding, added to the tension and atmosphere. As the lead motorbike pulled away, the race began. The speed of racing skyrocketed, drawing out the peloton. I quickly moved up, and found myself mid-pack as we tackled the cobbles of Leicester Castle.
Laying down the power on the exit of corners, you could feel the slipperiness of the road surface. There is a fine-line between exiting a wet corner upright, and exiting it along the floor; a couple of riders pushed their luck too far and came down in the early stages of the race.
Quickly manoeuvring around their bikes and themselves, I set off in pursuit of the leaders, who had established a little gap due to the incident. Working with the likes of Madison Genesis, Team Wiggins and Team KTM UK, the chasing group reeled in the leading group.
As the race progressed, I could see notable riders being dropped from the action upfront, yet I was feeling pretty good. It was a little unexpected, to be honest! I was doing pretty well.
Riders launched attacks left-right-and-centre in a bid to get away and stay away. Tobyn Horton of Madison Genesis drew clear of the peloton, and was soon joined by Alex Richardson. The chase, led by Jon Mould (JLT Condor) and Joey Walker (Team Wiggins) strung-out the 40-man group. On the rivet along the back-straight, I just couldn’t quite keep contact with the riders upfront. Nonetheless, I pursued aggressively, burning several matches to bridge back, solo.
After a couple of minutes time-trialling solo, I bridged back to the chasers. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty spent, and tried to recover as fast as possible. Further attempts to bring back the leading-pair by others in the chasing group resulted in myself along with a couple of Vitus Pro Cycling riders being distanced. Working as a trio, we pursued the chasing group and soon found ourselves lapping at the same speed as the chasers, albeit around 40 seconds back.
With another chasing group not too far behind us, we decided to wait up and join forces. Our trio soon became a group of around 10 riders, who were working well. I was still feeling relatively strong, and did some lengthy turns on the front.
Prior to the start of the race, we were informed that riders not in the leading group would be “black-flagged” (pulled out) with 5 laps to go, and so we were.
I felt a little frustrated, as I was close to staying with the leading group for the entirety of the race, but nevertheless I was pleased with my performance.
The sprint-finish was an eventful one! A crash at the line saw second, third, fourth and fifth-placed riders crash, whilst the winner, Gabriel Cullaigh (Team Wiggins) walked away unscathed.
Thank you to the race organisers, commissaries, spectators and photographers for making the event as enjoyable as it was!
Thanks for reading 🙂