Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, we headed down to South Wales for the final round of the Junior National Series, and the most prestigious Junior race in the UK, the SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales.
Taking place over four days for the first time ever, the race comprised of 5 challenging stages, designed to create a worthy winner to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dan Martin and Alex Dowsett who have won the race in the past.
Such is the stature of the event, it attracts all the best Juniors in the UK and we were honoured to have three riders in the race; Elliot Reed, Michael Hall and Ash Coning. Here’s how the demanding weekend unfolded for our trio…
Friday 25 August
Stage 1 ITT – 8.3km
A challenging time trial, starting in Brynbawr and heading out over a hilly course, finishing up the very steep Tumble climb.
Elliot: “I struggled to get into a rhythm on the TT, and wasn’t feeling too amazing, so I kept my powder dry for the Tumble finish. I lost some time but not enough to be completely out of it, so it was still all to play for in for the rest of the tour.”
Michael: “The TT wasn’t that much of a priority for me as GC wasn’t my main aim but I was still a bit disappointed with my result.”
Saturday 26 August
Stage 2 – 119km
A very long and demanding stage, encompassing five climbs and finishing up the legendary Rhigos mountain.
Elliot: “Stage 2 was very hot and long, with some really tough climbs. The final climb started off with a gradual gradient, so I managed to move up a little to get in a better position. I climbed well, within myself, and kept passing riders. I finished with a little sprint from my group, just over 50 seconds from the stage winner, moving me up 25 places on GC.”
Ash: “Stage 2 was by far my favourite stage of the whole race. It was mega!”
Michael: “I wasn’t feeling that good through the race but kept up the front and was going pretty well. However, I missed the break so my main aim of targeting the KOM jersey was out the window. About 5-10k out from the final climb, some riders fell off in front of me and I had nowhere to go so I went down. I ended up with a broken wheel and shifter but luckily I finished the stage and wasn’t too badly injured.”
Sunday 27 August
Stage 3 – 33km (11 x 3km)
A lung-busting crit with a steep climb and a fast, technical descent.
Elliot: “Stage 3 was an extremely hard crit with steep hills and fast twisty descents. The pace was hard from the beginning. The hill was definitely leg-sapping and I just started to really tire by the last lap. I finished just a few seconds off the back, so managed to limit my losses on a stage that really didn’t suit me.”
Ash: “The stage 3 crit wasn’t my cup of tea, at all, so I just saved my legs for stage 4.”
Michael: “Stage 3 was a very intense crit and full gas all the way. With 2 laps to go I dropped back too far and then couldn’t hold onto the back. So was dropped with about 1 to go. For the final lap I just rode it round due to the fact that I didn’t have a GC position to worry about.”
Sunday 27 August
Stage 4 – 92km
A relatively flat stage with a sprint finish.
Elliot: “Stage 4 was meant to be pretty flat and easy. However, very early on, around 10 minutes into the stage, there was a fairly big crash in front of me. I slammed on, skidding my back wheel which burnt through the tub and popped the tyre. I got a very slow wheel change from the neutral service, and then managed to get back on, at one of the fastest parts of the race. So I expended some energy there. Then I went on the attack with 5km to go, as I’d moved up and had some free speed, so thought I’d try my luck. That came to nothing and I finished in the main bunch, maintaining my position on GC.”
Ash: “Stage 4 was pretty quick, I avoided the crashes and rolled across the line towards the front of the peloton in the sprint.”
Michael: “My target for stage 4 was just to sit in as I was feeling a bit sore from my crash the day before, and the earlier stage. This was all going to plan till I got tangled with someone and went over the bars. I got back on fairly easily then just sat in. Towards the end I tried to bridge to the break but didn’t have the legs so just kept high up the group for the finish.”
Monday 28 August
Stage 5 – 94km
A hilly route taking the riders over the Moors and finishing up the fabled Tumble climb, going up the opposite side to the TT.
Elliot: “Stage 5, the final stage, was tough from near to the start, when we hit the first KOM. The pace was very tough, with many riders going backwards. As we headed over the Moors, Michael was out front for quite a while with Ben Barlow who’s also from the North West. They rode really well out front but eventually they were reeled in. The rest of the race was fairly tempo until just before the Tumble, when the pace increased as the final climb approached. We hit the climb and I managed to stay with the group for a few minutes until my legs just went, with the steep gradient really taking it out of me. I then just rode at my maximum to the top, to finish an amazing tour!”
Ash: “I was feeling good on Stage 5 until about 15km to the finish. After a few attacks early on, I got caught behind the wrong wheels in a split and just never made it back. I managed to climb my way into the back of the thinned out peloton up the Tumble but by this time my race was pretty much over.”
Michael: “Although I was feeling a bit stiff from my previous crashes, I had nothing to lose so I just went in with the plan to give it everything and try to get away. I got in a break early on for the first 20 minutes but then we were caught. I had a breather for a few minutes then attacked again, at the same time Ben Barlow from Salt Ayre Cog Set attacked and we had a two up break for a good time. We gradually opened the gap from the group and two chasers, although an hour into the race I just didn’t have the legs. I got caught by the group and just sat in for a bit. Towards the end I had nothing left and got tailed off the back of the group and then rode to the finish on my own a bit down.”
Elliot: “It was probably the best race I’ve done this year, and I’m pleased to finish in the 40s on GC. I know I still have lots to improve on for the years to come. Thanks to all the organisers for the great event and I hope Michael isn’t too hurt after his two crashes.
“Now I’m looking forward the my last Junior race, in just over a week in Italy!”
Ash: “Obviously with it being the biggest Junior National on the calendar, I’d prepared myself for a tough weekend of racing. Wales certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a great race and I’m excited for next year already.”
Michael: “Overall it was quite a disappointing weekend for me and I hoped for a lot better but it was still a good experience.”
Thanks to Richard and the organising team for a fantastic race.