Feature – Beeston CC at the Milk Race


David versus Goliath at the Milk Race as five riders from Beeston CC find out what it’s like to take on the pros in a crit

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Feature – Beeston CC at the Milk Race

by Jack Beavis

The Milk Race may have been dominated by rejuvenated JLT-Condor team, but away from the glory local riders were riding in the biggest race of the lives. It was the first time Beeston Cycling Club, based on the outskirts of Nottingham had entered a team in the prestigious event; but with five category two amateurs on the start line, what was it really like to race some the best professionals in the UK?

“I was really worried about being out of my depth, but I shouldn’t have been” said Chris Bates, who at 40 years of age only started racing in 2013. He is one of the six sponsored riders for the Beeston CC race team who aim to win the Category 2/3/4 East Midlands Road Race League in their first season as a team.

Race Team Captain Phil Giles got off to a good start in the hour long Nottingham based Milk Race, positioning himself in the top ten through the early stages of the race. “You have to be near the front, the elastic through the corners when you’re accelerating with the professionals is extreme and if you weren’t in the top twenty you were never going to get near the front”.

Although Phil managed to find himself working with other riders in and around 15th-30th place, once the elastic had indeed snapped, Chris found the going from the gun something of a baptism of fire.

“The race was supposed to be gridded, but it was everyman for themselves from the start.” Phil explains that the two neutralised laps were the “toughest he had ever seen” with the jostling for position sending Chris towards the back of field. “I found myself at the back when the race went live and was straight up to 98% of my maximum heart rate. It stayed over threshold for the next few laps with crashes breaking up the field and wheels starting to drift away.”

Chris settled into the race and worked with a small group for the remainder after “catching a couple of riders I race week in, week out.” The pace at the front of the race was relentless and both riders were lapped by leaders Kristian House and Andy Tennant at around the 45 minute mark. “When the leaders passed their extra speed was evident again. We managed to keep up on the straights but lost time on the corners. The superior bike handling skills of the professionals came in to play on the technical circuit and they were taking metres out of me on the corners”.


The race was something different for almost all of the five riders, who are more used to the road racing as opposed to criteriums. “In road races, you almost have twenty minutes to find your legs and get into it, but you don’t have time for that in a crit, it was simply all out from the word go. It takes a different kind of mindest and preparation, with the warm up obviously being very important”.

“We do one criterium a year if we’re lucky. Maybe if we were doing them every week we’d get used to it and become more competitive; but as complete newbies it was very difficult” explained Phil. It became apparent to Chris that the professionals were far more used to the flat out nature of circuit racing after chatting to Starley Primal rider Davie Lines who said he was racing two more criteriums in the Tour Series that week.

Both riders were pulled out after 55 minutes, as were all lapped riders, with only 25 starters making it through the full distance of an hour and five laps. A recurring theme of the conversations with both Phil and Chris was the toughness of the criterium style of racing.

The previous week, on a much smaller stage, both had taken part in the East Midlands Regional Road Race Championship, with Phil taking an impressive 9th place behind Raleigh-GAC rider Karol Domagalski. “The gap wasn’t just about power and speed” says Chris. “It was possible to keep on the wheels the week before”.

“We’re just not used to the crit races” adds Phil. “The gap is smaller than you may think between amateurs and professionals. There are a lot of factors. In a road race, you are spending a fair amount of time not making hard efforts, but today my heart rate was over 90% of its max for an hour; you’re on the rivet the whole time! They are more familiar with the task in hand.

In a road race, there would be more of a race, but we would have to be on the top of our game and follow the right moves. There are also a number of marginal gains which give them advantages – we have to run our own bikes for example. We had a ‘team car’ in the pits but it was empty! After a hard weeks’ work, you can still put out good numbers, but it’s hard to sprint out of corner repeatedly. You might do it five times, some guys maybe ten but the professionals can do it at least twenty because they’re fresh.”

Both men still manage to train between 10-14 hours a week, despite having full time jobs and in Chris’ case, a family. Chris averages about 280 miles a week (including racing) and his main sessions are two long rides (averaging around 20mph+, a midweek club time trial or road race and commuting varying distances to work daily. Phil tells me that he does a variety of sessions throughout the week because longer road races work different systems. Typically these will involve a longer ride at the weekend, intervals mid week and core strength training a weekly occurrence.

The training is clearly paying off as Beeston CC won the opening two round of the East Midlands Road Race League and their rider currently sits top of the standings. Personally, Chris is aiming for a strong showing at this weekend’s National Masters’ Championship, with the hope of qualifying for the World Championships later in the year.

Whether that will match the experience of racing against the best in the UK in a city centre criterium remains to be seen – but one thing that won’t be there is the noise of the partisan Nottingham crowd, Chris adding “the crowd were amazing, everyone was so supportive.”

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