Winner Winner Chicken Dinner – Crystal Palace Crits #7
Winning a round of the popular Crystal Palace Crits in 2017 was one of my season goals for a number of reasons and it was going to test me. The circuit is punchy, technical and attracts some impressive talent from the amatuer racing circles in London. Bowman were also keen to see their new Palace:R win on its home circuit so the pressure was on.
Previous weeks have seen a mixed bag of results for me ranging from 2nd (including accidental celebration, oops!) to DNF. Palace is really the only regular race in London that is genuinely crit like, full gas from the gun with no intermissions. On round 5 I was ridden into whilst clipping in off the line forcing my other foot to unclip, The frantic chase to get back into the race rendered me useless when I got there, any subsequent attacks put me out the back until I couldn’t take anymore. Other weeks where I’ve positioned myself well I’ve had relatively easy races. Hopefully more racing experience will teach me consistency.
This was the first week of the 2017 series where the race would run clockwise. As we set off I was keen to be close to the front from the gun. Taking the technical corners at the bottom of the drag was a new experience and they were likely to be fast. From lap one riders were hammering the pace and it seemed this circuit was never going to be easy regardless of direction. The first handful of laps were frantic as always with attacks coming almost every lap from various riders.
On lap 6 we rode out of the final hairpin and the flurry of accelerations came over the start/finish . As we crested to descend the bunch moved left and I had the opportunity to roll my speed through on the right hand side from 5 wheels back, it wasn’t a full fledged attack but perhaps enough to press the pace whilst others wanted to recover. I pedalled down the drag for a few seconds before glancing back, I was joined by Neil Phillips but behind us there was a decent gap. Neil is an aggressive racer and doesn’t need to be asked if he wants to work, you know he will. We committed and started to press on. As we approached the downhill Neil communicated that we should drill the descent every lap to gain advantage when the bunch may freewheel, makes sense. We were pretty natural in working together with the turns working themselves out on the course. Neil is good in the bends and I really struggled to follow his line and speed through the final hairpin but we made it work.
Coming over the start/finish each lap we could see the bunch coming out of deadman’s corner and up onto the final part of the circuit, spectators were calling our gap at around 30 seconds and from visual confirmation we were able to see if the gap was remaining roughly the same or going out.
Coming into the final few laps I was trying to keep the effort high without burying myself in case Neil tried to attack me at the end of a turn. I expected him to try and attack with a few to go, my thinking being he probably didn’t want to go into a bunch sprint. He continued to work pretty hard and with 2 laps to go he put an attack in out of deadman’s corner. I was able to stay on his wheel and keep us together. It’s in my interested to bring this down to a sprint.
As we crossed the start/finish on the bell lap I rolled through to pull on the front, we made our way down the drag and through the corners. Neil wasn’t pulling through in familiar fashion given we were working up to the sprint. I was keen to remain first wheel through the final corner, I know Neil can gap me there and it would put me on the back foot for the sprint, so coming up the final part of the circuit I was watching Neil like a hawk, spinning an easy gear so I could respond to any acceleration from him. Coming up to the final hairpin I was trying to prevent him coming round and it seemed to work. Inevitably he still took the corner better than me coming up my inside causing us to line up next to each other for a drag race. I kicked with everything I had and built a gap with 25m or so remaining, enough to enjoy the victory.
Neil being the gent he is raised his hand to the win, what a great sportsman. He’s a good person to be in a break with thats for sure. I don’t doubt a win is in the pipeline, the consistency of his results speaks for itself.