‘Last One Standing’ – report by Bruce Williams
Another 6am start on the Wymondham based A11 course in the Eastern District Championship 100 on Sunday and another titanic female duel fought out, this time without the sun and heat that was a feature of this event last year. With 3 different national competition records set, the Eastern District championship ‘100’ was packed with incident and drama, nicely setting the day up (if you are a multi-faceted sports fan) for the events that took place at Lords and Wimbledon later that day on tv.
Those global finals watched by billions were good, but live sport is always special, especially when you get close and personal with the competitors during and after the race, just as some of them demonstrate their will and combativity (relative to each other) in the heat of battle. The performances, the times and the racing are good, but it is the people – amateur cyclists bar one – that are more interesting, not the stats or the bikes. Cycling isn’t boxing but, as competition goes, this was a no holds barred slugfest on the open road that Katie Taylor or Joe Frazier would be proud of.
Heading the men’s field at number 80 was Marcin Bialoblocki (NoPinz) the Polish professional and time trial ace (based and racing in the UK for some years) who has competed in a number of world championships for Poland over the last few years and has won numerous time trial championships in the UK at various distances over the last two seasons, including the National ‘100’ held in North Yorkshire the previous week. Heading the women’s field was Vicky Gill (number 67) of Drag2Zero who also won the National ‘100’ last week, defeating the formidable Alice Lethbridge, who won this EDCA championship in the sun last year with a time of 3.42 (three hours forty two minutes) which broker her own National Competition record, that still stands today. Alice was a non-starter here this year, but had explained to the Organisers that she could not ride and has reportedly had some health issues this season. It is not easy performing at this level and holding a responsible full time job as she does.
I and a few others saw Marcin at the hq before the start where one brave individual asked him if he was going for the win and the course record? It was already widely reported that Bialoblocki was intent on getting the national competition record, one that he missed a few weeks ago at the ECCA ‘100’ in Cambridgeshire when he went off course. He still got a time of 3.23 that day, the fastest time recorded despite him covering 107 miles, but he was disqualified for his mid-demeanour. Competition record stands to Adam Duggleby (who rode in the tandem event at this EDCA championship) at 3.17 which he set two years ago. In response to the aforementioned question and (as they say) for the avoidance of doubt, Bialoblocki replied to the effect that he was ‘not interested in winning the event and not interested in the course record, but was only interested in national competition record’. The one that he had missed at the ECCA event a few weeks before when observers estimated that, had he managed to stay on course, he would have recorded a time of around 3.10. No fun and no messing with him then. I only hoped that the signage and the marshals were all in place and did not do anything stupid. Pressure.
Unsurprisingly, the Polish ace was in a class of his own tearing up the course like a man possessed. I cannot say that it was not interesting though, to see the intensity of his attack at the Browick roundabout turn (where I was marshalling) a place where most riders – including fast ones – take a bit of a breather. The riders first passed Browick at about 18 miles – at which point Marcin was already 4 minutes up on the guy that eventually came second – after which they pass me a further 3 times covering 22 miles on each complete loop. Marcin was covering each 22 mile circuit in 42-43 minutes (so exceeding 30mph average speed) whilst the eventual second rider, John Wingfield (number 71) of Team Signum was taking 46, 45 and then 44-45 minutes so increasing his pace slightly as the race progressed. Tom Thornely of Buxton CC (75) who eventually came 3rd was taking a consistent 47 minutes for each circuit and led the Buxton CC threesome (with Matt Ivings and Dr Chris Lea who all compete frequently in EDCA events) in their team prize endeavours.
Dr Lea was telling me that, back in April, he and his club mates rode on training bikes from Buxton in the Peak District to Buxton Lammas on the edge of the Norfolk Broads in one day, a distance close to 200 miles in one day. Not content with that, they even turned back and did another 20 miles to Swaffham where their hotel rooms were booked. Clearly not cyclists to be taken likely, these Peak District boys. Must be all the mountain air and Eyam’s historic survival of the Black Death. Anyway, this doughty threesome will be back looking for more individual and team honours in the National 12 hour championship to be organised in Norfolk by the EDCA next month.
Generally faster men riders were taking 50 minutes or less for the 22 mile circuit a time that was matched by the two key women in the contest, National Champion Vicky Gill and Kim Morrison (both Drag2Zero) the professional tri-athlete who was second in this event last year to Alice Lethbridge, recording then a time of 3.44, just over two minutes down on the winner. Conditions last year were hot (which did not seem to bother these two girls) but favourable given the very low wind speeds. Early conditions on Sunday looked good, if rather cooler than last year, but rising northerly winds affected most riders over at least the last 20-30 miles of their race and, reportedly, air pressure was also high. The wind direction, however, did mean that, after passing marshals for the last time at Browick, riders had a favourable wind back to Snetterton (cycling in a SW direction) for 12-13 miles before the final short leg back to the finish at Attleborough.
Bialoblocki passed me for the last time at Browick at 2.46, ultimately finishing in a time of 3.13 (three hours 13 minutes – an average speed of 31mph) showing strong pace over those final miles, so beating the old competition record by over 3 minutes. Job done. In his first ‘100’ John Wingfield was 2nd nearly 13 minutes down on the winner with Tom Thornely in 3rd a further 8 minutes back finishing in a fine 3.34. Alan Murchison of Drag2Zero was 4th in 3.36 also winning the team award with Vicky and Kim.
Kim Morrison passed me for the last time at 3.14 (on my watch, about 30 seconds down at the time on Vicky Gill) finishing in a time of 3.44.06, her powerful finish bringing her victory over Vicky by 6 seconds! Talk about an epic contest – the champion time triallist versus the professional tri-athlete. It’s not good versus evil, but it might be tough versus hard, mean versus mean? I suppose that Lewis Hamilton would not wish to be beaten by a fast train driver! Kimberley had actually led Vicky by a minute or so earlier in the event, but the latter upped her pace with a 48 minute last circuit; with everything to play for, those closing 15-16 miles were decisive, albeit with a tiny margin between the two of them. Rematch anyone? (Preferably with Alice as well. Perhaps Frank Warren could put it on as promoter).
Rebecca Taylor (number 43, Wisbech Wheelers) also produced a fine performance beating her time of last year by a minute with 3.57, also a little faster than her time at the ECCA ‘100’ a few weeks ago, whereas most riders (who did both) were slightly lower. Third woman overall, Rebecca retains the EDCA championship that she also won last year (Drag2Zero not being a club within the Eastern District). Flying the flag for the North Norfolk Wheelers was Andrew Knowles (number 47) recording a fine 3.59, about two minutes slower than his ECCA ‘100’ but good training for his 12 hour (and so BAR) attempt next month. Whereas Rebecca had started cautiously but did a faster 2ndfifty, Andrew had started strongly but, as he told me, paid the price in the last 20 miles. I gallantly suggested to him that another ‘100’ would be ideal training for the 12 hour, but he thought he had done enough!
In the tandem event, Duggleby and Yarwood (Vive Le Velo) looked smooth and impressive throughout taking competition record by half a minute with a time of 3.17.51, whilst Becky and Howard Lewis (Mid Shropshire Wheelers) got the mixed tandem competition record with a time of 3.32.02. Adam Duggleby must have had the strange and surely unique experience of getting a competition record and losing one in the same event !
Next stop, the National 12 hour championship in Norfolk next month. The 12 Hour – a unique experience in UK cycling and at the same time, like the village green and a cricket match, a uniquely British cycle event as well.
Marcin and Vicky Gill photos courtesy of Paul Sexton
Other photos are courtesy of Fergus Muir