Round four of the National Road Series, the Circuit of the Mendips, was held on Sunday, 16th June.
The riders headed south out of Bristol on a 96 mile (153 km) route with nearly 7,000 feet (2,100 metres) of climbing on a multiple-looped circuit in the Mendips hills.
There were six distinct climbs as well as a multitude of smaller rises to be tackled, finishing with a fast 10km wind-assisted return into the centre of Bristol.
Following a good team performance the previous Sunday in round three at the Lancaster Grand Prix where Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes finished with three riders in the top eight to move to the top of the National Road Series team standings, the team were hoping to repeat that performance but with a higher individual placing than the fourth place achieved there by Max Stedman having, by his own admission, slightly misjudged the sprint for the line and made his move too early.
The Mendips team were Matt Bostock, Callum Macleod, Dan Pearson, Louis Rose-Davies, Max Stedman, Tom Stewart, Rory Townsend and Jacob Vaughan.
The race had a bizarre start with a rider puncturing in the neutralised zone and getting lost on the way to the official start point at the base of the steep and challenging Dundry Hill.
This frustrated a possible team plan to send a couple of riders up the road and put the rest of the field on the back-foot.
The race proper got underway after the descent of Dundry Hill with Adam Kenway (Vitus Pro Cycling) and James Shaw (Swift Carbon Pro Cycling) making the first meaningful move on the Harptree Hill climb which welcomed the peloton onto the Mendips circuit.
This move was brought back, as were a succession of breakaway attempts until the peloton reached Blagdon Hill on the second circuit. It was here that Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes made the first decisive move of the race with Pearson, Stedman and Townsend storming up the climb and effectively splitting the peloton in half and dispatching a large proportion of competitors to a forlorn chasing group.
A further two full circuits of the Mendips which included the longer, but less challenging climb of Burrington Combe, resulted in more riders being shelled from the lead group leaving only 40 in contention for the return ride northwards back towards Bristol.
It was the repeated demonstration of the team’s climbing capabilities that helped gain Stedman the King of the Mountains award at the end of the race.
As the reduced peloton left the Mendips circuit, Bostock struck out with Mikey Mottram (Vitus) which forced Madison Genesis to chase and allowed the rest of the Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes to recuperate before the final assault on the decisive climb back over Dundry Hill.
Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis) and Shaw (Swift) established a potential race winning lead over the climb of Dundry, but a concerted descent and chase enabled six riders including Pearson, Stedman and Townsend to close this gap with just a couple of kilometres remaining.
Pearson swapped his climbing wings for sprint lead-out duties and Townsend proved once again that he was the strongest sprinter at the end of tortuous race beating Scott Thwaites (Vitus) and Ian Bibby (Madison Genesis) to the line.
In an interview with British Cycling after the race, a clearly delighted Townsend commented…
“‘In the end it came down to that last climb.
Matt Holmes clipped away and James (Shaw) went with him and obviously that’s a really, really strong pair and I just about managed to crawl over the top of it and hang on to Bibby.
I was with Dan and just said to him, ‘please bring it back, please bring it back’ and then I turned around to see Max coming across and thought could it be…
I said to Max ‘I just need it back, I just need it back’ and then it pretty much came back together with 400 metres to go.
I really had nothing left and it was an absolute slog to the line, so I’m really, really happy.
That’s probably the best all round race of the series we’ve had so far, really positive racing by everyone”
Following his KOM winner award, Stedman reflected…
“It came down to the last climb. Dan did all he could to follow James (Shaw) and Matt Holmes.
Rory just paced his way up it and I got back on the descent.
Then we just rode as hard as we could for Rory to finish off the job.
A really good day all round. The only reason it was like that is because we were on the front foot attacking all the time.
I wasn’t really going for it (the KOM) but I found myself in some breaks and thought I might as well go for it.
King of my own back-yard!”
With their three scoring riders again finishing in the top eight, Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes increased their lead at the top of the National Road Series team standings over Madison Genesis with six rounds remaining.
With Townsend’s win, the team also increased their lead at the half-way point in the Tour of Britain qualification standings to 8 points over Madison Genesis and 18 points over Team Wiggins and Vitus.
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
Images 1-4, 6 & 7 – Hugh McManus
Image 5 – British Cycling