Canyon Eisberg’s qualification into the Tour of Britain was certainly an entertaining one to watch, writes our guest blogger Robyn Davidson.
Like any great narrative, their journey featured massive highs and victories juxtaposed with low moments and defeats, all combined with a rapid resurgence to claim their rightful spot on the start line in September.
A sudden withdrawal of a co-title sponsor – during last season’s Tour of Britain – threatened to place them on the back foot towards the start of 2018, yet the team unanimously declared their faith in owner, manager and sports director Tim Elverson.
The shock partner departure had left them without the necessary funding for a training camp – a time when tough blocks of training meet team bonding, the integration of newer members into the squad, reflections on the previous year and preparations for the one ahead.
Nevertheless, Canyon Eisberg still made it work. Even though they lacked the more preferred start to the season, a group get-together just before the season-opener of the Perfs Pedal, racing in France at the GP de la Ville de Lillers and the organisation of a ride with sponsors all helped comprise their preparation before the Chorley Grand Prix.
I’m sure this fact is well-documented by now but as Chorley is a race practically outside my front door, I always make sure to head down to the course.
In conjunction with being the opening round of the British Cycling’s Spring Cup series, Chorley also marks the start of Tour of Britain qualification.
As such, it would be vital to hit the ground running – or perhaps, cycling would be a better term here – with this concept possibly easier if you had a training camp worth of preparation in the legs.
Dexter Gardias, James Lowsley-Williams, Matt Nowell, Chris Opie, Jack Pullar, Max Stedman, Andrew Tennant and Rory Townsend were the men representing Canyon Eisberg on the Chorley start line.
A determined Nowell made the initial breakaway group and swept up KOM points along the 186km route.
The Northwich rider came incredibly close to the victory in this classification, only relinquishing the honour to race winner Karol Domagalski, of ONE Pro Cycling, by virtue of finish line placings.
Chorley was, as seemingly always, a cold and cloudy day out for the peloton. Eventually I’ll brave the elements to see the damage done on the ascents of the Rivington climb but it wasn’t to be this year.
On the final ascent, Domagalski distanced Madison Genesis’ Jonny McEvoy to solo to victory.
Behind them, a strong showing from Canyon Eisberg’s Stedman meant he placed sixth – collecting five points as the team’s highest finisher on the day.
As I interviewed the climber post-race, he stated that despite the lack of training camp, his placing at Chorley was one of his best national results.
Towards the end of April, I travelled to the International CiCLE Classic – the second event that awarded qualification points towards the Tour of Britain.
While you’d be forgiven for assuming this Spring Classics-inspired race would take place in France or Belgium, it is actually held in the East Midlands – setting out in Oakham and finishing in Melton Mowbray.
Sports director Elverson had his eyes set on winning this particular one-day event – unsurprising when you consider the originality of this type of race on British soil… gravel and country lanes.
As I’d never been to the CiCLE Classic before, I too, was looking forward to seeing how Canyon Eisberg would tackle the mixed-terrain race.
After watching the peloton depart, I walked along the different Roubaix-esque sectors Rutland had to offer, complete with choking dust and the odd spot of rain for good measure.
It was easy to see why Canyon Eisberg’s hopes for glory in this race were dashed because of bad luck.
They possessed a strong line-up in Nowell, Opie, Tennant, Charles Page, Alex Paton and Harry Tanfield, yet the mixed terrain meant the course was littered with loose stones, making the riders even more susceptible to punctures, mechanicals and abandons.
During the 189km race, Canyon Eisberg suffered all of the above at decisive moments, resulting in missing important splits.
Their highest-placed finisher was Nowell, who crossed the line in 28th place.
So the CiCLE Classic was not a triumphant race for the team. The misfortune contributed to the lowest score they received in the entire Tour of Britain qualification – one point.
But with each of the seven British UCI Continental teams able to drop their worst performance, this wouldn’t count towards their overall qualification total.
From this point onwards, they never collected fewer than three points.
The East Cleveland Klondike Grand Prix commenced a week after a luckless outing at Rutland-Melton.
At Klondike, the riders undertook 159km for the third qualifying race – and it wasn’t Canyon Eisberg’s day for success in North Yorkshire, either.
