What an experience! All that time and hard graft qualifying was worth every minute! The team of: Callum, Mark, Ethan, Ellie (Welwyn) Mia, (Colchester) Beth, (Verulam) Millie and Me (William) (Lee Valley) arrived at a Car Park in Elstree to start a rather uneventful coach journey to Loughborough. The coach journey for me, post Lateral Flow, was sound-tracked by Clapton and it gave me time to read the excellent and highly recommended, ‘Start at the End’ by Dan Bigham. On our arrival, we collected our leisure kit and went to dinner in the halls. Chicken and Potatoes hit the spot, before heading to the Opening Ceremony on the University Rugby Pitch. What a start, super fun.
Day 1: A busy day at the track.
On Friday we were all up by 6:30 for breakfast and on to the coach by 7:30 to drive to Manchester Velodrome (opposite the Etihad). On getting to track centre, we found all our bikes ready, and the rollers set up. A massive thanks to Charlie ‘Team Coach/Driver/Mechanic and Soigneur’ for the weekend.
First up was the team sprint. Ethan and I got 9th, 3 seconds off the winners. Then came the scratch, the major talking point was Mark’s last 6 lap ‘do or die’ attempt, it sadly ended but was great to watch and Callum and Mark rolled in, in the bunch. Next up the Keirin heats. I took second and qualified. Calum won his, meaning two Easterns in the top eight. The final not going so well for me, I drew lot eight and finished eighth! Calum won so that made up for it.
The girls had done OK with their first few races. Mia wasn’t riding and sadly Beth aggravated a knee injury. Mille and Ellie were brilliant in all their races as they gained confidence and experience. After this we had the sketch fest that is the Madison. It was crazy to watch, over half the field being brought down in a huge crash. Then another crash from the Central team meant that the race was red flagged and we had to wait for a restart. Mark and Calum navigated their way through the mess to finish unscathed and in second place, a replica of the Nationals in Glasgow earlier in the year, with the Welsh taking the top step.
Finally, was the team pursuit and on a bike whose bars were held on by two screws and gaffer tape! I led the team away to do a 3:33 – 3km, 6 seconds off the winners. A great feed at Manchester before heading the more scenic route over the Peaks, reminding me of Stage 2 of the TdF, a route I have rode a couple of years ago, and back tired and satisfied to Loughborough.
Day 2: Crits at The Campus
On a course like the National Youth Series Crit earlier in the year, we started off the day with Street Sprints. On a tight and twisty 300m sprint up the back hill we did our qualifier, and then we went into a ladder format for the four-up street sprints, the setup was confusing but the racing less so. We finished these races with Calum and Mark in the top 10 and Ethan and I top 25. Sadly, Beth had to miss out, but Mia was raring to go and did well in qualifying and the heats.
After a lunch break, it was the three crazy 10 minutes + 3 lap crit races, which were unbelievably quick and tight. Mia performed really well; she was on fire! And Mark showed us how to do it by getting first a 9th and then a 6th! before leading Ethan round for a top 20. We finished the day with 80km of crit in our legs and 60km of track!
Day 3: Road Racing
On our final day at the National School Games, we headed to race on the roads around Slawston, including a repeated ascent pf the ‘Slawstonberg,’ a horrible climb lasting 400m at an average gradient of 8.7%. Mia again did well and Millie in her first race of this kind was brilliant and stayed with the bunch until 1 to go, after 75 minutes some going. After watching the girls and handing up bottles, it was hot! it was the boys turn, we lined up on the start line and followed the car that kept us neutralised for the first mile. 50 meters after the flag drop, I went. We had discussed the tactic whilst warming up that I would go and hopefully someone would come with me and we could establish a break, but no, it was me on my own!
I managed to stay away for three quarters of an hour, with a maximum gap of almost two minutes. I hung on out front and managed to take the first prime before I was swept up by the bunch, job done for the day. The commissaires were pulling out dropped riders to keep the front of the race clean for the sprint, so I was able to pull out and cool down and then watched the finish with Mark getting a superb top 10! Ethan rolled in ahead of Callum in the bunch.
All in all, a great experience and amazing opportunity and I enjoyed it immensely. I got to properly meet with some of the guys I race against and feel part of a team with the girls as well.
A massive thanks to Kate, Charlie and all of the BC Eastern team backing us with the kit and the support.