2015- Part 2

2015- Part 2

The bulk of my summer basically went the same way before Ireland, a few dnf’s, dns’ and 1 last place. Largely due to me not being confident enough but also feeling very tired most of the time.

Spokes Junior RR- DNF

Border Trophy TT rounds 2 & 3- 36th & 46th

Garleton Trophy- 38th

Scottish Track Champs points race- DNS

Scottish Track Champs Kilo- 11th

Scottish Track Champs pursuit- 13th

Junior Tour of Ireland 2015

This is it. The big one. The longest junior stage race in the world. It’s only been 6 months since I joined ERC and we would be covering 310 miles in the next 5 days, nearly 10X what I would normally have been covering in a week this time last year. The team this year consisted of myself, Calum Kennedy, Stephen Walker, and a guest in Alistair Merry from Dundee Discovery. Our coaches would be Alex Coutts, former yellow jersey wearer and 4th place overall finisher in this race in days gone by, along with Alastair Webb, who after this race will likely never enter a car with Alex Coutts in a convoy again…

After taking a “shortcut” with my parents to get to the hotel and arriving 2 hours after everybody else, we all settled in and relaxed ahead of the prologue in the morning.

Prologue

Short, sharp, tail wind, managed to avoid being caught by my minute man from the American Specialized Racing Team, not too bad.

Stage 1

HOT.

Quite possibly the best day in terms of scenery, around 115km (about 10km longer than the route map suggested) of stunning landscape and glorious sunshine, backed up with lots of roadside spectators cheering us on. I had spent the first 20km or so sitting in the bunch with Calum, however when a “chopper” cut across me I had 2 get off the road to avoid crashing into a nearby wall, which meant a hard chase onto the bunch for the next couple of minutes, resulting in getting dropped by the first climb. On the way back into Ennis, I had a bad energy dip and dropped from the grupetto*, however, conveniently, a commissaire* car came past looking for stragglers and there was a bit of a sticky bottle* incident for the next couple of km’s, however being close to last on GC nobody was too concerned.

Stage 2

WET.

Today could not have been more of a contrast to yesterday; the rain started pouring literally as we left the starting village, and would just get heavier and heavier as we continued. This was too much for me, I wasn’t at all comfortable in the bunch, and as soon as I got to the back I breathed a bit and started to relax. Now for any young cyclist reading this- do not ever try this, you will be dropped. Which is exactly what happened. After forming a group with other dropped riders, another guy (who shall remain nameless) decided it would be a good idea to attack the grupetto, leaving it split up and riders all over the road. I was with an Irish guy and Stephen- a big thank you needs to go to Stephen, who, like me, had been dropped, but didn’t let this get him down, an ever happy guy both on and off the bike he kept us all going with his motivational chat and “top lad banter”. We eventually finished the stage arm in arm as a trio, drenched from head to foot, completely shattered, but smiling.

Stage 3

WINDY.

Wild Atlantic Way, a fitting name for one “wild” day out on the bike. At the start id been set a challenge by Alex, which was to just get over the first category 1 climb in the bunch, and that was it. I half lived up to this, after being initially dropped, the bunch sat up dramatically for some unknown reason to me (apparently they were climbing) and I got back into the peloton* and over the climb, before, again, being dropped. This suggested 2 things: 1. My bunch skills need improving dramatically and 2. I could climb just as well as these guys, so why am I being dropped constantly? After being caught up by the chasing group, we were eventually split up due to an abandon, a puncture and fatigue from the winds. I was with an American rider guesting for the Sean Kelly development squad and we eventually rolled in together, making a lasting friendship on the road on the way there.

Stage 4

INSPIRING.

For me, this is the stage I was the least/most proud of at the same time. Myself and Stephen had been dropped at the start and after a 4km chase at an average speed of 33mph, just metres before making contact with the group again, there was a crash which forced me into a bush and Stephen just behind it. So we were dropped completely, and I think it’s fair to say we were both suffering at this point in the race, Stephen suffering from sickness. I was willing to do anything that day to just help him to the finish, I pulled us back to a group and sat on the front for a while.

When 2 boys attacked (including the one we paced to the finish the whole day on stage 2) I chased after them and gave them a fair ear bashing, reminding the other boy of the help we had given him the other day, which prompted them to come back to the group and ride tempo. This was when I felt a puncture in my rear wheel, “ahh no worries, the broom wagon won’t be far behind I’ll grab a spare” was my logic. As it turned out, the broom wagon had no spares and I was forced inside. I was gutted. What made it worse was Stephen had waited for me so he could help me get back on, and the whole group had upped the pace and left him for dead, he had to ride 45 miles on his own.

This performance, for me was the one of the Tour. This race was beyond Stephen as much as me, and for him to ride that far, on his own, with the van behind him offering a lift and nothing to do but stare at his front wheel was truly epic. When I (eventually) got a wheel on the final climb and rode to the top, I was greeted by cheers and applause by the organisers for a “gutsy” performance, which really embarrassed me. I felt like I was taking the credit away from my teammate as none of them knew what had happened on the road, I tried explaining but was just talked down, which left me very determined to do something the next day with all the energy I’d saved…

Stage 5

YOLO.

