4 riders from the Wightlink Wight Mountain Cycle Race Team took part in the Tour of Sussex earlier this month – one of the countries toughest and most competitive amateur stage races.
The team consisting of 2nd Category riders Adam Holleyman, Ian Hayden, Stuart Waite and 3rd Category rider Joe Staunton faced competition from 20 other teams over 5 Stages across 4 days.
Stage 1 – Individual Time Trial – Ditchling Beacon
The opening stage of the Tour of Sussex was a 2 mile individual time trial starting just outside the town of Ditchling, working its way up a false flat to the start of the climb proper, Ditching Beacon. The climb, which featured in the Tour of Britain in 2014 and Tour De France in 1994, was no small lump with an average gradient of 9% and ramps of 25%.
On a closed road riders were set off at 1 minute intervals alphabetically in team order meaning Wightlink Wight Mountain CRT would be one of the last to set off at a start time of 20:45 with the riders riding up into the setting sun. First off Hayden posted a time of 7:17 followed by Holleyman in 6:40, Staunton in 6:47 followed by Waite in 7:51.
Stage 2 – Road Race – Beachy Head
With the efforts of the previous day’s intense hill climb challenge still in their legs, the Wightlink Wight Mountain team joined the 76 other riders in front of Eastbourne Pier for Stage 2 of the tour.
Friday’s event was a 50 mile Road Race starting full gas with a steep climb up from Eastbourne Seafront onto the circuit to complete 6 laps around Beachy Head down land. The lap was characterized by a long climb that started back down at sea level at Birling Gap, gradually getting steeper as it worked its way up to Beachey Head viewpoint high up on the cliffs.
Immediately after, the course went straight onto an exposed rolling section of road through the downs where the cross winds further reduced the peleton as riders struggled to find shelter. Unfortunately, 1st year rider Staunton learnt this lesson the hard way towards the end of the race and was distanced from the main group with several others. Adam Holleyman was the team’s best placed rider, finishing 32nd out of 80 and moving up in the general classification to 36th.
Stage 3 – Kidds Hill – Ashdown Forest Road Race
The second road race of the Tour featured a notorious climb nicknamed ‘The Wall’ (Kidds Hill). The tone for the stage was set when the race director took much pleasure in informing the riders in the pre-race briefing that the climb was so tough it had ‘broken the Tour of Britain’ when it headed up there several years previously.
8 laps totalling 55 miles of arguably one of the toughest road race circuits in the country faced the riders in 30c+ heat. The first ascent saw the peloton shattered, with numerous groups forming. Staunton and Holleyman made the leading group of approximately 30 riders.
Each ascent of the ‘The Wall’ saw Staunton pushing forward in the lead group and even achieving a top 15 time out of 13,500 athletes to have logged times up the climb. Holleyman being a slightly heavier set rider showed incredible strength to chase onto the lead group after the climb. Unfortunately on the 5th lap Staunton’s chain dropped and got jammed – Holleyman tried to assist in rectifying the mechanical issue but it required Staunton to stop and receive assistance from the following mechanic, loosing considerable time and general classification placings in the process.
Holleyman finished just behind the lead group gaining severe more general classification positions, followed by Staunton, Hayden and Waite.
Stage 4 – Goodwood Race Circuit Team Time Trial
For the final day of racing – on Sunday the 8th July – the Wightlink Wight Mountain Cycle Race Team returned to favoured Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit to host the fourth and fifth stages with the day starting with a team time trial.
The team time trial event involved the 4 members of each team riding together against the clock for 2 laps of the circuit. Working together to gain maximum speed is crucial in the team time trial, whilst 1 rider pushes through the wind on the front, the others shelter and recover behind, taking turns to spread the effort.
The short distance, close riding for maximum aerodynamic benefit and swapping positions made for a technical and intense effort. The Wightlink Wight Mountain riders had practiced this event in preparation and it showed on the day. The 4 riders rode the 4.8 miles at 29mph finishing in 6th place out of the 20 teams.
After a tough few days of hilly terrain and misfortune the team were proud of their result, bringing confidence to them all for the final stage to come in the afternoon.
Stage 5 – Goodwood Race Circuit Road Race
The final stage consisted of a 60mile race (25laps) of the Goodwood motor circuit in the still scorching heat.
Holleyman, Hayden, Staunton and Waite all happy to make it to the final event as they lined up against a field of 80 other riders to take part in the race.
The pace was high and there were a few breaks and attacks that failed to stay away with teams making sure that the race stayed together.
With 2 laps to go the pace ramped up as teams frantically tried to position themselves in preparation for a sprint bunch finish. Hayden put in a big effort which helped spread the bunch out and Holleyman directed Staunton to move into a gap which opened up a space for Holleyman to make his way through the very twitchy bunch to Waite. Waite then moved onto Holleyman’s wheel where they managed to overtake riders on the grass verge to get near the front of the race.
Holleyman lead Waite into the final sprint where Waite managed to power into 2nd place for the finish and Holleyman held on for a 27th overall General Classification finish.
This event proved as a steep learning curve for the team but proved that they have the ability and potential to place well in the countries toughest races in the years to come.