Every year as part of the Oxfordshire Road Race League (ORRL), teams of 9 race round and round a closed circuit for 25miles on road bikes, trying to compete for a beeline bicycles bidon and ballpoint pen, but most importantly to be crowned ORRL WONT 25M 9UP TTT 2016 champions. GS Henley won the in 2015 (Hyperlapse video here), so there was a lot of pressure to repeat the performance and retain the title. (Also, my 2015 bidon had to be thrown away after some serious mould growth over winter, meaning there was a lot riding on another win).
GS Henley entered two teams this year, picked and organised by GSH's Road Race leader, Rob Friend, and 'coached' by team captain Paul Elcock. Team A had the following riders;
- Pete H
- Simon J
- Tony R
- Paul E
- Rob F
- Matt H
- Luke W
- Pete G
- Dave C
In the months leading up to the event we had practiced as a team a number of times, discussed race tactics, rider order, signalling etc. We were a lot better prepared than in 2015, when I think a lot of us had never even met each other before the event itself.
The main tactic was simple - ride as hard as you can and finish with at least 5 men. That was my understanding of it anyway, Paul said some other stuff about turns and zones and all that but there was a lot said, and I forgot.
Conditions on the day (actually, the evening) were pretty good. Sunny and about 15degC, but there was a ~14mph north easterly wind.
We all managed to arrive early and get a short warm up on the course. The headwind sections were brutal, and this caused the team to immediately fragment. When we returned to the start, we had a 'team talk' and sorted out how we were going to approach the race and deal with the headwind.
The GS Henley A team were last to start, at 19:48hrs. It was decided to put me at the front first, and I was to gradually gather the momentum up to race pace. Unfortunately after just a few seconds the team fragmented; a result of some bad timing with another team passing just as we set off, and Rob Friend trying to run over one of the pusher's on the start line which slowed him down.
The team quickly regathered, and started working well as a group, keeping the efforts hard (above threshold at the front) and rotating every 10 to 20 seconds. I was trying to stay at the front during the headwind sections and then move to the back during the fast tailwind sections.
At the halfway point, we still had all 9 riders and the pace was consistent, at around 27.4mph, although it varied a lot throughout each lap due to the exposed nature of the course and strong wind (as low as 24mph into headwind).
At some point between mile 15 and 20, we managed to drop 3 riders (Luke, Tony and Simon), leaving only 6 still racing. With 5 riders needing to finish the race, we had to be cautious not to lose any more.
Paul Elcock dug deep in the last 5miles, with some hard and long turns at the front, showing his form has returned after his broken hip in 2015. At this point the remaining riders were feeling the fatigue setting in, but the end was so close. Pete Ganderton thought the end was closer than everyone else though, and nearly sat up a lap too soon!
The final lap came, and everyone pushed hard to cross the finish line in 54:47 (27.3mph average) and first place. 2nd Place went to Mickey Cranks A team with a time of 55:44, and 3rd Place to Outdoor Traders Race Team with 56:06.
It was a fantastic race for the team, not just because of the first place result, but also because of how well we all worked together, putting all the tactics from the team training sessions to great effect. We got some real cash money too, £30 a rider (which nearly covers the amount of service station food I ate en route) but sadly no replacement bidon.