The penultimate round of the 2016 British Cycling Youth Circuit Series once again saw high quality fields of riders providing a thrilling spectacle of racing at the Hillingdon Slipstreamers event in West London.
The Youth B girls race looked like a case of history repeating itself as in a similar scenario to 12 months ago, VC Londres rider Becky Surridge found herself ahead of the main pack in a dynamic two-up breakaway which stayed away for the significant majority of the race.
A year ago, Surridge had lost out to Poppy Wildman in a sprint but this time she looked every inch the winner as she rode her fellow escapee, Eve Barrow (Salt Ayre Cog Set), off her wheel on the final lap after an hour of racing.
The race itself was animated by Barrow’s mid-race attack that saw her go off the front for around four laps of solo effort, impressively opening a gap of over 30 seconds at one point.
Surridge’s team-mate and former Hillingdon Slipstreamer Isabella Escalera, Towy Riders’ Amy Cole and Ava Oxley Szilagyi (PH-MAS VCUK) had each tried to split the peloton early on but it was Barrow’s impressive effort that stuck.
A number of riders took the initiative in trying to bring her back and Emma Finucane, crowned the new national champion seven days previously, was a constant presence towards the front of the chasing bunch but it was only after a couple of attempts by Surridge to break the elastic that she finally managed to get away.
It seemed unlikely that she could bridge alone but Barrow started to tie up and sensibly allowed Surridge to come across the gap when she saw the it eventually decrease rapidly. Encouraged by both sets of supporters, the two worked well together to stay away from the peloton, Surridge cementing her place at the head of the series overall standings with an impressive win.
“I wasn’t sure if I could get across the gap and had a couple of goes,” admitted Surridge. “But when I fully committed I could see her in the distance and went for it.”
If both Youth A and Youth B boys races failed to match the drama of that race, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The B race blasted off first in an absolute deluge of a storm which thankfully didn’t last long but, along with intermittent light showers for the first half of the race, was enough to soak the track and make the riders a little wary, especially on Hillingdon’s infamous hairpin bend.
Most of the fast-moving pack managed to stay upright for most of the race but nothing in the form of any recognisable break was allowed to form and with several laps to go it was clear that the riders were eyeing each other up for a bunch kick.
Beacon Wheeler’s rider Matti Egglestone was the one who emerged from the fast finishing bunch to take the win, the rider currently tenth in the series standings having won stages at the Isle of Man and North West Tour rounds, timing his sprint to perfection.
“I just left a bit of a gap off the last corner so I come around the rider I was sitting on,” explained Egglestone.
“I felt good the whole race and I was just trying to keep position at the front because the attacks kept coming but nothing was sticking.”
The final race of the day saw the Boys A race take to the circuit, this time in blazing sunshine. The pace was also so hot that nobody ever looked like making a significant break stick, pockets of four riders at most making the attempt on several occasions but nothing stuck for more than a few seconds let alone any number of laps.
An ever-strengthening tailwind up the long finishing straight saw riders repeatedly launching out of the bottom corner, trying to instigate the moves. But everything (including the counter moves) were happening at such high speed that no coordinated attacks were allowed to survive.
After just over an hour of this relentless high-speed action, everyone was again settling in for a bunch gallop with just two laps to go, when an audacious attack from Ben Barlow (Salt Ayre Cog Set) made the seemingly impossible happen.
He got away and stayed away, taking a hugely impressive if unlikely solo win, never looking for a moment like he was going to get brought back in the final five minutes of racing.
The most surprised rider at the circuit seemed to be a nonetheless delighted Barlow.
“I thought attacking at that point was going to be hopeless if I’m honest! I saw I had a little gap and just kept going.”
Previously Barlow has admitted to “not doing too well in the series so far,” his previous best result being 18th on GC at the Isle Of Man.
Best race of the day was undoubtedly the Youth A girls’ which saw another stellar gathering of the UK’s best under 16 talent having an almost old-fashioned tear-up, with solo riders constantly looking to go on the offensive and many attacks going up the road.
First into the action was Team RL360 Isle Of Man’s Amelia Sharpe who was active for the entire race. She went off the front in the first break to be joined eventually by Jersey based rider Emily Bridson (JCAYA) and Lorna Bowler of Hillingdon Slipstreamers. The three made a small amount of time and were even joined by a fourth rider, Gabriella Homer (Wolverhampton Wheelers) before the pack hunted them down, Clifton CC’s Anna Docherty doing a huge amount of work in bringing them back.
Inevitable counter attacks were launched almost immediately and at one point the top two overall series’ contenders Ellie Russell (Sportcity Velo) and newly-crowned national champion Pfeiffer Georgi appeared at the head of affairs with a small gap, but there was no way the peloton was going to allow that kind of threat to develop so they were quickly brought back.
Hillingdon Slipstreamers then seemed to have a plan in mind and were about to execute it with several of their jerseys on the front of the race only for a crash on the finishing straight to bring a few riders down and disrupt their efforts.
Then the most significant solo move of the race happened when Kent Velo Kids’ Toni Wilkes rode away from the pack with a fluid, seemingly effortless style that saw her opening a huge gap that with just five laps to go looked like staying away.
But a concerted effort and some great work by a chasing pair of Elspeth Grace (Welwyn Wheelers) and Alana Prior (Manilla Cycling) closed her down and shortly after they were joined by the fast finishing peloton with just a couple of laps to go.
The sprint was hotly-contested with barely a couple of bike lengths splitting the top ten with Russell taking it on the line with a scream of delight, from Esmee Niblett (Mid Shropshire Wheelers).
“It was carnage for the first half of the race,” explained Russell.
“Hardly anyone seemed to be working to bring things back but with 10 laps to go we got it together and started working. I’m really happy with that, I felt quite strong in the sprint.”
The final round of the 2016 British Cycling National Youth Circuit Series takes place at the Scarborough Festival of Cycling on Sunday, 14 August 2016.