The eight riders of Yorkshire’s youth cycling team finished in seventh place in the 2017 UK School Games finals, which took place over the first weekend of September, in Loughborough. Thirteen teams of Under-16 (Youth categories A & B) from all the British Cycling English regions, plus Scotland, Wales and Ulster (Northern Ireland) competed in three days of cycling races that also incorporated British Cycling’s inter-regional Road championships.
Yorkshire was represented by Ruby Boyes, Rebecca Dawes, Olivia Ingham, Lucy Naylor, Ollie Rees, Max Rushby, Dylan Westley and Sam Watson. The Games themselves covered twelve sports, with hundreds of athletes coming together for a multi-sport experience akin to a mini-Olympics. The majority of competition took place within the campus of Loughborough University, which has some of the country’s best sports facilities. However, Cycling also went off-campus for circuit and skills races (held at Leicester Cycle Circuit) and a final day road race, held over a new and exciting road circuit based on the village of Slawston, an hour’s drive away.
Day one saw the teams travelling to the Leicester Cycle Circuit for a full day of racing. In the morning they each competed in a series of short “scratch” races of 6 laps of the 1km circuit. Team results were based on the best placings by three different riders within each team. This encouraged “lead-out” tactics and Yorkshire duly dominated the boys’ heats, gaining wins for Ollie Rees and Max Rushby, with Sam and Dylan also registering top threes with a series of well executed lead-out “trains.”
The girls were less able to make an impression, with Lucy Naylor and Olivia Ingham both getting themselves into good positions but lacking that little bit of luck that might have brought them a good result.
The afternoon was devoted to skills relay races. The girls and boys first rode as separate teams and then finally, as a combined team. Each rider had to complete a series of skills challenges during their 1km lap before handing over to their next team-mate. The skills were, in order: putting on and removing a rain cape/jacket, whilst riding; stopping to remove and replace a rear wheel; collecting a bottle handed up from the left side of the circuit; collecting a bottle handed up from the right side of the circuit; a controlled stop and track stand within a “stop box” and then handing over to the next rider. Time penalties were awarded for dropping bottles and other failures.
A few errors in the separate boys’ and girls’ races were ironed out ahead of the final “combined” race, where Yorkshire rode really well as a team to record fourth overall, with no penalties. The skills races were a great favourite of most of the riders and were run off in a lively and competitive atmosphere with errors producing merciless ribbing from team-mates.
Day two took place on the Loughborough campus and was split between a short, standing-start “Street sprint” competition and an indoor team time trial conducted on Zwift technology.
The sprints were held in a large paved courtyard in the middle of the university campus, riders competing in pairs over a very short 50 metre course, with electronic timing: a rider’s best time over three runs counting to the team’s overall score. Max Rushby once again starred for Yorkshire, recording the fastest time overall in his first run, with Ollie Rees finishing ninth and both Sam and Dylan making the top twenty. This gave the boys the best overall score of any of the teams.
For the girls, Lucy Naylor was the best performer, finishing 16th, with Ruby Boyes 26th also riding really well and taking a few well known scalps as the team finished tenth.
The team time trial was an interesting experiment, with riders racing on trainers linked to Zwift’s virtual reality cycling software. Taking place in a small indoor theatre, the time trail took little more than ten minutes, but the combination of trying to ride in “virtual” formation (close riding brought energy saving benefits akin to drafting for riders in the group), the unfamiliar environment and a very warm afternoon made this one of the toughest challenges of the whole weekend.
Cutting a long story short, although the experiment was exciting to watch and participate in, the calibration of the machines seemed a little inconsistent, with some riders breezing along, whilst their team-mates struggled simply to maintain a steady pace. The organisers wisely decided to drop the results from the overall standings. The Yorkshire boys were relieved at this news: their ride had begun with two of them riding off in apparently the wrong direction before a hurried intervention by technicians put them back in the correct orientation.
A long day ended with a visit to watch the finals of the girls’ Rugby Sevens competition under floodlights.
Day three began with an hour’s journey across Leicestershire to the small village of Slawston, where a newly approved road circuit awaited the riders. The girls had little time to warm up before they were underway for a neutralised opening lap of 6km, followed by six more laps of racing. The course was a rough square in shape and included one short but steep climb, naturally christened the “Slawstonberg”.
The girls’ race gradually wound itself up, with the final two ascents of the Slawstonberg first splitting the field and then deciding the elite group who sprinted for victory. Both Olivia and Lucy held on well till the penultimate climb, before joining the majority of the riders spread across a mile of course racing in to the finish. Both finished in the middle of the field, good rides against possibly the strongest national girls’ field of the year. Ruby got herself into a group that worked well together and came in a couple of more minutes down, whilst Rebecca, her first multi-day event finally catching up with her, still managed to finish the full distance, to round off a gutsy weekend of riding.
The boy’s race was similarly steady to begin with before a string of attacks culminated in Sam and Ollie getting into a five rider break that was soon reduced to three. Ollie and Sam both attacked on the last lap, but it came down to a sprint with the outstanding West Midlands’ rider, Lewis Askey, who just managed to hold off Sam by half a wheel, with Ollie crossing the line just behind, banging his bars in frustration. But the Yorkshire boys had effectively dominated the day, with Max and Dylan enjoying the job of policing the bunch behind the break. Again, their team-work and tactics were pretty much faultless.
A good-natured and slightly chaotic awards ceremony at the end brought a close a weekend that the riders all clearly enjoyed. The atmosphere within the cycling events was outstanding with riders fiercely competitive when racing, but keen to socialise, mingle and enjoy themselves at the end of a long season during down-time. For many of them it was their last road event as Youths and with GB Team Academy places to be decided in the next few weeks, the direction of the cycling careers of many will be changed forever by the start of the 2018 season.