Larry Hickmott looks back at the first half of the Halfords Tour Series and talks to Magnus Backstedt and Dean Downing about the racing so far and what’s to come….
With the sun shining outside, I’m spending the last few hours at the keyboard of my desktop at home on the Wirral knowing that I’ll soon be on the road for three days for the Halfords Tour Series.
Two weeks gone, two weeks to go after this week and as we head for round 6 in Peterborough, the halfway point of the Men’s series, Endura Racing are on top of the leader board with a healthy lead of six points over the revelation of the series, UK Youth.
Above: Endura Racing
- Five rounds from Eleven held so far
- Three individual winners so far, two each for Scott Thwaites and Kristian House and one to Niklas Gustavsson
- Endura Racing won four rounds (team) and UK Youth one round
- UK Youth have been second three times and won one. Worst result was only 4 points at Durham.
- RCS have been second twice and their worst round and Endura Racing’s worst round both saw then scoring 7 points.
- Endura Racing (47) lead by six points, UK Youth are second (41) and RCS third (39 points).
Despite Endura Racing’s apparent dominance of the series at the start, winning the team prize for the first four rounds and two individual wins as well through Scott Thwaites, the series has highlighted just who are the strong teams and a squad that has surprised in that respect is UK Youth.
They started the year dominating the first ‘classic’, the Perfs Pedal but that was as good as it got for them with illness and bad luck preventing them from showing the same kind of dominance in the other major British road race events. That was left to Endura Racing who went into the Tour Series as favourites.
It was quickly clear that the form Endura Racing had shown in the major road races was just as good in the crits and in Round 1 at Kirkcaldy (Scotland), Endura Racing won both team and individual. Ominously though, UK Youth had shown they had the firepower to be a contender and it was just a matter of time before they stepped onto the podium.
That time came in round four at Redditch when Niklas Gustavsson took the individual win and a round later in Aberystwyth, Team UK Youth placed two riders into a break of four and won the team prize. They had well and truly arrived.
Looking back, Magnus Backstedt of UK Youth, who’s first series race was in Wales, a country he’s lived in for many many years, says “I think we have the momentum up and going now. It is difficult to predict how the team will fare in that every round is so different and specific and the only way you can ride it, is to go out and give 100 per cent and see what happens.”
Above: Magnus Backstedt was quickly up to speed in the first of his Tour Series events in 2012.
“In Aberystwyth, we covered just about everything but I was a little scared before the start because I didn’t know what my legs were going to be like. Luckily, I was in there straight away and the legs responded well straight away. The other boys rode fantastic there too. Chris (Opie) and James (Stewart) were up in the front group and while they didn’t win the individual, and that is a big disappointment to Chris, for the team, it was solid points with two in the break.”
I’ve watched as the UK Youth team has grown over the years and asked how the result in Aberystwyth ranks in the team’s palmeres. The Paris-Roubaix winner replied “pretty dam high. This is what we set out to do specifically this year. We need sponsors to come in and help promote the charity and hopefully if we can continue to ride like this, we’ll have more sponsors come on board to see the bigger picture we all see.”
Crash, bang, wallop
Anyone who has watched the ITV4 coverage or seen some of my pictures will know that there have been some crashes in each round. Talking to Magnus about that, he says “I wouldn’t say there are any more crashes than normal. People are going into corners flat out as it’s full on racing and there’s a few well chosen words in the peloton and a few guys coming off but that is crit racing. You have to go that quick through the corners and that comes with risk.”
Can UK Youth repeat their team victory or even do the double of team and individual win in the next round? Having done both in different rounds, it’s certainly within their capability. Magnus meanwhile simply says “In Peterborough, we’ll carry on racing the same way we always race, try and get in the moves and try not to miss anything….”
The other teams…
As we head for round six in Peterborough, the guess work though continues as to how the series will pan out with the other teams. Endura Racing are doing a spot of rotating of riders with Zak Dempster and Russell Downing coming in for Dean Windsor and Ian Bibby while other teams may or may not shuffle their cards as well after the RAS in Ireland.
Raleigh – GAC meanwhile, have Bernie Sulzberger in yellow (Sprint competition) but also have a race in Canada to do so that may mean changes to their team although Sulzberger and Graham Briggs (British Circuit Race Champion) are expected to carry on leading the team in the series.
The Men in Black
The big question mark remains over the Rapha team. Two individual wins thanks to Kristian House and numbers at the front of the race in the last few rounds show they have the riders to tackle Endura Racing and UK Youth in the team race.