Tennant crashed early on and required two bike changes. Nevertheless, he persevered, alongside Gardias, Lowsley-Williams, Pullar and Harry Tanfield – with the latter eventually named as the best local rider.
Team Wiggins’ Tom Pidcock edged out Tom Moses, of JLT Condor, at the finish, while Stedman crossed the line in 11th place – a little more than a minute later.
Taking Chorley, Rutland-Melton and Klondike into account, Canyon Eisberg had slipped down the Tour of Britain qualification table to fifth place – with only the top four teams to qualify.
I’ve never been too much of a proponent of dwelling on what ifs but could the lack of pre-season training camp have contributed to them sitting out of qualification at this point?
It’s certainly a possibility to think about but the riders had also been forced to contend with punctures and mechanicals at vital moments.
I knew what they were capable of and I believed they’d quickly pick up more steam as the season progressed. As it turns out, I was right.
May was the definitive month in which Canyon Eisberg categorically turned their qualification around.
Their resurgence could not have arrived at a better time – as the month was packed with the Tour de Yorkshire, the Lincoln Grand Prix and an eight-round Tour Series just waiting for the arrival of the boys in blue.
Returning to the race which had brought them favourable results in 2017, the 2018 edition of the Tour de Yorkshire resulted in combativity awards, a stage win and a deserved outing in the leader’s jersey.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say Harry Tanfield’s World Tour-defying win on the opening stage is surely one of the highlights of the season.
He helped prove Canyon Eisberg would be a team to watch during the four-day event, as Stedman would later solidify this point.
Ruled out of general classification (GC) contention because of a mechanical on the third day, the 22-year-old formed a two-man breakaway on the fourth and final stage.
He crested the summits of the Côte de Goose Eye and Côte de Barden Moor in front, with Cofidis’ Stephane Rossetto alongside him.
I was travelling to the stage finish at this point, so had to rely on trusty Twitter to keep me updated.
It was great to see Stedman had brushed off his mechanical woes to chase down KOM points and while he would eventually be distanced by the Frenchman, there’s no denying it was a stellar day out in the saddle for the climber.
Even though the team produced a purposeful performance at the Tour de Yorkshire, the four points earned towards qualification were derived from the final GC standings.
After Stedman’s chances had been unfortunately dashed on the penultimate stage, their highest-placed finisher in the overall was Lowsley-Williams in 45th place.
Albeit a good result against World Tour opponents, this still didn’t change their position towards Tour of Britain qualification – leaving the squad in fifth spot.
If I had to pick one event I believe secured Canyon Eisberg their Tour of Britain qualification, the Tour Series would be it.
A dominant display, that proved delightful to watch, meant that they came, saw and conquered on both an individual and team level.
It was enjoyable to see the riders showing themselves as such a dominant force in the Tour Series, starting with Lowsley-Williams claiming the first Eisberg sprints jersey in the opening round at Redditch.
The team travelled to Motherwell for race two and Harry Tanfield rounded off the podium in 3rd place.
The host town for the third round was Aberdeen. And for the second successive season, spectators were treated to a powerful team display from Canyon Eisberg.
Despite not reaching the steps of the podium, Lowsley-Williams, Charlie Tanfield, Harry Tanfield and Tennant all placed within the top 13.
Then came the Durham double-header.
If I could have made it to any of the Tour Series rounds – this would have been it.
A short, sharp and definitely not sweet 500m hill-climb event stood between the riders and the evening crit race.
Pullar soared up the cobbled street to take victory in a time of 52.642sec and Canyon Eisberg quickly built on this elation.
So quickly, that Tennant raced to individual victory in the crit just a few hours later, which capped a memorable day out for the team.
They didn’t stop there. In fact, they took this momentum in their stride, with Durham only marking the start of a ferocious winning streak at the Tour Series.
The victories restarted just a few days later in Aberystwyth, where Harry Tanfield chalked up yet another win for the team, taking the fastest lap with him.
Double-headers seemed to produce nothing but double wins for Canyon Eisberg, who were victorious in both the Stevenage team time trial and crit race.
