Big congrats to David Kyle for an excellent top 20 GC finish in his first stage race last weekend. Read his very interesting race report below:
The Stafford Wholesale Wexford 2 Day Race includes 3 stages, with a 112km road stage on Saturday morning, a 3.4km hill climb time trial later on Saturday afternoon, finishing with a 103km road stage on Sunday morning. I went into the race concerned I was still carrying injury on my right side from the previous weekend’s crash but hopeful I would still be able to get around well enough to get my first experience in stage racing.
Stage 1 – 112km Road Race:
A large field of 102 riders signed on for the A3/Junior category on Saturday morning in Camaross, all anticipating a very tough day in the saddle with stage 1 involving a 37.4km course which included 8 significant hills, the final two of which had gradients up to 10%, steep enough to really bite at race pace, and we had to do the lap 3 times. The sunny, warm weather was also going to make it challenging to keep hydrated. The attacks started as soon as the racing started. I had not seen a start list before the race, so I had not picked out the ones watch, and not recognising anyone from the mainly Leinster teams in the race, I did not know which attacks to follow either. For a stage race you are also given race numbers, so unlike most one-day races, you also cannot recognise the juniors from their normally blue-coloured numbers, so I chose to follow any attack that involved 4 or more bikes as I felt sure that a small group would get away to the finish on this tough stage. The attacks were relentless on that first lap and with my less-than-ideal strategy I was involved in a lot of moves, especially on the long main road drags in the latter 7km of the lap – but I was neglecting to drink. The bunch was chasing down all the moves and at the end of the lap nothing had got away. It was back on the tight, twisty tertiary roads early in the second lap that a decisive move was made which I didn’t see going at the time. As it turned out it included 4 of the favoured juniors – 2 from Carrick, one from Lucan and one from the hosting Wexford Wheelers club – plus 4 seniors including a third Carrick rider. A group like that knows exactly what to do when they get a gap and they quickly put the hammer down and disappeared out of sight on the twisty part of the course before the bunch got out onto the main road again, quickly pushing their advantage out to over 2 minutes before the bunch got its first time check. Things were much calmer for the remainder of the second lap as most of the bunch resigned themselves to sitting in and hoping others would pull the break back with still 67km to go. Not happy to settle for the break staying away and wanting to limit my time losses if it did, I did some turns pulling on the front and getting others to work, but it ebbed and flowed as you would expect in a big bunch. When we hit the first of the two steeper drags on the back of the second lap disaster struck for me with major cramping in my right leg – I checked my bottles and realised I had drank less than half a bottle and I was dehydrated. I just about got over that climb but I was right at the back of the bunch and in real danger of getting dropped. At that point I reset my focus on getting the fluids in and just hoping I could make it to the finish with the bunch. Having sat in for the next 40km I had recovered enough to move back up to start contributing again to reducing the time deficit and also to ensure I was in the right end of any splits on the last 2 climbs before the finish. Just inside the final kilometer there was a big stall in the bunch, with everyone looking at each other before starting the sprint, and seeing an opportunity to steal a few seconds I went for it out on the right hand side; there was nothing to lose as the 8 break-away riders had already mopped up the points on offer for the stage and if I didn’t make it I would still end up on the same GC time as the bunch I was in. Nobody chased initially and I got a good 50m gap or so, but I couldn’t hold it to the line as they kicked for the sprint and as they swept me up with less than 300m to go I just made sure I finished at the back of that bunch for the same GC time. The gap to the 8 in the break was down to 1m 15s in the first bunch that I finished in, meaning I had a good chance of moving into the top 10 in GC if I could do a good hill climb.
Stage 2 – 3.4km Hill Climb TT:
My start time for the hill climb was 6:19pm, one of the last to go as I was one of the last to register for the event during the week, which afforded me maximum recovery time between stages. After stage 1, however, I was feeling the crash’s effects on my right side and when I started my warm-up I knew I was in some trouble for the TT and that I was not going to be able to ride the pace that I had planned to in advance. My effort was well below par for me but was still 28th fastest, putting me in 27th on overall standings overnight at 1m 56s down. It was disappointing not to be able to perform to my ability on that stage, but being realistic I was still satisfied with my position going into the final stage.
Stage 3 – 103km Road Race:
Sunday’s stage was mostly on main roads through Wexford town, up to Enniscorthy across to New Ross and back to Camaross for the same finish as the Saturday stage. However, the first 10km took place on the same tertiary roads that also formed the first part of Stage 1. I was not in good shape when I got up on Sunday morning and had doubts about whether I would be able to pedal, but I hoping things would be better on the bike. I figured I probably wasn’t going to be able to go in a break for the day, but if I rode smartly I had a good chance of getting into at least into the top 20, an outside chance of the top 10 depending on how the selections played out, and that became my goal for the day. A break went away almost immediately in the first kilometer, but it didn’t include the GC leaders – they were all still in the bunch and they did not chase it. But they started to ride down everything after that, including the one I followed which included one of the riders from the previous day’s break. I quickly realised the GC contenders’ teams were in lock-down mode and I decided not to follow any more attacks after that unless they were in it themselves. Although that first break did not contain anyone within 2 minutes of the yellow jersey, Carrick’s Cathal Purcell, after 40km they were out to 2m 30s, making one of them leader on the road. With three team-mates for company all was not lost the yellow jersey, but they were forced to do a lot of riding and closing and with only a 3 second lead over the second-placed rider from Lucan, he was always at risk of being attacked if and when they did pull it back. At about the 70km mark the yellow jersey went on the front with his team again and really started to drive hard because the gap was not coming down at it was getting critical. The entire bunch sat on them. For sure that’s racing but after about 4km I felt I could not look on anymore. Besides it not being good for my own GC ambition for the day to see that break stay away, my mother is also from Carrick and I felt a sense loyalty to help! So I moved up and went around the yellow jersey to pull on the front. After seeing me do 3 or 4 turns with the Carrick team, others in the bunch finally started to contribute and a group of 10 or 15 started rolling up and over for another 3km or so. With the break having been out in the wind all day this was enough to bring them back shortly afterwards. All back together starting the last 20km going through New Ross. The attacking kicked off as soon as we hit the long drags on the main road exiting New Ross and I was determined to not make any attacks myself and try to stay with the front group as the bunch split to pieces over the next 15km. With 6km to go I was in the front group of about 10 with the GC leaders when the Lucan junior second in GC attacked and got out of the group with 2 others, including one from Carrick, but not the leader. As we approached the turn off the main road for the final 3km our group swelled to 16 again. With only a 3s GC lead, the yellow jersey was forced now to take it up with his rival less than 10sec ahead, but only 2 working in that group as he had a team-mate in it. As we approached the top of the that final drag with 1.5km to go, it did not look like they were going to be pulled back as it wound up for the sprint. Some big riders had made the cut in my group and took the 5 places still on offer points. We came in 9 seconds down on 3 the ahead, which snatched the jersey and overall from Carrick and gave it to the junior from Lucan. The selections in the last 20km meant I finished 18th overall in General Classification after 2 days of hard, but very exciting racing. I found there is a thrilling extra dimension to stage racing and I was satisfied enough with a top 20 result, all things considered.