North West Youth Tour

On Friday 27th of May we headed up to the North West, for the national youth tour based around Lancashire and surrounding areas. It would be the biggest competition I had ever been in, and I was looking forward to it, especially as there was a hilly stage, where I hoped to perform well.
The journey up wasn’t the best, we seemed to hit the half term and bank holiday traffic, and the M5 and M6 were chock a block, with queues of traffic. We eventually arrived at our home for the weekend after over 8 hours in the van travelling. Once unloaded, we headed to the nearest town to pick up some supplies and get some tea. We ended having fish and chips, followed by a short activation ride at about 10pm! After this it was leg shaving time and then time to sleep, luckily not an early start the next day!
The first stage was a time trial along the Morecambe sea front, in an out and back loop that was just over 2km long. I was one of the first to leave the start ramp in my category, and put in a decent ride, although I would have liked it to be about 10 miles! I ended up placing 60th on GC at the end of the day, not the best result, but I had given it my all and was only a few seconds off a much higher placing.
Post stage it was a trip to the local shops, and a stir fry cooked by dad to fuel us for the following day, the hilly stage that would create the GC splits. It would be an earlier start in he morning! Joy!
Stage two was located in a cattle market car park, with the animal auction site visible, and on the other side of the car park was an abattoir, happy settings, and a lovely smell, as could be imagined. With an early sign on and a race later on in the day, there was time to chill out and find shade, with the BCDS and Backstedt contingent in the back of the van! Once changed and warmed up, it was time to race.
We had done a ride of the course after yesterday’s stage, so I knew what to expect. The first couple of times up the climb were rapid, and hitting speeds in excess of 40mph on the fast descent, before going straight back uphill. After that it settled down, but the bunch had thinned out massively, with the hill taking its effect on some riders. I was able to stay in he front bunch, most of the time comfortable, but when strong attacks came I was able to react but it hurt! At the halfway point I started to feel the race, so had a gel, followed by another a couple of laps later, and I was glad I had put them in my pocket! With hot weather drinking was vital, as I needed to avoid dehydration. Unfortunately with two laps to go I cramped up, it hurt to free wheel, and it hurt to pedal, but I had no option about the latter as I was still in the front bunch. I had run out of fluids, so just had to push through it. With one lap to go I started thinking about the finish, and prepared to move up on the climb. Now the group was only about 25 riders strong, and on the steepest part the speed was put on, and gaps opened up. I got past riders, and finished 21st, which I was extremely pleased with. I would have liked to have been higher placed, but I had given it everything. This ride moved me to 23rd on GC, a massive increase, putting minutes into near riders.
After my ride and cool down, I couldn’t even get off the bike! Once recovered though, I then walked all the way up the climb to watch others race, and give support to them, on a brutal course.
It was a good day for the BCDS riders, with Laura placing highly despite dropping her chain on the climb whilst in the lead group, Charlie performing well on his less favoured terrain, and Sam doing well on his less favoured terrain as well.
After the finish of the day there was a reward in the form of a barbecue hosted by the Thatcher’s, followed by packing up our things that we bought, with it being our last night and another early start ahead.
A decent sleep later, it was time to leave and head to the final couple of stages, hosted at the Salt Ayre Race Circuit, a narrow twisty circuit, renown for fast races and sprint finishes. We ended up in the middle of the circuit, able to view other races from both sides of the circuit, and near a crossing point. Once signed on for the final time, time to change and prepare for stage 3, 22 laps of the circuit in a clockwise direction, a total of 28km. Due to my performance yesterday, I would be gridded for the stage, meaning that I avoided the mad rush, and could take extra time preparing.
The race was quick, and due to the narrowness of the circuit almost impossible to move up in the group. I ended up towards the back of the group, and avoided a crash at close quarters to me, but still meaning I had to give chase to get into the front group again, but it only took a matter of a straight. There wasn’t much let up in the pace, and this increased towards the end. I was content with finishing upright, after realising there was no real way that there would be any GC splits, or ways I could move up in general classification. Stage 3 finished, still in 23rd on GC, and still upright.
A cool down later it was time to change into normal clothes, eat, rest and then get ready for stage 4. This was again on the same circuit, but anti-clockwise this time, and due to time constraints on 20 laps, about 25.5km. Another sprint was expected, and a change in GC leader could make the race a whole lot quicker and harder.
It was set off, and within the first 100m a rider had hit the deck, and we had to restart. After the restart the race was quick, and it became apparent that there were a lot of tired minds in the pack, as some of the riding was dubious. Towards the end it got nervy, with riders being pushed onto the grass in some corners, and some swerving and back wheel locking! Towards the final laps the pace picked up, and in the final corner a big crash happened, with lots of riders hitting the deck in front of me. It was a case of getting out the way, and then sprinting for the line. I finished about half way down the pack, which I was happy with, as it meant no GC splits and since I had got caught behind the crash.
The final line marked the end of the tour, and due to a rider having to pull out mid race after a mechanical incident, I was up to 22nd on general classification. I was happy with this result, and knew that in every stage I had given it my all, although a bit more clever riding could have placed me even higher. Nonetheless I was pleased since it was my first tour, and gives me confidence for future road races as a youth and a junior rider. An enjoyable weekend spent with good friends and some great racing across the categories.
All that was left was to load up the van, and begin the journey home, which thankfully had better traffic than the journey up.
A big thanks to the organisers of the North West Tour and the sponsors and volunteers who made the event possible. Also a massive thanks to Dad for driving us there and both Mum and Dad for constant support over the weekend, along with our friends.