A weekend break from the travelling and racing and we may well see them take on a more leading role in the racing as their circuit race riders start to challenge for the wins. Last year, Dean Downing was second at Peterborough and in 2010 was the winner and he says the course is a super fast one and the race could either way in a break going clear or a bunch kick.
For Dean though, the goal is simple. “I want to win, that’s all I want to do, that’s not a lot to ask is it?”
Dean Downing and James Stewart in Aberystwyth
For Dean, getting ill during the series was bad luck and he explained that not getting results in this Halfords Tour Series is doubly hard for riders because when they don’t get a result, it isn’t only themselves it affects, but also their team. Another example he sites is James McCallum who Dean says is in the best shape of his career but crashes at crucial times have prevented him getting a result for his team and that is frustrating.
It’s a frustration that can work for the team though. Kristian House came out of Redditch one angry young man and used that to his advantage in Aberystwyth to win there and Ed Clancy came out of Aberystwyth angry after getting caught in a bad position and so don’t be surprised if you see him hitting back this week.
But winning, says Dean, is not as easy as it used to be. “The quality of the racing has gone up immensely. The first years, you’d have the same four or five riders in the breaks but now there’s a lot of riders who have come of age. Scott Thwaites for example has been one of the best riders so far this season.”
Dean added that the influx of foreign riders has had an effect as well and that after three years of the series, the teams are also getting to grips with the team aspect of the racing. His team, Rapha Condor Sharp (RCS) though, are the most experienced of the squads but when bad luck strikes, even a team as strong as pre series favourites RCS, can struggle.
“We’ve had our bad luck despite riding well together so far in the series. I think everything that could have gone wrong for us, has gone wrong but we’re starting to come good now. Kristian House has been really good and Jimmy Mac (James McCallum) has been good to but has had crap results so hopefully now we can do what Endura Racing did last year and pick away at their lead. There’s a long way to go and there are rumours of double points on the final event so there are still a lot of points up for grabs. ”
Talking about Dean’s personal run so far in the series, he says Oxford was one of the worst races he’s had in many many years. “I had countless thoughts going through my mind as I was getting dropped” he explained. “I was sat in the back of the car, head in my hands, thinking ‘what is going on’ and all sorts of thoughts going through my head.”
“I spoke to John Herety (manager) and Roger Palfreyman (doctor) and we came to the conclusion I hadn’t got over the virus and I was told to rest and that was hard to do. Last Thursday (Redditch), I was okay but very tired in the last half of the race, but on Friday, I felt more back to normal. Hopefully, all will be well now. It’s disappointing after three great years as an individual and part of a winning team, to not be able to help the team”.
Hunters and the Hunted
Last year, it was Rapha who dominated the early rounds before Endura Racing and Node 4 (Motorpoint) came back to challenge them. This year, the challenge to Endura Racing may come from as many as four teams, UK Youth, RCS, Raleigh and Node 4. With still six rounds left of the eleven, there is plenty of racing to be done and after listening to Dean, I think this week should be the most competitive racing so far as riders find their crit legs after a lot of racing and then some rest.
“The races this week will be massive for the top teams and it’s going to be really tactical. Endura Racing are going to have watch two or three teams and that becomes really difficult. They are in the same situation as we were in last year where all the chasing becomes tiring and other teams start to leap frog you. They are in a tough position now and it’s not as easy for them as it may appear in black and white and the points table.”
“The circuits this week are superfast crit courses made for speed” says Dean. “We’re looking forward to getting stuck in this week after being very disappointed we didn’t win the team on Friday night (Aberystwyth). We were perfectly poised for the bunch sprint when Ed (Clancy) got stuck the wrong side of Magnus (Backstedt) when he was doing the leadout for Yanto and Ed had to brake. He was angry with himself at getting in the wrong position so Ed will be out to take some scalps this week.”
This week will also have another edge to the dual between RCS and Endura Racing. Dean will be racing against his younger brother Russell and he says they’ve been having a laugh about it. “I think Russell will get a shock” says Dean. “He has great condition at the moment but the standard and speed of the Tour Series has gone up but it will be good fun to have him back racing in the series.”
There is no hiding place in the Halfords Tour Series. The racing is flat out and you can see when riders are dropped after only a few laps, just how intense the speed is and also the recovery powers a rider needs to have to keep sprinting in and out of the bends.
So, in a few hours, its time to head to Peterborough!
Will a strengthened Endura Racing put a halt to the challenge from UK Youth or will Rapha come into their own on Tuesday evening? Find out here tomorrow night!
Note: Peterborough will also see the second round of the Women’s Johnson Health Tech GP where winner of round 1, Annie Simpson will be racing to keep the leader’s jersey.