We set off from Bishops Stortford, nervous and excited for the long weekend to come. After a long drive, eight hours in the minibus, with some beautiful views as we got further north, we arrived in Perth. The plan was to travel the day before and stay close by so we could rest well and then ride the courses. Some of us had done the School Games in 2021 but for all of us this was our first proper Stage race, and we were super excited for what was in store.
The next day, we headed off in beautiful sunshine to St David’s to check out the courses. We started off by riding the scene for Sunday’s racing, and practiced our TTT, ready for stage three. We had practiced this a month ago at Redbridge and had discussed what the plan was to be, but it was great to get out on the course and feel how it would go on the day. From there we rode over to the location of Saturday’s race, a hillier, tighter course, with the finish line at the bottom of the downhill, which could make a big difference to how the race panned out. We then rode to our HQ for the weekend, the beautiful setting of Strathallan School. A great feed and a team meeting, I went to bed nervous, excited and ready to race.
Up first was the prologue. The course was a mile long, with a dead turn at the halfway point, a little way up the hill. A good time here could decide the results for the whole weekend. I was off fourth, meaning I was setting a benchmark for other riders to try and beat. I came back across the line exactly three minutes later, which ended up being the fifth fastest time, five seconds slower than the new leader, Seb Grindley. All four of us in the Eastern team finished in the top 25, meaning we had a shot at the team prize as well. A good start.
That afternoon, we all lined up on the start line for Stage 1. Everyone was nervous, but excited at the same time. As youths we don’t get many opportunities to race on fully closed roads, with a race convoy, Points, Mountain, and Leader’s jerseys, and as teams instead of individuals. This was big one. The climb was expected to break up the race. The racing was fast from the off, with primes on laps two and three. I came third in both, opening my points jersey account. From there I just sat in the bunch, took a couple of KOM points on lap six, and just saved my legs for the last lap. An attack went on the climb with a couple of laps to go, but as I was in the middle of the bunch, I didn’t actually see who it was or when the attack went. However, they were brought back on the final climb, meaning the stage win was up for grabs. Coming over the top of that last ascent, I was sat further back than I wanted to be, so massive kudos to Ethan for dragging me up through the bunch to the front, shoulder to shoulder with the other guys competing for the win. I found my way onto Seth Dunwoody’s wheel; I knew it was a quick one from his sprints in the primes. He kicked with about 200m to go, and I came round him on the final corner to take the stage win, crossing the line with my arms in the air and a massive smile on my face. This was a big win for me and the team, as it showed we were here to compete and win, and it was big for me as it showed my speed was not just on the track, but that I could win road stages as well. This win put me in the yellow and green jerseys for the next day.
Stage 2, the TTT. We had practiced ours about a month earlier, so we all knew how long turns we could pull, and what order we had to be in to get the quickest time whilst allowing each rider to get some recovery in when in the line. We completed the 6.15km course in a time of 8 minutes 16 seconds, with an average speed of 44.7km/h, putting us in second, meaning I retained my leader’s jersey for Stage 3. The sun was shining, and I was happy in Yellow but I knew there was hard work to be done.
As we sat on the start line for Stage 3, the inevitable Scottish rain started, causing everyone’s nerves to increase rapidly. A road race in the rain is rarely crash-free. The pace was quick straight out the neutralised zone, with multiple breakaway attempts being launched, but none sticking until finally one went, including Tom from my team and two other riders. We were all cruising in the bunch until suddenly the rider in front of me went down, bringing myself and 25 others down with him. I got up, found my bike, and then myself and a very kind Ulster rider sorted my bike out. I tried to chase back, but once the opposing teams had realised the leader had crashed the pace increased and an attack went. Back on my bike I was charged with adrenaline, and I just rode, rode as hard as I could eventually catching up with Henry and Ethan, they pulled me for ½ a lap and then I went again to try and limit my losses but unfortunately the crash had taken its toll and I rolled in four minutes behind the winner, with no jerseys to my name. I was disappointed but recognised this was Bike Racing and that stuff happened. I was still very proud to have held the Jerseys for 3 stages.
The final stage. A short criterium around the campus, with a short, steep hill on the circuit. My plan was to just get round upright and see whether I’d get a decent result. For the first five laps I just followed the wheels in the front group, before on the hill in the sixth lap, I attacked. I had to attack, otherwise I’d have been dropped. It’s a bit weird if you think about it, but it meant I could distribute my effort in my own way, instead of following the group. I was caught about five laps later, finishing in the front group (second group on the road), 14th on the stage and about 25th overall.
I surprised myself this weekend, mostly by doing well on the hillier stages. I had a great experience leading the classification and was disappointed to have it taken from me. I learnt a lot about myself. It was brilliant to feel that my training hours had paid dividends and it was amazing to ride with a team. A team that was willing to work for me and with me. They were brilliant and a lot of Fun! Thanks Henry, Ethan and Tom.
Overall, I had a great weekend. I’d like to thank BC Eastern Region, Kate, Darren, and Dad for bringing myself and the team up and supporting us over the weekend. I’d also like to thank Scottish Cycling for putting the racing on and organising everything so well. Well done to everyone who raced or supported.