Over the winter the inaugural ‘Race Team’ element of Exeter Wheelers CC was devised by amongst others John Nye, Didier Lebatteaux and BC secretary Nick Helsing. The idea was subsequently supported by EWCC committee. The clubs four British Cycling 2nd Category racers have ridden as a team, in National B or higher events. These riders are Sam Birkenshaw, Jack Ibbotson, Chris Shakya and John Nye. The aspiration is that across the course of the season aspiring 3rd and 4th category riders can gain experience riding alongside these riders and take the step up to 2nd cat, with the bigger goal of accommodating the development of youth and junior riders coming through the clubs Go Ride section.
If you’re not up to speed with the latest BC categories and race designations then 2nd category riders are the middle category who get to do quite a broad spread of races, both regional and national level races. National level A and B are the biggest races in the UK that amateurs can enter open to Elite, 1st, 2nd (nat B also 3rd) category riders. So far Exeter Wheelers CC Race Team have competed in two of the South Wests key spring races. Both organised by Mid Devon CC, firstly the Primavera RR in February followed a month later by Totnes Vire two day. At both events the clubs 3rd and 4th categories raced in the respective supporting races. Each race shared the characteristics of heavy rain, wind and strong fields.
The Primavera saw all four 2nd cat riders plus Craig Lawson, Alistair Lobban, and Elliot Johnstone line up for the E,1,2,3 race, the neutralised section didn’t seem particularly neutral and from the off the pace of the higher category riders was apparent. The rolling circuit around Hatherley and Halwell Junction was attritional and a big eye opener for all the Wheelers (also those in the supporting Race). The two Jack’s had the best of the days rides but both struggled to get into the points. Jack Ibbotson getting into the early group of 15 leaders including Elite riders Marcin Biablocki (eventual winner), Andy Feather (Ex-EWCC member) Al Murison etc. but was found lacking over the distance, later getting dropped back into the main group and finally dropping off the back of the back of this group in the run in to the finish. Jack Salvidge who is fairly new to road racing, but who has already establishing himself as one of the clubs fastest time trialists finished in the butch of the ¾ supporting race after a solid outing in tough conditions.
The second team event, at an even higher level was the three stage, two day Totnes Vire Race held in atrocious weather during the last weekend of March. EWCC’s team of four 2nd cat riders lined up alongside some of the nations’ best road riders. UCI Continental level teams NFTO, Raleigh and ONE cycling along with top teams such as Velosure Primal Starley, Easton Ritte and Bikeshed/University Exeter sent teams. The first stage was a rolling circuit around South Brent with so much water and rubbish on the road it was no surprise that one of the Wheelers punctured. Unfortunately that put paid to Chris’s race. John and Sam battled around the circuit to finish within the time limit to live to see another day (or stage), and Jack managed to briefly go with a group including Yanto Barker, John Mould before eventually fading and dropping back through the groups, but comfortably keeping within the race envelope. The afternoon stage saw the three remaining wheelers racing at the Velopark in Paignton. A large number of wheelers raced in the supporting race in the morning and had experienced a tough race. John Hare was up there at the end and passed on tips for the 2nd cats. George Pym (former EWCC rider) and his Raleigh teammates kept a steady pace initially, until ONE Cycling took over and drilled it for the second half of the 75minutes. Under this pressure, one after another the wheelers cracked, or perhaps were saving themselves for the following day on Dartmoor.
The weather didn’t improve for the second day, yet the wheelers were positive, a headwind up the Doccombe climb would reduce the pace of the strongest for each of the three ascents, and we were riding on home soil. The stand out ride for EWCC team members was Sam Birkenshaw’s battling effort. The pace proved too much on the first climb of Doccombe for Jack and John, it was clear that Sam was climbing the best. Even so, he was still gapped from the peleton on the second ascent and had to ride the final lap (Bovey – Teign Valley – Moreton) alone. Finishing in storm force winds atop Haytor Sam managed to finish the race in 36th place from a total of 80 starters. It was clear from the outset that Exeter Wheelers riders were going to be up against it, but as a group many lessons were learnt and it proved to be a great experience.
The team continue to target National A/B races, the weekend of 19th April saw the team competing in Somerton at the Hamhill Road Race, once again against UCI registered teams and elite level teams (supported in the Pittards RR by a select group of EWCC 3rd cat riders). Chris, Sam and Jack then raced at the Stockbridge Down RR in Andover. This base of tough races has been a good experience and has helped the team for clubs own promotion, The Tom Hawkins Spring Classic (See Owen Priors race report), and the South West Regional Championships coming up on the 17th of May.
Additional racing at Regional A, B and C+ level have acted as both training and also more manageable targets for team and other club riders to come together and represent EWCC. So far a big group of riders have raced on the closed circuits of Ilton, Paignton Velopark, and even Castle Combe and at a number of road races in and outside of the south west region including as far north as Yorkshire. So far Craig Reynolds has scored the most SW regional points (including a win on Mid Devon CC’s stomping ground in the 4th cat race at Velopark), with Steven Birch, Sam Birkenshaw, Chris Shakya, Matt Goodman and Jack Ibbotson also getting BC ranking points.
With the upcoming Westpoint, Velopark, Ilton and the Regional Championship Races odds on that the depth in Wheelers riders will show, and many more will start getting into the top ten/fifteen. Hopefully the women will too begin to add to Exeter Wheelers CC’s points haul as a number of women have already represented the club at Circuit races this year and have almost broken into the results.
The first two Westpoint Races were well attended so for any budding racers look to enter the races on time as the fields are limited.