There are some things in life you can only do once and I think that after the day before, I was determined to do this, not only for my friends and family who had supported me all week, but this time, for myself, because ultimately, we were all there to get noticed as cyclists and that was exactly my plan, nothing else, just be seen.

After getting onto the race circuit and sitting in my usual spot of last man in the bunch, waiting for the com car to pass me, the little voice inside my head just said, “screw this, I’m off”, so I came from last in the bunch, hoovering past the bunch and off the front, in a desperate bid to reach the breakaway*. I eventually got across and helped contribute slightly, until we were brought back. The best part for me was that (not known to me at the time) this had been caught by the motorbike cameras and I managed to achieve the 5 seconds of fame I had sought, as well as sitting up for a camera to give the sponsors a little camera time.

Coming into the final is something I’ll never forget. After racing over 300 miles, hills, crashes, winds and high speeds, it all came back to where the prologue started, which I saw as a fitting end to the journey. With hundreds of spectators along the roads, I finished the Tour of Ireland with so many stories and memories, a truly spectacular race and something I hope continues for many years.

Thank you

I’m aware I’ve waffled on a fair bit and if you’ve managed to stick with me for the whole time I’m nearly done, but not before a mentioning few people I’d like to thank.

I’d like to firstly thank Jarlath Flynn at ERC for taking me on this year and providing an exceptional team of me to work with this year and into the 2016 season. As well as ERC, all the sponsors behind us, Pearl Red, Bolland & Burke, The Bicycle Works, Alpine Bikes & Martin Currie.

Secondly, I’d like to give a massive thanks to Alex Coutts, who gives up spending time with his family every Tuesday to come out and train us, no matter the weather. Without his guidance I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today.

Thirdly, my team mates, for welcoming me into the club with open arms, Emma, Rachel, Euan, Calum and Stephen. Extra thanks to Calum for putting up with me sharing a room in Ireland, with my dodgy singing, corny jokes and general moaning.

Finally, and biggest of all, I’d like to thank my parents, for always being there for me, providing me with transport to training, financial assistance, and always helping me to achieve my dreams. As well as them, my friends both in cycling and out, mostly for putting up with me!

Thanks for reading my blog, I hope to return next year with better results and something to aim for in the future.

Joe Agnew

*grupetto- A bunch of dropped riders

*commissaire- The man in charge of the cycling event/race

*sticky bottle- A sometimes devious tactic, when one holds on to a water bottle being received from a car for an extended period of time in order to save energy chasing back on.

*breakaway- Riders off the front of the main group

*peloton- The main group of cyclists

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsMBBPM5cPk

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2015- Part 1

December 2014-Glasgow, Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome

After enduring another brutal session on the Scottish iDevelop programme run by Mark McKay from Scottish Cycling, it was almost time to pack up and head home before Christmas, there was only one problem… I had no team. I had been a member of Gala CC for a year and a half, doing club 10’s and the occasional crit at Ingliston, the only major event I had ever done was the Youth Tour of Scotland. Even these sessions had me way out of my depth, how would I cope next year on the open roads against men? Luckily- my Dad was on the case. While I was on the velodrome, Dad was busy chatting away to Iain MacLeod about the benefits of ERC and how they had a strong junior team set up for 2015. He put me in touch with Jarlath Flynn and I would now be racing for ERC in 2015, brilliant!

2015- Part 1

After spending the first few months meeting the new team and training at Fairmilehead, led by Alex Coutts, a man who had seen and done it all and who at this point last year, was racing in Dubai against the likes of Tony Martin, Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel.

The first race of the year would be Gifford. This was very much new ground for me as I’d never been able to sit in a bunch for longer than 2 laps at Ingliston (roughly 2 miles) so the thought of doing it for 40 on open roads was not exactly thrilling me, it was simply a case of “manning up”- which is what I did. I managed to stay in the top 25 positions in the whole race, even managing a little dig off the front to get cross to the breakaway, I felt great, like it was easy, no fear, no hesitations in the bunch. With one lap to go, I was happily sitting near the front of the bunch, albeit with slightly tired legs, which was natural given the race had averaged around 23.5mph for the whole race. I started thinking to myself “could this be when I finally get chance to show people what I believe I’m capable of? Can I win this?” Certainly the confidence was there… however my legs were not, with one climb to go and around 2km to the finish, the pace increased slightly, causing me to go straight out of the back of the peloton as all the support vehicles passed. It was a massive blow, not 5 minutes before I’d believed I was capable of pulling off a win- or at least a high finish, and I wasn’t even able to stay in the group for the whole race. I eventually trailed in 1 minute 15 seconds behind the peloton, past Mum and Dad who were congratulating me for sticking in for so long, nevertheless, I was very disappointed, this was a wakeup call, I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was.

Reivers Road Race

I felt good for this race, it would also be the first time I would race with Calum and Euan together, the first time I’d had team mates the same age as me. Also there was Scott, Andy and Alan from the senior race team (Alan had finished 2nd in Gifford the previous week), so we were going to be well looked after.

