Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Loughborough University Junior Road Race in his first appearance in this year’s National Junior Road Race Series.
A combination of strong winds, the deceptively tricky climb of Harby Hill and some very fast sections of the course turned the racein to a war of attrition. A series of groups at the head of the race broke up and came back together as the laps ticked and by the flag the field was completely blown apart.
The race set off from the HQ in Long Clawson in brilliant sunshine, with a stiff breeze but as the clouds rolled in, the temperature plummeted and the wind picked up.
The picturesque but exposed course saw the riders head North East from Eastwell to Belvoir Castle, turning left towards Red Mile then left again to head South West to Harby – losing 160m of elevation in the process - before making the final turn towards Harby Hill and the end of the lap at Eastwell.
The downhill section from the finish area to Belvoir was combined with the now fierce tailwind and saw the bunch riding flat out; the return leg in to the wind saw them stall with speeds dropping below 20kmh at times.
On the first lap a group of 11 riders – led by former under 16 national champion Germain Burton - broke away and stretched out a lead of a minute and a half as the race behind them started to fragment.
By the second lap the group was still intact with Burton, Jacob Scott Team of Sportscover, Jake Kelly of Team 360 Royal London Isle of Man, Mark Downey of Nicolas Roche Performance Team, Peter Cocker and Jack King of Forme Bikes UK, Joe Evans of Hargroves Cycles RT, Scott Davies of i-ride.co.uk, Henry Hunter of Teamwallis CHH Racing Team, Gabriel Cullaigh of RST Racing Team and Adam Lewis Wolverhampton Wheelers continuing to distance the field.
Then the balance of power started to shift. Lewis lost touch with the lead group but a chase group of 10 riders which included Team Sportscover’s Jake Womersley, Zach May of Cardiff JIF, Ben Chapman of Team Corley Cycles, Jacob Ragan of Champion Systems and Tom Arnstein of Team ASL360 had closed the gap to 18 seconds from a peak of over two minutes.
A handful of seconds behind them, a third group that included, ominously, Tao Geoghagen Hart of CC Hackney – riding his first race of the series following a classics season with the GB Junior Squad that included 3rd place in the Junior Paris-Roubaix.
With two to go the lead groups came together – more or less - and it was Arnstein who led over Harby Hill with 15 seconds advantage over Burton, Davies and Christopher Lawless of Kuota-Spinergy. Geoghegan Hart now lead the main part of the lead group, another 12 seconds back.
By the bell, the race had effectively top six was virtually decided with Geoghegan Hart, Davies, Oliver Wood of Team Sportscover, Chapman, Burton and Kelly five seconds ahead of May, Evans and Womersley. By the flag, though, it was every man for himself as the top ten came through with the best part of a minute separating first and tenth.
And it was Geoghegan Hart who took the win by around four seconds from Davis with Wood, Evans and Burton strung out a dozen or so seconds behind and Womersley rounding out the top six a few seconds behind Burton.
Speaking to British Cycling in the warmth of the race HQ, Geoghegan Hart reflected on his maiden win in the series.
“It was not too bad. Obviously coming off the races we’ve just had – I’ve been lucky enough to be riding big international races – it sets you up alright. There’s a little bit of adjusting to the British way of racing but it’s not too bad.
“That first lap when the group attacked and it was  strong guys – and the gap went up to, I think, two and a half minutes but it was perfect conditions for me – the crosswind on the climb. I led up it every single time – I didn’t have a choice, to be honest – if someone wanted to bring it all back to together, it had to be done.
“We worked hard for a lap, jumped across to that group and from there it was just seeing how the race panned out.
“I had a dig on the last lap with 15k to go and did three or four kilometres off the front on my own but I was hoping the elastic might snap behind and I might get a decent gap but it didn’t happen, so just waited for the end.
“There were three lads off the front and with a climb like that it’s not too bad, I think – just ride to the finish.”
“There were a few times when it [headwind] was quite funny really, the group just rolling along at 19kmh but once the gap goes out it’s going to stay there, more or less. It was a funny race – there were points on that back straight where we were spinning out massively on the junior gears and then going the opposite way on the top of the block and pedalling like mad.
“I guess there was a bit of attrition but for me it’s always better when the conditions are harder. But a win’s always good.
“It was a good race – it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a group where you can look around and say ‘right, every lad here is strong’. Normally it’s a mix. It was risky at first, with that group away, but once it all came back together it was OK.”
“I’m still not 100% sure what we are doing and what we aren’t doing with continental racing – and hopefully selection for the track worlds [in Glasgow] – that’s the big aim for this year.
“It’s a funny old series sometimes – you do what you can do and you race the races you’re at, but… I think the series is nice – I’d love to win it, it’s got massive prestige, but it could be difficult this year.”
1. Tao Geoghegan Hart CC Hackney
2. Scott Davies Liverpool Mercury
3. Oliver Wood Team Sportscover
4. Joe Evans Hargroves Cycles
5. Germain Burton Team De Ver
6. Jake Womersley Team Sportscover