The Victor Berlemont is widely regarded as the hardest, most prestigious National B road race in the country with the organiser describing how it ‘aims to provide a challenge close to the National A races’. It covers 108 miles gaining 2000m of elevation in the process and we are incredibly lucky that its based nearby in Woodcote, giving us racers a local end of season test. Ollie Hucks, Seb Garry and I lined up to represent HWCC.
We were greeted on the morning of the race with stunning conditions, however, with temperatures forecast to climb up into the low thirties, feeding was clearly going to play an even more important role in race outcomes as well as just the very act of racing 110 miles in temperatures above 30c. This certainly made us all a little apprehensive to see how we’d cope with the heat, but regardless we were keen to get stuck in and get racing.
The race started full gas as expected, however, what wasn’t expected is that the winning move went within the first 3 miles of the race and it was never to be seen again. For the first few laps, we all patrolled the bunch trying to establish another move that would stay up the road. Ollie, in particular, was constantly off the front of the bunch trying to establish a second break of the day. His persistence finally paid off after around 45 miles as he made it into a move that stuck, subsequently forming the second main break of the day. Realising that with at least 15-20 riders now up the road the peloton seemed to have become the grupetto without being dropped! I was acutely aware that I needed to find a way of making it up the road to remain a presence in the race and so I kept a keen eye on the Wiggins, Ribble, Zappis and Madison Genesis jerseys within the peloton. I knew a move containing those riders likely provided my best opportunity to bridge to the moves up the road.
After 55 miles Charlie Quaterman (National U23 TT Champ) from Zappis attacked at the bottom of the climb and knowing his strength I figured it was now or never and decided to give chase. I caught him and we worked to gain a good gap up the climb. We then began catching riders who had either been dropped from the various breakaways, or attempted to go solo off the front of the bunch. After exactly a lap our work had paid off as we caught Ollies move at the bottom of the climb to form a bunch of 15-20 riders. Ollie and I exchanged some brief words, however, it was clear he was struggling in the relentless heat having missed a couple of water opportunities. I had been lucky, having only missed one opportunity for water due to my Dad not expecting me to need feeding after just 1hr 30, and then requiring another bottle every 20 minutes! This meant I got through a staggering 8 750ml bottles in just 4hrs 30mins!
From making the bridge to the second break of the day (also containing George Clark who is an ex HWCC rider and has now made the jump up to ride for Spirit Tifosi) it became a war of attrition. The group of 20 or so had whittled its way down 7 through natural selection by the last full lap up the climb. I was coping ok until the last time up the climb where, after 95 miles, a rider from Wheelbase Castelli drove the pace clearly aiming to dispatch any stragglers from our group. I knew that if I could hold the wheel up the final climb I would be able to hold the group until we arrived at the bottom of the climb for the final time so I gritted my teeth, dug deep and suffered. I made it to the top of the climb (just!) with the group still intact but I was a spent force. I promptly began to sit on the back of my group, and as two guys managed to chip off the front of my group, I had no response. I knew if I pulled a turn I was definitely going straight out the back and so I had little choice but to ignore the shouts of roll through as the rest of my diminished group towed me to the bottom of the final climb where I promptly got dispatched.
I managed to grovel my way up the climb for the final time without walking and came across the line in 14th. I quickly learned that I was the final rider to complete the full distance out of 80 starters, showing just how brutal the race had been. George had far more gas left than I and managed to sprint for 11th with his teammate Rupert Graham taking the win. 14th represented a huge success for me in my first season of bike racing, particularly as I had jumped in the deep end as the Victor B was my first ever National level road race. It's awesome to have such a great event so close to home and to be able to test the legs with some of the top riders and to gain an understanding of what it takes to compete at the National level.
I would also like to say a quick thank you to all those who volunteer and put on these events. With over 50 volunteers, including Wycombe’s own Nigel Croxford and Andy Pearce, the value of the those who give their time to help make these events happen and keep us racers safe is immeasurable. Here’s to the continued success of Wycombe racers going into to 2020, Up the Wycombe!