The race was tough from the neutralised section, going up a steep climb before going out onto an exposed and wide road, with a side breeze blowing at us. The course was quite undulating, with a fast pace from the start. There was a slightly gravelled section through a village, with a few hidden potholes, as a couple of guys were unfortunate enough to find out too late as they hit the deck, not a nice sight.

As the race continued, both Calum and Euan abandoned, Calum having been unwell and Euan concentrating on his studies, so it was just me versus the juniors from Spokes, and a case of hanging on for third. As the group split on the final climb out of the starting village, I was in the second group trying to get across, and just ran out of legs before the bridge was made, eventually finishing some 7 minutes down on the bunch.

 

Gordon Arms Mountain Time Trial

The end of March saw the time trials starting again, with the ever popular Gordon Arms being first. Last year contained a strong field, with Evan Oliphant emerging victorious. This year’s field was slightly smaller, however still some very strong regional time trialists had made the trip to take on the course. I was very relaxed at the start, for me this was very much familiar territory, just me racing myself, no one to knock me off, nowhere to hide. Of course this was also in the Borders, so a lot of familiar faces were out marshalling/racing too so it was a very good place for me, and I felt in excellent form.

As I set off and turned the corner onto the first climb, I knew instantly I had made an error with my tyre pressure, which were set at 110PSI, as I was literally bouncing up the gravelled climb, however I chose to overlook this and just get on with the task at hand, following my minute man, who had a very bright rear light on, making the incentive to chase him much greater, as he twisted his way through the valley.

Going over the infamous Witchie Knowe climb is very much the toughest part of this course, a hard climb in itself, made harder due to the fact you’ve been on the limit for the past 15 miles is always the killer blow for some, however as I knew to expect it, I managed to get over it only about 15 seconds behind my minute man, eventually losing that time back on the decent and flatish road to the finish in the rain, he beat me by 12 seconds. I had ridden an ok time of 58:23, over a 5 minute PB, so I guess I had to be satisfied with that one.

During April, I competed in the Humbie TT, beating team mate Calum for 1st junior by 56 seconds in the torrential downpour, before going to the Tour of the Meldons and having Calum beat me by nearly 2 minutes. I also went to the Eagle Trophy road race at the start od May, not even lasting 5 miles before being dropped and pulling out, which was extremely frustrating for me, as I had hoped to have at least got round for most of the race as it was on the same circuit as the time trial a couple of weeks earlier.

Ingliston Crits

Ah Ingliston, the famous showground, home to the Royal Highland show and, for four weeks in May, a rowdy bunch of 4th cat cyclists aiming for their cat 3. It’s safe to say that I’m no crit rider, I can’t corner very well and don’t enjoy jumping from a slow pace to a ferocious one back and forth. However, I knew that I needed at least 12 points to secure my cat 3 licence, so there was no time for me to worry about crashing or getting dropped.

Week 1

The rain had been falling and the surface was slick, however the previous group of 4th cats had got round ok, so for me the aim was just to sit in and sprint for the win, shouldn’t be too hard…

As the race progressed without issue, I was feeling very relaxed, I trusted my tyres round the corners and felt fine, it was just a waiting game. When the bell rung for the sprint prime, somebody decided it would be a good idea to ride into my back wheel, trying to get past, and resulted in crashing not only himself but 2 others too, luckily not me. I was so annoyed with this move that coming into the straight for the prime, I decided I wanted to blow a bit of energy and as the other guys were looking at each other I was winding my sprint up from the back of the group, and came to the front to win it with ease. This effort probably took some energy away for the final sprint as I eventually finished 6th– 4 points.

Week 2

I tried different tactics this week, breaking away with 2 laps to go, thinking that I could time trial my way to the finish, however I was reeled in and eventually sprinted to 7th place- 3 points.

Week 3

“Right Joe. No heroics this week, just sit in and sprint.” Was the thought process behind this week, and I did just that, coming into the final sprint way too far down, and sprinting in at 12th place- 0 points.

 

Week 4

This was my last chance to get my third cat licence, as it was for many of the other guys today, so the pressure really was on. There were a few other guys this week, and we intended to breakaway as a team after the prime when everybody was slightly tired, and it sort of worked, with myself flying past Andy Kitchin so quick that he couldn’t get onto my wheel and I ended up soloing it for a bit, before being joined by 2 others. When it became obvious we weren’t staying away I swung off the group and waited for the main group, attempting to gather myself for the inevitable sprint. With 2 laps to go I was ready to sprint, I had to place at least 5th to get the required points, when our man Jason Fogarty came out of nowhere and got a decent gap almost immediately. Straight away 3 ERC guys were at the front covering counter attacks, and with 1 lap to go we were an arrowhead on the peloton, not letting anyone past as it became apparent nobody would catch Jason. With that sorted it was now me being looked after by Andy Kitchin, and as we came into the straight I knew I had to give it everything, 2 guys overtook me, so I was 4th, I couldn’t afford to drop another place, but my legs were weakening with every pedal rev. behind me, Andy was screaming at the top of his voice to try and encourage me to hold my position, which I did, just, the line couldn’t have come quick enough- 6 points, 3rd cat.