The Tanfield brothers, Tennant, Opie and Page powered to victory ahead of JLT Condor and Madison Genesis in the TTT, recording a time of 2min 19sec.
Later that same day, Harry Tanfield soloed to success in the crit race, wasting no time in securing another individual victory.
Helped by the fact all four of his team-mates placed within the top 16, Canyon Eisberg soared to the top of the series standings.
With Tour of Britain qualification points awarded on the final team result in the Tour Series, holding a strong position in this classification is important.
Caught your breath yet? Things were, by no means, over.
The penultimate round at Wembley Park was not as fortunate as others had been.
Charlie Tanfield was brought down in a crash and Lowsley-Williams required multiple bike changes.
Suddenly, the team standings became a bit more open. Canyon Eisberg had retained the lead at the top of the team standings by a mere one point from Madison.
This provided quite the showdown setting for the final round in Salisbury with the Tour Series overall victory still up for grabs.
It wouldn’t be the finale of a series without nerve-wracking moments. And more were to come.
A crash brought down Lowsley-Williams, Tennant and Page before Ed Clancy, of JLT Condor, claimed the final victory.
Yet, with four men in the first 11 finishers, Canyon Eisberg topped the podium again and cemented a maiden victory, giving them maximum points towards Tour of Britain qualification.
Because of its fast pace and relentless nature, the Tour Series always produces some exciting racing.
The Durham double-header was probably one of my favourite events for the team throughout their entire qualification process.
Two wins in one day is quite something but for it to kick-start a whole chain of victories? That was certainly something else and it was definitely a thrilling time to be following them.
The Lincoln Grand Prix was the final round of the Spring Cup, as well as being the last event in Lincoln’s Festival of Cycling.
I caught a train to see the race and was met with a large number of spectators lining the streets, eagerly awaiting the flag drop.
As Lincoln was sandwiched between the Tour Series rounds of Redditch and Motherwell, Canyon Eisberg had still to clinch maximum points from the crit competition.
This left them still sitting in 5th position in the qualification table, out of a place in the Tour of Britain as Gardias, Lowsley-Williams, Nowell, Paton, Pullar, Stedman, Charlie Tanfield and Tennant took to the start line in Lincoln.
Charlie Tanfield wasted no time in establishing a breakaway, putting the hammer down on the Michaelgate and securing the Brian Cossavella Michaelgate Trophy with 17 points in the process.
Despite the breakaway eventually being drawn back in, his Canyon Eisberg team-mates were relentless, consistently showing themselves at the head of the peloton.
It was this commanding performance that earned them the deserved maximum amount of points in this qualifying race.
I was on the Michaelgate with my friends and we quickly realised that after eventual winner Alex Richardson broke away on the penultimate lap, his unattached status meant the rider in second place would gain the full seven points.
We also quickly discovered Tennant wouldn’t let any other rider have a chance of securing them, as his definitive kick away from the chasing group left him powering up the Michaelgate alone.
His forceful display meant Canyon Eisberg bagged maximum points from Lincoln, in the midst of their seven-point Tour Series haul.
A few days after Tennant’s impressive second place at Lincoln, Rory Townsend praised his fellow team-mate as a ‘great guy, a real team player’.
There’s no doubt in my mind Tennant deserves all the praise he gets. The 31-year-old was definitely a key rider in Canyon Eisberg’s Tour of Britain qualification with his Lincoln result, consistency throughout the Tour Series and a win in Durham.
The Grand Prix Series kicked off with the Tour of the Reservoir, the seventh event that awarded Tour of Britain qualification points.
I like the two-day nature of this race around the Derwent Reservoir and feel an extension to three days would be detrimental to teams on a smaller budget.
However, in the grand scheme of stage races, the Tour of the Reservoir only hosting two stages produced less opportunities for riders to really attack the yellow jersey.
This was something Canyon Eisberg had to contend with in late July, although not for want of trying.
The new signing of Kiwi Ryan Christensen, in company with Gardias, Nowell, Paton, Pullar, Stedman and Tennant tried hard to force JLT Condor to relinquish their grip on the overall standings.
But they couldn’t quite gain the gap they needed to claim victory.
Pullar’s seventh place on the opening stage followed by 10th on the second day was enough to secure his overall seventh position on GC.
