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Tour of Sussex

On Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July 2015 a team from Kingston Wheelers comprising Alex, Harry, Ross and Rupert raced the Tour of Sussex, an annual stage race hosted by the Surrey League. This is a cat 2/3 race which sees some of the best amateur racers from the South compete for stage wins, points jersey and an overall ranking in the General Classification. This year it was formed of three road races and an Individual Time Trial up Beachy Head. There was risk of cancellation before the race had started as there weren’t BC comms available, however thanks to Michael Leonard, Anna Stedman and Derek Hardman who stepped in to make the event go ahead.

Stage 1: Laughton Road Race

The first stage started on Friday at 7pm and the team arrived nice and early, eligible for the best dressed squad in matching skinsuits! The Laughton circuit is very flat in profile, similar to Dunsfold but with less of a ramp, which suits sprinters. The pace was pretty quick throughout and Harry, after doing lots of work on the front the previous weekend, managed to resist pulling the peloton along for for all of about 10 minutes.  A break of two went away midway through comprising Albert Ellison (Bottecchia UK) and Alex Tinsley (Twickenham CC).

Alex moved up to the front and drifted off in pursuit, quickly getting a gap. We thought he was going to try and bridge across but it turned out he had only moved up to get a better position and was going to a quick turn then drop back a little.  He eased off then drifted back in. With two laps to go the break got pulled back so they had about 10 seconds on the bunch then pace eased and they quickly gained over a minute.
On the final lap Harry and Alex moved up, in attempt to move Rupert into a good position for the sprint.

Rupert managed to stick on Harry’s wheel for most of the last lap but we dropped back a bit on the final corner. Approaching the line we were on the inside, so Rupert left Harry’s wheel to get to the outside and move up. There was a lot of jostling for position and Rupert was still a little far back, but he managed to get round the outside, sprinting first and making up a few places to finish 8th in the sprint, 10th overall. His first point of the year, chapeau! Late journey back to the hotel in Eastbourne and after a quick shower we headed out to a diner for burgers, not the pasta dinner we were after, but all we could find open at that time.

Kingston Wheelers

Stage 2: Hellingly Road Race

Saturday brought a rolling stage with plenty of short sharp climbs. The last one of the lap being slightly longer, but nothing too steep or difficult. The road was quite rough in certain sections with a particularly bad section on Ballsock Lane containing a short descent and sharp corner. The GC leader punctured on this section and whilst he got off to fix his bike Harry was coming down the left and had to divert into a bush to avoid collision! Luckily for Harry nothing more than scratches and a lost bottle, he managed to chase back on with the help of the comms car.

With people being spat out the back, the team held its own and dealt with the surges, resting and repositioning when it eased off. A break containing Richard Whitehorn (Dulwich Paragon CC), Stephen Cavey (34th Nomads), Damien Breen (Paceline RT) and Mark Emsley (Team ASL360) went down the road and put over a minute into the bunch.

Ross had a go off the front on the second to last time up the longer climb, unfortunately no one went with him, but the ease at which he went looked good for the following stages. On the last lap Stuart Spies (London Dynamo) attacked out of the bunch, followed a little after by Gareth Thomas (Paceline RT) and Michael Guilford (VC Meudon) and Harry broke off the front to join them. Harry in taking a turn put himself too much into the red and ended up dropping off and got swallowed up by the bunch.

The race was won by Richard Whitehorn in the original break, followed by the second group and then the main bunch. After a fast and frantic race the team were happy to have all finished in one piece and still be in contention, despite missing out on the break. Back to Eastbourne for lunch and to watch the first stage of the Tour de France, then get ready for the TT in the evening.

Stage 3: Beachy Head Individual Time Trial

Saturday afternoon’s time trial was a short test up to Beachy Head from Eastbourne. The course wound its way up gentle, alpine-esque switchbacks for a mile or so before turning left onto an exposed false flat with a ramp up to the finish. As time trial courses go, it must be up there as one of the most scenic with views for miles of white cliffs and verdant Sussex countryside from the top. Unfortunately there wasn’t much time to take in the vistas mid-way through an unspeakably bleak 8ish minute effort. The shallow gradients evened the playing field between the pure climbers and the bigger units in the race, so long as you had the power being a bit heavier wasn’t too much of a penalty, especially along the roughly 500m of false flat near the finish where a savage cross wind was blowing some of the lighter riders across the road.
Team Wheelers assembled at the start, as ever, looking like a well drilled unit (in the wardrobe department anyway). The sight of an amateur team in matching skinsuits is the sort of marginal gain that is crucial to a successful weekend. Harry was off first and finished in 8:50, then Alex who clocked in at 8:50 as well. Third up was Ross who gurned his way up the slopes in 8:16 and finally Rupert who managed an 8:31.

It was then back to HQ to check the updated GC and see how things had panned out. Gareth Thomas won the stage with an impressive time of 7:41, putting more than 30 seconds into the fastest Wheeler. Despite losing a bit of time the strong efforts meant the team was feeling good about trying to make some moves up the GC table the next morning with Ross and Rupert lying 23rd and 24th respectively, 1:27 down from the leader of the race, Alex Tinsley.

