Back to my (grass) roots

The first half of May brought me near to the end of my first half of the road season, with only the East Midlands road championships left before a break in June. This month I have competed on the road and grass, firstly in the hilly 2nd round of the u23 national road series in Yorkshire and then taking to the grass track the week after in the Ashwell Spring Grass Track Meet.

After the opening round in the flat lands of Leicestershire, the u23 series moved northward to the Huddersfield area for a very different parcours 2nd time around. I felt that this was a course that suited me far more, with a 10 minute climb being the main feature of the lap. Although my run up to the race was far from ideal, having had blocked sinuses in the week, my legs were feeling good, and I was ready to race. It started fast, aided by the winding descent we were released onto after the roll out, and a small break went away early on, before the first climb, including my ever-present teammate Jacques Coates. I tried to be active in the potential bridging moves, jumping across to groups that looked to be going away on the steeper parts of the climb. However, I did too much of this, and when eventual winner Jenson Young made his move around halfway I missed the split in the bunch by a matter of metres, having the right position but finding myself unable to stay in the front 12 in the last 50-100m of the climb, and being blown backward in the crosswinds over the top.

On the wheel of Dan Barnes at the bell

All hope was not lost however, and I went clear with 1 and a half laps remaining with 7 others, putting me in the fight for a top 20 placing, which would mean series points. But, the long day and the rising temperature did not aid my legs come the final, and I was not one of the strongest in the group. Despite being tactical in the amount of work I did in the group, saving energy where I could, I succumbed to the tempo of the other guys on the final steep slopes with around 1km to go, and held on for 24th place on the day.

A nice result, but I was gutted to have not made the top 20 knowing that courses like this don’t come round often, having wanted to get a strong result on the day. I’m still happy with my shape, but once again I need to be more selective in my efforts.

Fast forward a week, to one of my favourite competitions of the year, Eurovision! Just kidding, it’s actually the Ashwell Spring Grass Track, where I was keen to set out my stall in the 8k and omnium events, ahead of the 8K national champs in July. The track at Ashwell is one I know well, having ridden there for many years as a youth. The hard climb and a fast off camber corner are it’s main features, meaning you have to be good technically as well as physically.

First, it was the sprints, a perfect opportunity to get my eye in at race speed on the tricky corner. A smooth run through qualification saw me into the final of the National Short Distance League, a race which consisted of the current national champion in the guise of Tom White and 3 former national champions over the 400m and 800m events. It would be tough, and I was immediately gapped off of the start line, but rode to a solid 4th place, putting me off to a good start in the omnium with the endurance events to come, where I could distance the sprinters significantly. The elimination and reverse win and out both went to plan, with me winning both, putting me into the omnium lead with only the 8k remaining, which is my favourite event, but as always, I faced strong competition from national champ Dave Mitchinson, amongst others.

Sprinting to the victory

The race started fast, accomapanied by commentary from GCN/Eurosport’s very own Jez Cox, and I looked to whittle down the large field as quick as I could, without doing too much. However, as usual, Dave made the first acceleration with 7k to go, which I followed and continued to ride to pull a small group clear from the sprinters, and soon we were down to 6. Another few laps went down, and by the halfway mark my hard pulls had put 3 of us in front. Myself, Dave, and Sam Daniels of CC Ashwell. I began to start the attacks with 3k to go, knowing the other two are very quick in the finish, and I could see I was putting them under pressure, so I continued to attack and slow until 2 laps (666m) to go, where I hit the front to lead out the sprint, giving myself the best chance of taking the win. I wound it up, only beginning to sprint fully with 200m to go on the back straight, driving hard to the line, taking the victory by a bike length and a half. A successful day out.

Now time for some training, before the East Midlands regionals on the road in June and the rest of the season in July, August and September.

Ciao for now, Nathan

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