He finished just under a minute behind winner Moses of JLT Condor. And with it bagged three points towards qualification.
The Bristol Grand Prix indicated the penultimate event in the race for the Tour of Britain.
And it was a day which also beared witness to Canyon Eisberg’s attacking prowess.
The finish line for Tour of Britain qualification was suddenly in sight and you could tell if the air wasn’t heavy before – it certainly was now.
A low placing in Bristol could easily rule a team out of contention. The rivals knew this, their followers knew this and a delayed start to improve rider safety didn’t help the gravity of the situation.
Fortunately, Canyon Eisberg’s Paton and Harry Tanfield distanced the peloton in a two-man move within the first few laps.
Pullar – once again on the offensive – then bridged to his team-mates alongside Madison Genesis’ newly-crowned national champion Connor Swift and JLT Condor’s Matt Gibson.
As Harry Tanfield pulled off, spent from his remarkable efforts, Paton proved a strong team-mate on the front.
The lack of live TV coverage – although Cyclevox do exceptionally well with their constant social media updates – means following these crit-style races online can almost have you on edge, especially when the race can change within a matter of seconds.
The number of laps to complete had suddenly decreased and yet the gap to the peloton did not.
The leading quartet would challenge for the win. Of course, the penultimate race for qualification points would produce a nail-biting sprint finish to the line.
Gibson claimed the victory just ahead of second-placed Pullar. Even though the Tour of the Reservoir did not quite go to plan for Canyon Eisberg, it certainly felt like they were re-energised on the streets of Bristol – with one qualifying round to go.
The final event for Tour of Britain qualification points arrived in the form of the Stockton Grand Prix.
Now this definitely presented a tense atmosphere – with Madison only two points ahead of fourth-placed Canyon Eisberg, who held a one-point advantage over Team Wiggins.
Only two of these teams could qualify. So it was all to play for and, naturally, the Stockton Grand Prix wasn’t all smooth sailing, either.
An early incident saw the race neutralised for more than an hour in warm conditions.
After restarting, Canyon Eisberg were safely in the mix. However, the number of laps riders had to complete was shortened, subsequently producing a flurry of attacks from those vying for the win.
The race threatened to change in the blink of an eye, inducing a large number of tweets from those at Stockton.
These were posted in such quick succession it only added to how trying the race felt for those who weren’t there – myself included.
None of the attacks stuck and a bunch sprint was looming as the day drew to a close.
Gibson (JLT Condor) clinched victory, as Walls (100% ME) and Liepins (ONE Pro Cycling) completed the podium.
Meanwhile, it was an anxious wait to find out – by constantly refreshing the Twitter timeline – who exactly had qualified for the Tour of Britain.
The close nature of the standings meant it was all down to the placings on the finish line.
Calculators were broken out and calculations were being bandied about as quite a few people were hastily trying to figure out who exactly had qualified before teams had even released their statement.
Then came the news Canyon Eisberg’s followers had been hoping for. Tennant’s seventh place had secured them a spot at the Tour of Britain!
The reliable rider, whose unrelenting performances had previously helped earn his squad back-to-back maximums in the Tour Series and Lincoln, was the one to tie up their qualification alongside Christensen, Page, Paton, Pullar, Stedman, Harry Tanfield and Townsend.
The long, exciting – and at some points nervous – journey to qualification was over.
Stockton, especially, was too stressful waiting for those updates. but it just had to be down to the wire on the last race, didn’t it?
Canyon Eisberg’s fight for Tour of Britain qualification was an exhilarating one to follow. They had their low moments – the CiCLE Classic and Klondike certainly didn’t work in their favour – but brushed them off to deliver successes.
A personal highlight, which I’m sure wouldn’t differ for a lot of people, would be the Tour Series.
The team’s reinvigorated look throughout the rounds was a sight to behold as they catapulted themselves back into Tour of Britain contention.
Canyon Eisberg qualified for the Tour of Britain on 39 points and will join JLT Condor (49), ONE Pro Cycling (42) and Madison Genesis (42) on the grid next Sunday.
I, for one, can’t wait to see how this race unfolds. Give Canyon Eisberg a big stage and they will perform.