After finishing the stage around 6.30pm we had a relaxing evening in Eastbourne with an epic Italian dinner. The signora owner from Napoli was slightly stunned by how much food we put away (Rupert ordered a pizza as a starter), a lot even by Southern Italian standards.

Stage 4: Beachy Head Road Race

The last stage arrived on Sunday and the warm weather was far behind us. The rain started at 8am and steadily increased in severity until it was deemed ‘big boy rain’. Our hotel doubled as the race HQ so we avoided the rain until the last possible moment.  As we waited at the HQ all the VC de Londres riders were lined up on the rollers, so we knew it would full gas from the flag. We made our way up to the starting pen on the seafront and lined up behind the lead car. Unfortunately the rain was coming down heavily now and the start was delayed by 20 minutes, leaving all the riders exposed to the elements.

There was only a 1km neutralised zone, as we set off up the road to the Beachy Head climb everyone was fighting for position with the first line of riders inches away from the bumper of the lead car. The flag went down and the attacks went off immediately. Michael Guilford (VC Meudon) going up the road and Jesse Yates (In-Gear Quickvit TrainSharp RT) chasing.  Everyone knew the initial climb would split the race and it didn’t fail to deliver. Cresting over Warren hill to join the loop there was already large gaps in the peloton. With the exposed circuit it was going to be a long race for those that had lost contact early on.

The peloton looped around the top of the circuit and descended into East Dean for the first time. Clocking over 70kmph in the driving rain as the pace was pushed on. At the bottom of the descent, the sharp left hander was forcing those at the back to chase hard as the pack strung out and we raced across to the Birling Gap.

The pace eased as the main group made its way on the drag up to Beach Heady, but was still climbing at 30kmph.  As we hit the zig-zags the attacks were constant, but with the battle for GC still hotly contested no one was being allowed to get away.  Cresting over the top of Beachy Head, Harry and Rupert lost contact. Distanced from the lead group, a grupetto formed and Harry and Rupert joined, however, with the onset of a reoccurring injury Rupert abandoned shortly after.

Without any time to recover the pace increased as the main group entered the straight into the exposed top of the course, the main front was depleting rapidly. Once a gap opened in the cross wind, there was no coming back for those on the wrong side of a split.
We had predicted the pace would drop after the first lap. But, with Primes on laps two and three this was not the case. As Ross and Alex crested over the top of Beachy Head with four laps to go they were both being distanced from the peloton with a rider from ASL and Pretorius. Ross and Alex took turns to close the gap as the others hung on, in the crosswind Ross lost contact but Alex managed to the bridge over with the others over Warren Hill.

The lead group was down to about 16 riders. The pace lulled as we approached the climb once again. Two riders collided after one went into a pothole. They both went down, taking out three others, including Gareth and Damien from Paceline RT. Shortly after the crash more attacks came and the pace surged, the leading group clearly not prepared to allow those caught behind the crash to chase back on.  As the lead group went through the zig-zags approaching three laps to go Alex cracked and the leading group sailed off up the road. Gareth Thomas (Paceline RT) steadily caught up with the lead group as they rode passed the Beachy Head Inn after picking himself off the floor following the crash.

Harry, Ross and Alex were determined to finish the race so put their minds to getting round the remaining laps at a sustainable pace, albeit separately, as riders were strewn across the course.  As the rain finally eased off Alex was caught by Ross and Damien Breen. The three of them crested the climb to see that dropped riders had been granted a lap. Only once more up Beach Head! As they approached the climb a final time they were met by a group of those caught in the crash that were still determined to carry on racing. They joined them along the slopes to Beachy Head as the group hit the zig-zags Alex was distanced, rolling over the line shortly after Ross who stayed with them and took the honour of first Kingston Wheeler across the line. We were met on the line by Rupert who had changed but was still suffering from the cold. A few minutes later Harry crossed the line with a slow puncture… in surprisingly high spirits for someone who had been riding two hours in torrential rain, some of the time riding solo, at least his aero helmet had kept his head warm!

The depleted lead group arrived shortly after with David Hewett (Adalta CC) taking an impressive first place and the yellow jersey from Alex Tinsley (Twickenham CC) the day after a strong TT. Honourable mention to Gareth Thomas who finished 5th on the stage despite crashing and having to rejoin the bunch, which placed him 5th in the GC too.

Final standings

The final standings saw Ross finish 26th, Alex 28th and Harry 29th in the GC. Rupert’s 10th place in the first stage got him his first point of the season. We bid farewell and good luck to Ross in his last race for Kingston, as he goes off to pastures new at Cadence Performance. It was a big step up from a one day road race, but great experience for all that took part and an event that we definitely will want to field a strong team for next year.Big thanks to Glyn Durrant and all the marshalls and volunteers who make this great event happen each year.