This week signified the start of our season proper. Despite a win at Gifford in early March we viewed the UCI 2.2 Tour of Tunisie as our first real goal.
The race proved a turbulent experience for both riders and staff with strong winds, minus temperatures and frozen conditions blighting much of the race - not what was anticipated or forecasted for the North African country which borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert. The boys suffered valiantly in the conditions with Gruff narrowly missing out on a better result on Stage 1. With the race splitting in the crosswinds and the team putting four riders in the leading group of twenty, we misjudged the finish slightly and Gruff ended in a disappointing albeit solid 7th which signified the team’s intentions for the remainder of the race. Into Stage 2, in one word, epic. David Hewett the only rider to finish, one of only eleven left in the race, as sleet, high winds and freezing rain battered the race for each of the 172 km. Stage 3 the weather proved to be too much and the stage was cancelled, an excellent decision on behalf of the race organisation. This meant the Tour ended with two stages, David finishing 8th on GC, picking up his and the teams first UCI points of the season.
After a days travel and rest the team rallied for the final race of the trip, a re-organised UCI 1.2 race the 202 km GP Pharmacy. Again a day of heavy rain was forecast. The team set out with the intention of working for Gruff, who duly delivered. Attacking a break of three riders deep into the race he rode the last 12km solo to win - the best way as the only rider in the picture. A fantastic win which topped off a great trip for the team.
Closer to home the riders that remained in the UK produced some excellent performances, undoubtedly motivated by Gruff’s Tunisian success. Due to illness and injury the team was down to three riders at these events. First up was Lancaster University Spring Circuit race at Salt Ayre. The trio attacking heavily from the outset forced both Si and Alex clear within the first 5km, the duo never looked backed establishing a 30 sec lead that never faltered crossing the line together for a 1,2, Jack narrowly missing the clean sweep in 4th. Onto Sunday the Coalville Wheelers RR the long running National B over 130 km. A strong Vitus Pro Cycling presence added a further dimension to the race. The pace was high throughout with no group getting more than 20 seconds for the first 90 km, then finally a group of ten managed to forge out a small lead on the peloton. With Alex present for the team and four Vitus riders the break had enough collective firepower to maintain the gap to the final lap. The final 1 km included a punchy 400m climb before a false flat finish. This turned out to be perfect for Alex as the group of ten contested the win, Alex hit the front towards the top of the climb and never looked back taking a great win. Behind Jack won the sprint from what remained of the peloton.
Also on Sunday still carrying fatigue from Tunisia, Tom and Ronnie combined well for 2nd and 4th in the final round of the Bike Inn Spring Shield in Middlesbrough.
Next up for the team is the 4-day Ras Muhan in Kerry which starts on Good Friday.
Many thanks to VeloUK and Ellen Isherwood for the pictures as always.