NATIONAL 100km TTT Championship
A busy day of racing in Suffolk on Sunday saw North Wirral Velo retain the BCF club team time trial title at Bury St Edmunds just over a month after representing England in the Commonwealth Games. The action then switched to Haverhill, where the town's Grand Prix was dominated by an all-professional breakaway.
ENGLAND'S Commonwealth Games quartet exchanged their red and white national colours for the gold of their North Wirral Velo-Kodak club to win Sunday's national team time trial championship at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Pete Longbottom, Simon Lillistone, Matt Illingworth and Paul Jennings, silver medallists behind Australia in the Games just over a month before, were a class apart. Their closest rivals, Delta RT, excelled to take the silver, but were 2-54 down on the North Wirral quartet.
The final place on the podium went to Optimum Performance RT, who put in a strong second half to oust Dinnington RC from the bronze medal position, finishing 4-21 adrift of the champions.
On a grey but mild morning, the flat dual carriageway course produced high-speed racing on the A14 trunk road between Newmarket and Stowmarket. It was a short, sharp test over 48.8 miles, reduced from the scheduled 50 miles (80km) because of roadworks. Unusually for a time trial, the start and finish line was in Bury St Edmunds town centre, which meant the opening and closing miles needed good bike handling skills.
The organisers' seedings worked out perfectly, with the medals going to the last three teams on the start list. The result was never in doubt as North Wirral gained steadily on their rivals at every time check, almost catching silver medallists Delta RT on the run-in to the finish line.
Although North Wirral had started as hot favourites, Lillistone pointed out: 'It was hard to predict what we would do as we'd all been doing different things since the Commonwealth Games.
Lillistone's programme over the last month has included stage racing in the USA, while Longbottom has been riding time trials and Jennings and Illingworth stayed on in Canada.
'I thought it was a good effort today, especially as it was my first ride since the Games,' said newly returned Illingworth.
Only 19 teams out of an entry of 27 contested the last BCF championship of the season. Notable absentees included Olympia Sport, Team Haverhill and CC Abergavenny.
After early starters Kent Valley RC (1-51-51) and Composite Team East (1-44-38) had briefly held top spot on the result board, Invicta RC raised the standard with the first sub-100 minute ride of the morning.
Simon Bray, Dominic Sweeney, Roger Hammond and Simon Howes sprinted into the uphill finish, braked hard to avoid crashing into the council offices, and posted the fastest time so far of 1-37-54.
'Never again,' gasped Bray as he slumped down on the pavement with Hammond prone behind him. 'Simon (Howes) and Dominic were really flying which meant Roger and I were grovelling,' Bray added.
Already there were signs that Invicta's lead would be short-lived. Dinnington RC went through 29 miles in 58-56, two seconds quicker than Invicta. The Yorkshire club dropped Martin Pitchford on a climb just over a mile from the finish, leaving Julian Ramsbottom, Martin Maltby and Andy Homby to go top in 1-37-28.
'It seemed fast all the way round,' said Ramsbottom. 'Having to negotiate the cones at the end was a bit dodgy but it was nice to finish in the town rather than some anonymous lay-by.'
Dinnington's lead survived the arrival of the next five teams, including North East RT, who finished down in eighth place after losing Geoff Turnbull, hit first by a puncture then front wheel trouble. Jeff Wright still managed to enjoy the experience. 'It was an excellent course, so fast, there's nothing like it up our way,' he said.
Meanwhile, Leo RC's veterans were demonstrating that technique is just as important as power in team time trialling. The Leo's 'B' team of Eddie Adkins, Alan Rochford, John French and Kevin Neary crossed the line together in good formation to finish in sixth place, just four seconds faster than the young thrusters of the Leo 'A' squad.
Optimum Performance RT were next to sprint into the barriered finish straight. Their foursome of national road champion Rob Harris, track champion Paul Curran, Mark Lovatt and Wayne Randle had been timed through the Stowmarket turn at 16.5 miles in 33-57, fourth fastest at this stage and 13 seconds down on Dinnington.
The Optimum men went through 29 miles in 59-04, seven seconds down on Dinnington. The last 19 miles saw them wipe out the deficit and gain a further 15 seconds to finish in 1-37-13.
Optimum, winners of the RTTC 100km gold in July, were assured of bronze with only two teams still out on the course - Delta RT, who had recorded 33-09 at 29 miles, and North Wirral Velo, who were exactly one minute faster at the same point.
Delta were first to appear, but only just. Matt Postle, Rod Ellingworth, Glenn Holmes and Darren Knight roared up Angel Hill to clock 1-35-46 closely pursued by North Wirral, their three-minute men, who came within seven seconds of catching the silver medallists.
Delta were riding together for the first time, Matt Postle having been on duty for Wales in the early part of the season. 'We rode well as a team, smoothly and doing long turns,' said Postle.
Team-mate Knight who was struck by a serious attack of cramp in the previous weekend's Tour of the Peak, confessed to suffering more twinges in the final miles. Knight explained that he was short of race fitness after losing six weeks of his racing season due to breaking a wrist when he crashed in last July's national road race.
This was probably the final BCF team time trial championship to be held. Now that the 100-kilometre test has been dropped from the world calendar, the BCF National Council will be asked to approve the introduction of an individual time trial instead.
Pete Longbottom, who collected his fifth national medal of the season, and the 15th team time trial medal of his career, regrets the event's demise.
'It's a pity, the team time trial is a great technical event and always attracts a good entry - look how many teams rode the Commonwealth Games. It's also an excellent showcase for sponsored clubs,' he said.
Despite the loss of his favourite event, the 35-year-old Longbottom expects to continue racing at the top level for at least two years. Meanwhile he still hopes to add to his medal tally. 'Don't forget, there's still the hill-climb,' he said.
The event was promoted by Sports Ambassador for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who are due to host the national criterium championship in Bury St Edmunds next August.