The Junior Tour of Mendips is one of the bigger races that we have in the UK, and the final stage has what is likely the toughest parcours of any Junior National Series race. With a time trial, flat stage and a hill stage on offer it was set to be a hard-fought weekend with opportunities present for all types of riders. Having been up there as a first year in 2021, I had high hopes for this race, despite coming off the back of a reasonable hiatus from racing after suffering from fatigue in the first half of the season.
The race begun on the Friday, with a 7 mile TT around the Odd Down traffic free facility in Bath, making for a tight, technical race. This time trial did not go as planned for me, and although I felt okay with my effort, I was a little further down the results sheet than I may have liked, in 30th place, over a minute down on the race leader Noah Hobbs.
The second day brought the first road stage of this race, a 108km race around a 13km circuit (there was a preamble to the circuit before anyone says 13 doesn’t go in to 108) and with a very flat course the race was always going to be fast, and with crosswind sections on the course, the pace remained high with various attempts to split the group up coming back together into the last lap, where a lone rider had attacked and was chased by a small group, which had riders high up on the GC, and with myself further back in the classification I sat tight and hoped others would bring it back for the sprint, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I’m not a big fan of mass sprints, mainly through fear of crashing and having better chances on hillier stages, but I gave this one a go. I got caught on the wrong side of the head-cross wind sprint, and had to open up in the wind, which was challenging. I think I launched too early also, not anticipating the strain that 108km puts into the legs compared to shorter track races that I have been sprinting in lately. 21st on the day, and 13th from the bunch saw me into 24th overall due to some riders being distanced late on in the stage.
The third and final day was the infamous hill stage, made up of one (two if you count the neutral) of the 6 minute Rhoydate climb, with an average gradient in the double figures, and a maximum of 25%, and then 4 times up Harptree Hill, a 4-5 minute steep climb with a long false flat plateau over the top before the descent. It is a stage that even the strongest riders would suffer on. Being relatively low down overall heading into the day, at 1:18 to the race leader, I decided to head into the early breakaway, which was let go the previous year on this circuit, in the hope that the real GC climbers wouldn’t be allowed into the move, and it would come down to a small group burn-up on the small circuits. Around 10k before the first climb of the day, a group of 10 riders got clear of the peloton, which I was in, thankfully. It was mixture of rouleurs and climbers, so I was happy to roll through with this group, despite it containing two in the GC top 10. We quickly established a 30-40 second gap on the bunch before the ascent of Rhoydate, so the situation was looking good. However, the GC threat prompted a reaction from the bunch, forcing national champion Zac Walker to bridge across with 3 others to neutraslise the threat. This strengthening of the group allowed the gap to increase to over 2 minutes by the first lap of the small circuit. Riders lost contact quickly on the first ascent, and the group halved. The group would again halve the second time up, and I lost contact with what would be the front 4 with another rider, Ralf Holden. We worked to try and close in on other riders that had been dropped later on up the climb, but as we were closing the gap a non-race vehicle was allowed into the 30m gap between us and the pair ahead. This vehicle decided to repeatedly brake check us, and we were not able to close on those in front before the last 2 climbs. Over the top of the climb on the last lap, we were caught by the remains of the bunch. By the final kilometre, I had blown up from my earlier efforts, and could only manage 20th on the day, but I was happy to have given it a go for the stage win, despite the race not turning out in favour of the “stage hunters” like me.
I ended 19th in the overall classification, and 13th in the Climbers GC, not what I came for but still a National top 20 in this company is nothing to be sniffed at. We go again today at the Junior Tour of Wales, in which I hopefully can show myself more in across the 5 stages.