Courtesy of Matt Pumo

4th July 2014

This past Sunday saw the first running of one of the longest and hardest LVRC races in many years – The Battle of Edge Hill Road Race.  The race covered 93 grueling miles with lots of steep climbs.  £2,500 in prize money was on offer for the overall winner (£200), KOM, King of Sprinters, Most Aggressive Rider and also Team prize.  This ensured that the field included some of the best riders in the country.  Upon arrival at HQ the first conversation I overheard was “So which Olympics was it that he competed in?”.  And the group next to me was debating whether or not one particular rider was still riding for Poland.  It soon became clear that this was a very classy field and that it would be a very long, very hard day.

The field of approximately 70 riders left the neutralised zone at 10.30am and it wasn’t long before we hit the first climb – the 3rd Category Friz Hill.  My heart rate was soon well into 90% territory just to stay with the peloton.  A few attacks came and went but nothing stayed away.  We soon hit the 1st Category Sunrising Hill.  This was where the real pain kicked in.  I had done my research and according to various websites the average gradient was only 8%.  Imagine my surprise when I looked down at my Garmin to see it registering a gradient of between 12% and 17% for about a kilometer.  I was in my lowest gear and at my absolute limit just to stay in the bunch.  A handful of riders were dropped but the bunch stayed mostly together.  Seemingly a few seconds after recovering the pace went crazy again as we approached the first Sprint Prime, which was won by someone so far ahead of me that I didn’t even see him cross the line.  The group then settled down a bit until we got to the 1st Category climb of Edge Hill.  This is where it got very ugly.  A few strong climbers decided to attack and decimated the peloton.  Riders were strung out all over the climb and when we crested it I found myself with one other rider about 30 meters off the lead group.  The two of us worked well together but just didn’t have the man power to catch the speeding front group, who themselves were trying to chase down a few riders that had attacked off the front.  Thankfully, after about 10 panicked minutes of chasing we were joined by various small groups of riders that had crested after us.  Our stronger group of 10 riders worked well together and we eventually caught the lead group.

At this point many riders were starting to suffer and the next climb, the 3rd Category Pittern Hill caused some to abandon.  At about the 50 mile mark the peloton approached the Feed Zone, where most teams had helpers to pass them their musettes filled with food and drink.  My wife had declined my generous invitation to wake up at 7 am and drive an hour and a half to stand on the side of the road for three hours with our two young children waiting for me to pass to hand me my food and drink – so as the other riders munched on their peanut butter sandwiches, I pulled my extra water bottle from my back pocket, downed it, threw it at a smug looking team soigneur and reached for my stale energy bar.

With 40 miles to go and the feed zone cleared the pace really picked up and the attacks started in earnest.  When we hit Friz Hill for the second time a group of three riders attacked and got about a minute up the road.  Then on the next ascent of Sunrising Hill another five or six riders got clear and presumably joined up with the original three, making a pretty strong break.  At this point I was hanging on for dear life and when we approached Edge Hill for the second and final time it was every man for himself.  I started wishing for a puncture to end the suffering.  The climb split the bunch into two main groups.  A lead group of about 25 riders and a second group of about 30 riders.  Sadly I was in the second group.  We could see the lead group up the road and I tried to organise a chase.  But after killing myself on the front it soon became clear that there were only a handful of riders willing to work.  The problem was that nearly every team had a rider in the lead group so the riders with me had no intention of helping with the chase.  So four of us riding without a team settled into a futile through and off session for about 20 minutes.  The lead group was just way too strong for us and it soon became clear that we would be contesting for very very minor placings.  The last bit of suffering was the uphill sprint to the finish, where I finished mid bunch.

It was certainly the hardest and most exciting race I’ve ever done.  The crowds were great owing to a few well positioned pubs and villages on the course.  And the organsiers did a fantastic job from start to finish.  I’ll certainly be back next year.