The breaks take the day whilst the overall leaders prove tough to topple
Pears and Goodhead nick their overall series wins on the final round
The breakaways were successful in all four races as the final round of the Odd Down Winter Series proved as hotly contested as ever, but few riders were able to mount a true late challenge for the overall victories. The wind proved just enough to prise the races apart, but not to stop the escapees from sustaining their advantage to the finish leaving the main bunch sprints to contest the minor placings.
Rob Pears (Bath CC) went into the final round down in fourth place in the 3rd Cat overall standings, with Dan Byrne (Black Line) his main rival for the overall win holding a six point lead before the race. Byrne’s third place finish at Round 7 showed that Pears would need to rely on his prodigious time trialling ability to put the two position gap he needed between Byrne and himself to take the overall – Pears has a best finish of fourth when racing with the 2nd cats.
From the gun, an early escape of two riders forged clear with Pear’s teammate Elliott Barratt (Bath CC) following a move from William Lewis (Performance Cycles) and forcing George Fowler (NoPinz SYmec Race Team) into the chase. Pears had looked to jump across to the early move with Fowler’s teammate Morgan Curle (NoPinz Symec Development Team) but as the move was brought back it prompted Fowler to try an escape along with Tom Day (Giant CC – Halo Films) and Carl Jolly (University of Bristol CC).
Perhaps Fowler had shown his hand too early, because as soon as this move was neutralized Evan Powell (Pontypool RCC) and Jared Linden (Royal Dean Forest CC) slipped away and with the bunch behind grateful for a lull in the pace, they quickly had a more substantial advantage than any of the early flurry of attacks had gained.
Fowler, Curle and Pears continued to prowl the front of the pack but with their moves marked and the front two working together well it quickly looked like the race was slipping away as the midway point was passed. In response to this détente, it was Pears who threw caution to the persistent crosswinds and set about in pursuit of the leaders – challenging the rest of the pack to follow his wheel into no-man’s land. As he continued to crank the pace, Curle was the final rider following in his wake as the move materialized.
However, Curle was soon dispatched as well as the alarm bells well and truly stared ringing in the bunch with last week’s winner William Truelove (Abergavenny CC) going after Pears with Curle quickly paying for his efforts at the back of the main pack. But this, and the rest of the surges from the floundering main group were too little too late to catch the flying chaser, but it looked like time was still going to run out for Pears as the front two hung a mere five seconds ahead going into the final laps.
It wasn’t until the penultimate lap that the junction was made, and suddenly the front pairing faced a three-up sprint for the win with all of the trio having spent substantial resources to put themselves in position to battle for the win. As the sprint launched into the headwind, Pears had forced himself clear and it looked like a foregone conclusion for an impressive comeback win – but as the line drew close he threw his hand up in what seemed to be relief with Powell still closing fast. Last winter John Russell (Bristol RC) had escaped unpunished from a similar error of judgement, and Pears was also fortunate as the line came just in time for him to take the win ahead of Powell by half a wheel. Linden was pushed out to third, a just reward for his exploits in the break and enough to push him up to fifth overall in the second category standings. Fowler took the bunch sprint for fourth ahead of Byrne, Day and Truelove to show that it truly had been a day for the strongest riders to battle it out at the front of the pack throughout.
It had been shaping up to be a close fight for the win in the women’s second cat overall series, but with second place Lucy Gadd (Storey Racing), who had lead up until Round 7, unable to take the start Lauren Johnston (Avid Sport) knew that the overall victory was in the bag. Her hopes for a victory on the day to put the icing on the cake were put under serious threat despite Gadd’s absence by the presence of both Charlotte Berry (Campinese-Velo Performance) and Illi Gardner (Brother Tifosi) who have been prominent in races at Odd Down over the past twelve months.
With Johnston’s teammates looking to lock down the early phase of the race, Maria Powell (Radeon BikeScience) was the rider who made the first early move. This was chased down by Gardner, who had Berry watching her closely and bringing the group back to her wheel. However, Berry left a gap as Gardner kept the power down once Powell was caught and suddenly found she had daylight to a chase from Freya Richardson (Hargroves-Montezuma’s) who had joined Berry in trying to respond to the attack.
Gardner set to work building her lead as the large chasing group were not able to mount an organized chase, and as the gap continued to grow, this triggered Johnston to spring into action. The series winner and Berry charged clear and began to nibble into Gardner’s lead together as the race seemed to be coming to life. However, once Berry had slipped off Johnston’s wheel under the impetus of the chase and with Gardner sustaining her effort well, it seemed unlikely that the front rider would be brought back. Indeed, with Berry back in the bunch, Johnston’s initial momentum to erode Garnder’s lead reversed and despite seeing the pack shrink into the distance behind her, there was nothing she could do to hold close to Gardner – despite the extra time the leader had been solo.
And so a spectacular show of force from Garnder was complete, along with a demonstration from Johnston as to why she has come out on top throughout the winter as a whole. Caitlin Bower (Swansea University) showed why she had taken the Round 4 win ahead of Gadd by sprinting to third from the bunch ahead of Berry and Claire Walters (Jeremy Rees Cycles RT).
Behind the battle for the win, the fight for the 4th cat overall standings was developing. With the leader Rosie Lyon-Smith (University of Bristol) not racing, the door had opened for Joanna Goodhead (Avid Sport) and Lucy Collins (three and six points behind respectively). With Goodhead distanced early on by Gardner’s attacks, and Collins hanging onto the coattails of the front group, it looked like the win would go to the winner of Rounds 1 & 6 in the 4th cat races. But as the race wore on, Collins slipped off the back of the main group, and Goodhead clawed her way back to Eleanor Jaskowska (Bristol South CC) and her teammate Sally Crocker (Avid Sport) alongside Sara James (Clevedon RC). Needing to finish with no more than one rider between herself and Collins, Goodhead would have to find her way to at least second from this group of four, despite lacking a punchy sprint which had denied her any wins in the series up to this point.
This lack of snap had been what had put the Avid Sport rider behind the rest of the race whilst the early attacks were flying, but she has shown real tenacity and fight to bring herself back to groups over the last few weeks and this sustained power proved vital as she was able to drive a pace that left only Jaskowska alongside her coming into the finish. This meant that despite coming up second best in the sprint, she nicked the overall win from Collins by a single point.
The women’s 4th cat race has been dominated by sprint finishes, but this week a clinical move from VeloVitesse riders Ellie Mackman and Natalie Jenks along with Isobel Conibear (Southampton University) with a few laps to go left the rest of the pack racing for fourth. Mackman was well clear in the sprint with Jenks in second and Conibear taking third. Emily Griffiths (Better Cycling) took the sprint for fourth.
The men’s fourth cat race on the other hand has been dominated by splits and breakaways; this week was no exception with a group of seven shredding the bunch into small chasing groups in the early going. From this selection, Alexander Pilgrim took the win ahead of Sam Hardy (University of Bath) to climb to fourth overall in the 4th cat standings. Samuel Lane took his best result of the series in third.