A small, but good quality field of 49 riders rolled out from the Race HQ in Builth Wells in bright sunshine on what was an already warm morning, with the race proper starting at 10.30 exactly as they rolled past the main entrance to the Royal Welsh Showground.
Using a completely new course the riders first had to tackle a short 7 mile, flattish, opening loop which served to warm the legs up, not that they needed it, before turning onto the main 32 mile lap and starting the ‘stepped’ progression along the A481 through Hundred House and up to the Forest Inn, near New Radnor. An elevation gain of some 250m over 10km every lap.
After the opening small lap Geraint Manley (JIF) had taken advantage of a bunch contemplating a hot day ahead and had established a solo lead of 53 seconds as the race started the first of the two large laps. Unfortunately for Geraint his moment of glory wasn’t to last for too long as the ‘grippy’ roads up to the main climb took their toll and he quickly fell back to the bunch as the pace, and roads, ramped up.
Over the top of the climb and onto the A44 heading towards Rhayader, Hefin Price (Team Wiggle), Dan Pearson (Wilier/LivetoRide) and David Medhurst (Cardiff Ajax) had established a 50 second lead down the fast descent to Crossgates. At the Crossgates roundabout, halfway through the 1st large lap they were 15 seconds clear of pursing group containing Rowan Marshall (Urban-Cyclery. co.uk), Michael Cripps (Army CU) and Ed Laverack (Team Tredz) chasing across with the bunch a further 20 seconds or so back.
As the race turned right in Llanyre the three leaders still had a decent gap of 25 seconds over the chasers with the bunch at 1.08. All this changed on the fast run down the A470 to Builth to complete the first of the two large 32 mile laps. The front six riders merged forming a strong looking breakaway with the bunch now @ 1.17.
Passing the Royal Welsh showground a small three man group, including James (Tank) Lewis (Port Talbot) had detached itself from the bunch and were now chasing the lead six at 26 seconds, but soon, heading towards the feed zone @ 42 miles they sat up and waited for the fast moving bunch.
After taking on food and drink at the feed station and heading onto the main climb for the final time the action really started to hot up with first, eventual winner, Gareth McGuinness jumping away from the bunch on the climb being quickly joined by pre-race favourite Hugh Wilson then a further four riders, including Matt Rowe, Russ White and Ben Simmons, on the fast descent to Crossgates. These twelve riders merged in one before the roundabout and we had a very strong – race winning many thought - leading group of 12 riders turning left onto ‘Gravel Road’ with the bunch in hot pursuit some 40 seconds back.
Gravel Road proved to be the death knell for several riders in the break, with first Mike Cripps then Dave Medhurst cracking under the pressure being applied by McGuiness and the couple of juniors in the group.
Four riders jumped away from the break - McGuiness, Pearson, Ed Laverack and Glyndwr Griffiths and with the break splintering behind them and the bunch only 1'15" back could they hold on to the finish as the riders turned left onto the A470 for the fast run back to Builth Wells.
The remnants of the break were mopped up by the bunch on the A470 approaching Builth, with the exception of Russ White (Forza Cycles RT) who was putting in a typically gutsy ride and had set off in pursuit of the lead four and was now sandwiched between break and bunch as the race started the final short 7.5 mile loop to the finish.
As they started the final small lap, the leaders had a 1'15" gap over the main field with Russ between both at 30 seconds. With the strongest ‘teams’ – Wilier, Tredz, Urban-Cyclery - in the race represented in this group, and Forza in between – it was always likely that the group would stay away in those final closing miles, the big question for those gathered at the finish being whether the four would sprint it out or one would ‘go solo’ to secure the win.
In the event, McGuinness, having spotted that his breakaway companions were starting to weaken, put in a strong dig on the long drag up the new bypass and quickly established a lead whilst the other three looked at each other wondering who would chase.
When the lead cars came into view McGuiness had powered away to secure a magnificent solo victory, crossing the line a clear 38 seconds ahead of his breakaway companions with plenty of time to savour a well deserved victory. McGuinness having covered the 78 miles in 3 hrs and 13 minutes.
Pearson narrowly took the sprint for second place on the day from Laverack and Griffiths with just centimetres separating the three of them. White soloed in a further 40 seconds back, whilst Hugh Wilson lead in the bunch sprint for 6th place a full minute and 40 seconds later.
Unfortunately a touch of wheels in the final finishing straight saw several riders fall, with Daniel Davies and Tom Smith coming off worse and having to spend several hours in A&E later in the day.
The race organiser would like to extend his thanks to all riders who took part, the marshals, motorcycle escort, commissaires, service cars and all others who helped to put on an excellent event on a testing course on a beautiful day in mid Wales.
The organiser would also like to take this opportunity to remind all riders to pre-enter the Welsh
Criterium Championships on August the 4th, which this year are being held on the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells and includes racing for all categories from Under 8 through to the Veterans (Masters C+) – link here: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/78480/Builth-Wells-Showground-Criteriums---Inc-Welsh-Open-Criterium-Championships