ROADSIDE: PEZ at the 2021 British National Championships

Ed Hood goes Roadside in Lincoln

Ed Roadside: PEZ Roadside reports have been a bit thin on the ground for the last two years, thanks to our ‘friend’ Covid-19. But as the British national road championships had been postponed to the third week in October Ed Hood couldn’t miss the chance of some roadside action in the cobbled centre of Lincoln.

On a day when we watched hard men like Gran Piemonte winner, Matt Walls and Tro Bro victor, Connor Swift crack before our very eyes it was reigning champion, Ben Swift who extended his tenure in that lovely jersey from 2019 through 2020 and 2021 into at least June 2022.

Still fresh of face, the man who has twice graced the podium of Milan-Sanremo has been in the pro ranks since 2009 when he rode for Katusha before being wooed by Sky for 2010.
He then had a spell with UAE before ‘coming home’ to Ineos.

If experience won the day then youth is snapping at the heels with an excellent Fred Wright (Bahrain) taking silver and Swift’s team mate, time trial and criterium championship winner, Ethan Hayter adding bronze to his haul for the week.

Wright’s ride also gave him the u23 title from the impressively aggressive, Lewis Askey who moves up from the FDJ development squad to the World Tour line up for the French team in 2022. Bronze went to Hayter’s, ‘wee Bruv’ Leo.

Our Lincoln Gran Prix, incorporating the British Elite and u23 Championships began on Saturday lunch time with the long haul south from Fife to Humberside. We could feel the warmth at The ‘Beef Eater’ restaurant at Scunthorpe Premier Inn, as we stood for 10 minutes waiting for our existence to be acknowledged. But eventually we got a seat and the grub was OK, as was the Moretti; we weren’t sure about the female cage fighting on the restaurant TV though. . .

The Saint Piran guys were in the same digs with the mechanic doing his stuff under the canopy at the back door as a chilly drizzle fell – life’s like that for ‘spanner men.’ The beds worked fine though and breakfast was good.

We had a wrestling match with the one way system in Lincoln but eventually emerged just behind the imposing cathedral atop the hill in the centre of the city.

The ‘Lincoln Imp’ lives in there, sent by Satan to make mischief, an Angel sorted the little blighter out, turning him to stone, where he can still be seen topping one of the cathedral’s mighty columns. First job, a forced march through the drizzle to the team car park; 19 minutes said Callum’s app. But Dave and I reckoned this was calibrated for an Ethiopian distance runner. . .

However, wet and weary we arrived and there was Cav, his family, Specialized steed and cheap and cheerful family transport – an AMG bi-turbo Mercedes G Wagon.

Bike snapping commenced right away, especially that ‘34’ on the top tube.

Ben Swift wasn’t on his British Champion liveried Pinarello, rather a silver paint job which didn’t get our vote of approval, albeit the rim brakes did – our spies tell us that hydraulic discs don’t like cobbled criteriums, losing pressure as the race goes on. . .

As well as bike snapping, there were riders to be stalked; first up was Scot, Oscar Onley who rides for the excellent DSM development team. He took bronze in the u23 TT title and we had hopes of a u23 medal for him today, sadly not but he did finish a very respectable 21st.

Arkea Samsic were serious about their men, former champion, Connor Swift and big finisher Dan McLay’s title bids, sending not one but two vehicles all the way from France to support them. Pressure though – ‘we don’t come all the way from France for silver, guys, eh?’

Over at Ribble, former World Professional Pursuit Champion, Colin Sturgess – complete with natty bobble hat – was briefing his boys, with James Shaw a real medal prospect.

Back at Planet Cav, the great man had appeared; changing in the car in a school car park a million miles from the glam of the Deceuninck bus and adoring Flemish fans.

Sam Brand of the ‘Changing Diabetes,’ formerly, ‘Novo Nordisk’ and ‘Team Type One’ – where every rider lives with diabetes – is like Cav, a Manxman, this was his last race of the season and his contract is secure for 2022, so he’ll enjoy his winter break.

Our third Manxman was Scot, John Archibald’s Eolo-Kometa team mate, Giro finisher, Mark Christian, another man with a contract signed for next year and looking forward to his three weeks off before the hard work starts again.

Joe Laverick was looking the part in his Axeon Hagen’s Berman strip – the team is run by Axel Merckx and along with aforementioned DSM and the other Dutch squad, SEG it’s one of the sport’s premier ‘nursery’ teams.

On the subject of the SEG team, Scot Sean Flynn finished a very respectable 12th.

Despite Harry Tanfield having nailed several podiums recently, in hard and fast Belgian pro kermises he’s not optimistic about the future of his Qhubeka NextHash team – it wasn’t stopping him from enjoying his banana though. . .

Connor Swift was looking thoughtful before the start; the man has had a good season, as well as his fine Tro Bro Leon win he also took the GC in the Tour Poitou Charentes. And if some of the pre-start pics look a tad misty, it was drizzling pretty heavily all through our perambulations.

Thoughtful too was Scot, John Archibald riding his first road race since Poitou Charentes where he finished second to Ben Hermans in the time trial stage. It wasn’t to be John’s day, he never really looked at ease on the occasions we saw him.

Roll out. . . and by time we yomped back to the circuit the peloton was completing lap one of 13; Lewis Askey was already on the offensive – with Cav well to the fore, indicating that he wouldn’t be finishing this race and was simply, ‘honouring the race.’ The pace was savage from the ‘off’ with peloton one long line of grimacing men.

Lap two and Dan Bigham was looking his usual, ‘aero’ self having scurried clear with Rhys Briton. Matt Holmes and Harry Tanfield were well to the fore in the chasing peloton.
By lap five we’d positioned ourselves on the steep, cobbled climb of Michaelgate, up to the cathedral.

Bigham had fresh company now; Harry Tanfield, Jake Stewart (FDJ), defending champion Swift, former champion the other Swift and an impressive Sam Watson doing more than his share of the graft – he’d end the day an excellent 10th. This group would form the race’s focal point with riders coming across – like Hayter and Askey and others coming across then ‘popping’ out of the back door – like Connor Swift, Stewart and Dan McLay.

James Shaw (Ribble) looked strong all day but was always chasing, rather than at the head of affairs, ninth was his reward.

Matt Holmes (Lotto Soudal) ran out of gas, as did Piemonte winner, Walls and the Arkea challenge folded with both Swift and McLay spent men on Michaelgate – it’s a short ascent but there’s nowhere to hide if you ‘pop’.

While Cav could only hurt that much for so many laps before the G Wagon seemed like a better option.

At least his bike stayed in one piece, unlike that of big Canyon DHB man, Damien Clayton who appeared on foot, chain rings in hand.

Askey and Wright though were aggressive throughout, continually forcing and animating the race. Tanfield was swinging one lap then driving the next but after the race, winner Swift attributed the success of the move to the Qhubeka man’s strength.

On the final ascent of Michaelgate, Swift – who had gone clear with Wright – left nothing to chance, putting in a stinging attack to make sure he was first through the series of bends which come within 100 metres of the line.

Wright had no answer and shortly behind, Hayter was too quick for Tanfield to take bronze, with Askey fifth.

Sixth spot went to Alex Richardson [Alpecin Fenix] with McLay seventh; Ethan’s younger brother, Leo eighth, Shaw ninth and Sam Watson 10th. As close as you’re going to get to a continental race atmosphere in the UK, great parcours and a savage race – not much more you can ask for. I wonder what The Imp thought of it all though?

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