The past weekend myself and the Champion System VCUK team headed to Ireland for one of the biggest events in their Calendar, a 3day, 4stage race in the Waterford area of Ireland. This was a major goal race for the team- the guys finished 2nd last year after a mega ride by Dillon Byrne who just lost out on the final stage.
Going into this year we had a really strong line-up with a 7man team- myself, Mike Ashurst, Dillon Byrne, Seb Baylis, Lee Baldwin, new rider Jonathan Fowles and guesting from Pedal Heaven, Dave McGowan. The competition was going to be tough with the cream of the Irish field, who are just simply tough- they never give up and always attack you! Included in the Irish ranks was their current RR champ- Damien Shaw. There was also a strong Isle Of Man team, and the main men for us to watch- JLT Condor.
The race kicked off on Saturday with a typically lumpy stage. I didn’t have a very good day on a personal level, missing the selection on the main climb of the day, but Seb and Dave put in great rides to make the split and finish in the top15 and well in GC contention.
The second stage on Sunday morning was supposed to be flatter but it was still tough. Strong winds were hitting us in the first hour and the race split up, Mike did a great ride to make the early break, and again over a KOM point, Dave, Lee and Seb managed to get across. Dave then went on to put in a storming attack in the closing kms and claim the stage and put himself into the GC lead and yellow jersey!
The 3rd stage was a town centre crit on Sunday evening, but torrential rain meant the stage was neutralised and would have no effect on GC! Good news for us as it meant Dave would go into the final day in the lead on GC and we had a great back-up with Seb 8th overall but well within touch for a podium place. After the 1st stage I was pretty far back on GC so I got myself ready to turn myself inside out to try and help the team on the final stage.
Going into the final stage I knew it was going to be a tough one for myself and the team. Dave had the yellow but a number of JLT boys were pretty close and we knew they would be very strong on the final wall of a climb to finish. Before we were get to the final climb however we needed to keep dave and Seb in the front group and we also had the fearsome climb of the ‘Vee’ at about halfway through.
The pace was pretty frantic from the off and unfortunately one of the JLT riders managed to get in a break and establish a gap. This meant all of us had to get onto the front of the Peloton and drive the pace along. 5 of us drove the pace as hard as we could for 50k, trying to shelter Dave and Seb, into the base of the ‘Vee’. We managed to peg the break back enough so that Dave, Seb, Lee and Jon could put in a big effort to get across the gap. The chase and turns on the front had taken a lot out of my legs and I was done for the day- I gave it everything and came in with a small group.
As I approached the team car at the finish I was hoping for good news. It wasn’t to be however and despite Seb and Dave doing all they could and finishing an excellent 2nd and 3rd respectively on the stage, it wasn’t enough to deny an excellent ride by Ed Laverack who took stage and overall honours.
Despite another last stage heartbreak for the team it was an undeniably fantastic experience for myself and hugely successful for all of the team. We showed how good we are and how we are prepared to work as a solid unit. To beat some seriously quality Irish riders and run a fully professional outfit like JLT Condor so close is something to be proud of- a few celebration drinks were had Monday night!
Obviously a huge thanks go to the sponsors of the team- Champion System, buyabike.co.uk, Limar, Lake, Club Roost, Velo Champion, Your Sports Fuel.
A special thanks also go to team boss Wayne Greenhalgh as well as Bri, Martyn and Ian who gave up their time to come, help out an support. There wasn’t a more professional outfit there, our bikes we ready, nutrition sorted and Martyn had recovery drinks in our hands quicker than you can say Flash…
Already plotting to come back stronger in 2016!