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Tom Whatley takes first win at Cutmill

Posted on Sep 18, 2015

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Sam driving the break on the final lap, Tom perfectly placed for the sprint

The Cutmill circuit is proving to be a happy hunting ground for Paceline RT’s 3rd cats in the 2015 Surrey League. Tom Whatley’s victory on Sunday 13 September follows on from his own 10th place finish and two team podium finishes on the same circuit in June. Every Paceline team member played a part in the race, culminating in a gutsy bridging move by Sam and Benoit on the final lap to join Tom’s group up the road – all demonstrating that where there’s a will, there is a way.

I was looking forward to this race, writes Tom, mainly as I’d finished pretty well here last time out (10th), my best road race finish to date. That, and as my last proper road race of the season, I was really keen to get a result, as I’ve had plenty of non-points scoring results so far!

The race got off to a steady start with just a short neutralised section to join the main loop. Things wound up a touch as we made our way towards the main climb, but the pace was manageable. The first time up the climb hurt more than I expected, and my legs filled with lactic acid, but the pace slowed noticeably as we crested and I was soon back on top of things again. I remember thinking though, if all of the climbs were that pace I wasn’t sure I’d have been able stick with the bunch.

On the third climb Damien attacked, which was eventually closed up towards the village, but I was keen this time through to be nearer the front, as I’d had enough of the concertina braking effect at the rear – a crash was waiting to happen in my mind, and thought the front was probably the safest place to be.

As we approached the hairpin at the top of the circuit Damien kicked fairly hard out of the hairpin up the small rise, so I followed, but ended up misjudging a bit and going right past. I maintained the effort, just to keep the pace up and stay towards the front, all the way on the rolling parcours towards the left turn onto the main road back towards Elstead. I took the turn flat out and kept the effort up. After which point I noticed I couldn’t hear the usual noise of the bunch, so glanced back and couldn’t see anybody immediately behind. Despite my better judgement I picked up the pace towards a threshold effort, and began an attack proper.

I’m really not sure what I was thinking, given my sprint plans, but seemingly having a gap already I was keen to try my luck at least, which was stupid really, considering we were 18 miles in with a further 33 remaining. However I didn’t fancy drifting back to the group to go through the melee at The Sands again, and the thoughts of the race either being shortened, or the bunch being slowed through the village spurred me toward giving it a proper go, so I settled into a proper threshold effort, occasionally glancing at the Garmin to see around 320w on the flat.

Coming up on the climb for a fourth time I was expecting to see the bunch bearing down on me, as happened last time I tried to break on this course, but looking back I couldn’t see anyone, which really made me push to build the gap further. The effort continued, and I was able to hold the pace much better through the village on my own. Soon after I had one lead car drop back into the gap, which was a first for me, and was a great motivation to keep going, as I knew it meant I had a decent gap to the bunch. This soon followed by another car dropping into the gap gave more reason to continue. But I was beginning to tire, and holding this level of effort was going to be too much all the way to the end.

Soon one of the cars pulled back out of the gap, and told me that a break of four were coming up the road. I was really tiring by this point but knew holding onto the break was my only chance for a result besides completely sitting up and waiting for the bunch.

I looked round to see them coming up the road, and tried to gauge my effort so that I was a touch fresher as they came through. However, it happened at the worst possible time, just as we started the climb, and I had to go pretty deep just to stay attached. I was missing turns, and just about hanging on for the first few minutes. My new break companions I’m sure not appreciating my work ethic! Soon one of the three bridgers dropped off to the comms car, never to return. Not sure what happened to him. So we were left with a Team Moore and a Maison du Velo, both really well represented teams, so I hoped the rest of their guys and Paceline were trying to disrupt any chasers for us.

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Tom struggling with a gel – but not the pace! – in the 3-up break

Round the hairpin one last time and the effort was really showing on all of us. Despite having been given a gap of 45 seconds our pace was slowing to such a degree I was beginning to worry if we could hold off the bunch for the remaining 5 miles. I was having to really concentrate to pull on the front and get us down to the winding lane at the bottom of the course. If I could just get through the twisting lane section, I was confident the impending finish would spur me to find some energy.

Just then the other lads in the group shouted we were about to have company. I feared the worst and assumed it was going to be the bunch. I quickly glanced round and saw Sam, and Benoit coming through, and assuming they were with the bunch I couldn’t bring myself to look round fully. I couldn’t face all that effort having been for nothing, thinking we were about to be swamped. At this point I could only concentrate on the wheel in front.

Benoit and Sam were quickly at the front of our group and the pace picked up noticeably. I pushed myself to stick as near to the front as I could, and as we rounded the last junction towards the finish I worked to hold Sam’s wheel as he put in a solid turn on the front. All I could think of was to try and hold something back for the climb and the sprint, as I just couldn’t take going home empty handed after so much effort.

Sam flicked his elbow, but I really didn’t want to be on the front leading up the climb so maintained my effort, at which point the Junior came to the front to lead the group. Out of the saddle I felt ok, matching the MdV’s pace. Towards the top of the climb I was still feeling like I was holding back for the sprint. I shifted a couple of gears and then opened up: initially doing around 700w, building to 1000w and going through the gears to pick up speed.

I could feel a gap building and with Benoit shouting encouragement I glanced a look back as I approached the line to see a good amount of clear air. Enough time to cross the finish line with an arm raised, while giving a cheer, more in relief than anything else! Promptly followed by collapsing into a heap at the side of the road. Followed closely by the rest of our bunch with Sam and Benoit close behind, followed even closer by the rest of the peloton.

It couldn’t have been any nearer to getting caught but I’d done it, I’d actually won a race!
The usual post race chat ensued, but I couldn’t have been happier to have finally got a proper result from a race after so many attempts this season. My first win, and to do it in a fairly convincing way, felt awesome – that and being able to share it with the rest of the Paceline guys, knowing that without them, it wouldn’t have been possible.

Which leads me nicely to being able to say thanks to all the other Paceline guys racing, I’m sure you all did a good amount of disrupting the chase which meant the break could work. And massive kudos to Sam and Benoit whose successful bridging move was in all likelihood the difference between us getting caught or not. That injection of pace came at exactly the right time.

In all a great result for the team. One of the comments on my Strava feed really summed it up and made me happy, especially to hear from another competitor, which read “You and the Paceline team really showed the peloton how it’s done today. That’s a great team effort. Planned or not you guys should be very proud. The break won it today!” Proud, and couldn’t be happier with that result, and the break did, just about, hold on. Even better that both Sam and Benoit were in the top 6, with Andy and Damien rounding out the top 20.