We saw the first true outing of a British Elite team at the Perfs Pedal Road Race - one that came with the predicted Canyon dhb dominance - but, for many, the first weeks of March are considered the true start of the British racing season.
Fans of the sport are treated to a triple header of memorial races this weekend – Eddie Soens, Roy Thame, and Jock Wadley. The latter will be the first full length road race for many British based riders in 2019 and it’s a prestigious one at that – past winners include Malcolm Elliott, Marcin Białobłocki, and Luke Rowe.
12 laps of Abberton Reservoir. It’s as simple as that.
The Jock Wadley is renowned for its tendency to serve up Belgian toothpaste and crosswinds to riders as they take on a course of unrelenting sprints, drags, and twisting narrow lanes.
The roads of Essex aren’t often renowned for their difficulty, but twelve laps of the windswept Abberton Reservoir regularly whittle down even a top-class field. The riders will cover 134km and, if past performance is anything to go by, the added length won’t make the race any slower than its shorter counterparts this weekend; the opening 11.3km laps are often completed at close to 50kph.
As mentioned, there aren’t many hills in this part of the country - the only one of note on the course is a winding lane up to the Hare and Hounds pub in Layer Breton. Nonetheless, the weather often plays a large role in this race, whether it’s blizzard-like snow or stormy winds. Watch out for gaps as the race crosses the reservoir, and riders making their moves on the narrow lanes just after the finish line.
The charge for the line begins at 3km to go, as the riders come back to the reservoir for the second time on the last lap. This road is fast, exposed, and regularly buffeted by a strong South Westerly wind. If there’s a sprint finish, expect riders to be lined up in the right-hand gutter, fighting for space in the closing kilometres. A slight drag with 600m to go can be a platform for late attacks, though they’ve proven more successful from a small group than a large bunch.
It’s not all about the sprint finish though. Late attacks can often punish a dawdling group at the Jock Wadley, with ambitious puncheurs taking advantage of teams’ hesitation to commit to a chase. A strong attack entering the final lap, with 11km to go, has proven successful on more than one occasion.
Historically, the race has attracted a stellar field akin to a National Series race, but in recent years it has been mostly made up of elite teams and small contingents of UCI riders. The racing is no less fierce, but it can be more chaotic and harder to control for those teams that do want to stamp their authority on the field.
With so little early season form to go on, we’ll have to rely on some guesswork and a tendency to highlight the teams you should keep your eye on, more so than the riders.
Ben Tulett (IKO-Beobank) may only be 17 years old, but he’s already a national and world champion cyclocross rider. We’ve seen juniors perform well at the Jock Wadley before – Jacob Vaughan (now of Canyon dhb) came third here in 2017 – so it would certainly come as no surprise should Tulett upset the Elite teams and carve out a victory for himself here.
Damien Clayton (Andy Moore Autocentres Racing) has already come close in 2019; his second place at the Perfs Pedal Road Race showed he has good form coming into the season and he will be expecting to compete for the victory.
Joseph Laverick represents Madison Genesis, but he’s on his own here and may find himself a marked man. If he’s looking for help, he could find himself an ally in Lawrence Carpenter (Team Wiggins Le Col), or one of the riders from the Saint Piran pairing, Will Harper and Oliver Maxwell. As far as the Elite teams go, expect Nuun-Sigma Sports-London RT, Richardsons-Trek RT, and Spriti Tifosi to try and control the race; they have the manpower to put a rider in every move and still have options for a bunch sprint.
If you’re looking for a dark horse, an underdog to cheer on, Ash Cox can pull a strong performance out of the bag when he needs to, but he’d prefer to win solo. Tom Fitzpatrick spent the 2018 season in the UCI Asia Tour and has already won in Mallorca in 2019. Lastly, the Vitus Pro Cycling duo of Tim Torrie and Red Walters may also throw a spanner in the works of the more well represented teams.
The race is due to start at 10:00 and the forecast says single digit temperatures, rain, and strong winds will greet the riders on Sunday morning. The rain’s likely to clear in the afternoon, but the wind will only pick up as the race goes on, reaching over 40km in places. With a forecast like this, on a course like the Jock Wadley, expect the weather to have a strong bearing on the race; the tension will be high and the fight for position will be stressful as the ever-present threat of crosswinds keeps the riders on their toes.