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Meet the Athletes: Cambridge University Cycling

Rob Walker (2016) is a cyclist with the Cambridge University Cycling Club. This year has been a successful one for CUCC and a strong season for Rob, who writes in this blog about the ups and downs (literal and metaphorical) of the many events he’s raced in this year.

Having had a successful Term of racing in Lent, in which I won Mountain Biking Varsity, with CUCC also taking the Men’s and Women’s teams, and Cuppers (although Pembroke were unfortunately out-numbered for the college prize), it was with excitement that I looked towards the Easter holidays and all the racing that was to come with it.

Alongside racing at the various BUCS time trials (TTs) being held over the holidays, this year I have also been targeting the National Classics Series – a series of 6 events held on historic courses around the country, with your best 4 results counting – and Easter saw me travelling across the country to fit in the first few rounds of this series where I’m competing in both the U23 and senior categories.

First up on Good Friday was round 1 of the classics series: The Buxton Mountain Time Trial. As the name implies, this involved significant amounts of climbing over three laps of the 11-mile circuit just south of Buxton, with some gruelling climbs and frankly terrifying descents! However, there was a fantastic atmosphere and some serious racing as expected at the national series events; the journey up to Buxton proved worthwhile, taking 3rd U23 and 5th overall on the day – a solid start to the series.

BUCS TTT

BUCS TTT

The weekend after this, I was then back up to Cambridge for BUCS 10, the 10-mile university time trial being hosted by CUCC. This was fortunately held on the same course as Cuppers last term, so there was definitely some advantage to be had from local knowledge. Whilst a fast day weather-wise, I put in a slightly disappointing performance (somewhat hindered by mechanical issues) to come in 11th overall, meaning I was as far down as 5th from Cambridge! Nevertheless, it was a very successful day for CUCC, with us claiming 2nd, 4th, 6th 7th and 11th overall for the Men and 4th and 15th for the Women, meaning we had the two fastest men’s team and 2nd fastest women’s team on the day.

The following day, I was then back in action at the 2nd round of the Classics Series, this time down in the New Forest for 24 miles of rolling terrain. However, the sunshine of Saturday had given way to a decidedly wet and cold day on the south coast. I had seen a number of fast riders on the start sheet, including a number of U23 riders that were a threat, so there was certainly some pressure to put in a good performance. Fortunately, I had a much better day than at the BUCS 10 and put in a great ride, successfully dodging the various New Forest Donkeys on the course to finish 2nd overall and 1st U23 – my first national podium! As a result I was propelled into leading both the U23 and Senior Series!

The third weekend of racing in a row then brought with it the BUCS Team Time Trial (TTT) and the 3rd round of the Classics Series, these being located in Bath and Worcestershire respectively. The TTT saw two men’s and women’s teams from Cambridge battling it out over a very lumpy course just outside Bath. Some excellent riding from all involved saw CUCC taking 1st and 3rd in the men’s competition and the women’s A-team coming in 3rd as well.  The men’s A-team also claimed the course record and I, Jack Brown and Ali Golby in the B-team excruciatingly missed out on silver by 6 seconds from a well-drilled team from Derby. It was then another case of heading straight to the next round of the Classics Series for Sunday, with the third round being the Beacon Little Mountain Time Trial. The race started and finished in the grounds of Shelsey Walsh motor racing venue and somewhat sadistically the organisers had decided to finish the already hilly course by heading up the classic car hill climb course! Having been busy at the TTT the day before, I’d not had a chance to drive or ride the 37-mile course beforehand, so set out into the unknown, with only a vague idea of the challenge that lay ahead. After an hour and a half and 900 m of climbing, I was certainly finding it challenging, and I was yet to scale the final punishing climb up the hill-climb course. 4 minutes of grinding the pedals round just trying to maintain some form of forward motion later, I crested the top of the hill and promptly collapsed on the grass verge from exhaustion. Having composed myself enough to return back to the HQ, I found that, for the second time this weekend, I was 3rd, this time by 5 seconds – an incredibly close finish after 1.5 hrs of racing! Unfortunately for me, I’d been beaten by two riders who had also ridden well at the first round, leaving it very close at the top of the Senior Series after 3 rounds.

The final weekend of racing over the holidays saw my main target of the season loom into view: the BUCS 25-mile TT, which also doubles as the Varsity Match each year and my chance to earn a Blue if I could get into the top 3 riders from Cambridge.

However, the weekend got off to the wrong start before it even arrived; on the Wednesday beforehand, I had gone to ride the course just outside of Oxford to check it all over and make sure I gave myself the best chance heading into Saturday, but whilst riding along I hit a sunken manhole cover in the road and lost control of my front wheel, resulting in a crash and sliding along the road at 45kph, leaving some fairly major abrasion to my hip, elbow and hands. Following a trip to minor injuries, I was patched up in bandages and, whilst I escaped without any broken bones, it was certainly less than ideal and had placed the whole weekend somewhat up in the air, with no guarantee that I’d even be in a state to ride.

Fortunately, after a few days of rest I was physically able to ride a bike, although what impact it had had on my form was yet to be seen. I was determined not to let my chance at a Blue slip from my fingers, so lined up at the start with the hope the injuries were not too much of a hinderance. Ultimately, on the day I didn’t come away with the result I wanted, placing 4th from Cambridge and 30 seconds down on 3rd.

Nevertheless, again it was a very successful day for CUCC overall, with John Mulvey claiming the title of BUCS 25 champion for a second successive year and Felix Barker and Jess Atkinson coming in 3rd in the men’s and Women’s races respectively. In addition to this we had the first and second fastest men’s teams on the day (setting a new BUCS and university record in the process) as well as beating Oxford hands down for the men’s Varsity (with our B team beating Oxford’s A team) and the Women missing out on a Varsity win by only 12 seconds.

The three weekends of BUCS racing places CUCC atop this year’s BUCS rankings for cycling and also makes us the year’s most successful sports club at Cambridge, which, barring an enormous surge from a summer sport, looks likely to be unsurpassable! I now have a few weeks off from racing now I’m back in Cambridge (which comes very welcome after spending 4 consecutive weekends travelling!) but will be back in action on 13th May in Glencoe for the 4th round of the Classics Series, where I will hopefully secure my overall victory in the U23 competition and a podium spot in the senior series.

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