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Pitstop View-1st Stage Of The Matrix Fitness GP Series

Driving down the M1 I wasn’t sure what to expect at Redditch. Yes, I had watched the Tour Series on TV and the Sheffield Grand Prix in person and even taken part in both Barnsley and Sheffield City Centre races back in the day, offering to help the ladies in the team was totally new to me.

As the rain, then hail, hammered the car, I was glad I wasn’t the one riding on a tight, twisty town circuit with man hole covers, diesel from public transport, TV camera’s ready to catch the moment if you crash and the huge crowds. Although I was just as nervous as the girls.

Arriving at team headquarters, I could already see team vans, riders warming up on rollers and ensuring everything was just right. Quickly tracking Nicola and Sandra down (the Carnac-Planet X kit does stand out), I checked if they were ok and needed anything, just as another hailstorm hit. Good excuse for another coffee. Due to a work emergency, Lou was unable to start this round which left Nicola and Sandra the only team riders. As the HQ was 4 miles from the circuit, it was decided that after the riders meeting and transponders were fitted, that the girls would ride to the circuit while I took their rollers to the pits area for their final warm up preparations. It was well sign posted (thankfully) and I quickly managed to park up within sight of the circuit. As the girls warmed up, the commentator was getting the crowd atmosphere built up following the children’s races and lap time trial that had been going on all afternoon. Then the heavens opened again.

With the start time getting nearer the circuit opened for the riders to familiarise themselves with the course, Nicola and Sandra headed out as I put the rollers into the car and took the Planet X wheelbags with spare wheels into the pits, which was situated just after the start/finish line on an incredibly tight left hand bend that was also a pinch point. How would 74 riders get round that I wondered!

Looking at the rider start list, it became even more apparent the quality of riders involved; Laura Trott (World and Olympic Champion) Dani King (World and Olympic Champion), Dame Sarah Storey (Multi World and National Champion), Katie Archibald (World and European Champion) Ciara Horne (European Champion) to name just a few of the hitters involved tonight. There were many, many more top quality riders all ready to do battle over the 40 minute race. 

Thankfully the rain had stopped but the road surface was very greasy indeed as the lead motor bike came round on the neutralised lap, very closely followed by the full field of riders. As they approached the start line, the motor bike increased its speed and the race was on. At the first bend and at the pinch point as the brakes squealed and the carbon clattered there was a crash. With riders quickly jumping up and seeking the commissaries out to ensure they got their allowed lap out. Thankfully neither Nicola or Sandra crashed but both got held up meaning they didn’t get the lap out and had to set about chasing with the other riders. Second lap round and another crash right outside the pits, again the girls stayed upright but again, got blocked by riders on the floor and the others trying to find their way through.

As the time counted down and the laps flew by, the leaders were constantly changing, with loan breaks and the chasers. Nicola was in the 4th group and working well, trying to chase down the riders in front. Sandra was just behind but kept catching the riders that were being dropped. Working well and being able to take their own race line in the corners but being frustrated about being held up by the crashes. 

The pits were a hive of activity, riders that had punctured, crashed or had a mechanical issue were seeking service, new wheels and a lap out, thankfully I could just watch the race and shout encouragement.

With the leaders going through the finish with 5 laps to go all the dropped riders were pulled out of the race, with Nicola and Sandra being amongst these. Nicola finished in 59th with Sandra just behind in 64th. Back to the car and out with the rollers for their warm down and to reflect on the race, held up by the crashes was very frustrating, both ladies stated they were getting stronger the longer the race went on. As the race finished, the crowds applauded all the riders, winner being Laura Trott, Dani King was 2nd with Nikki Juniper taking the final podium place.

Rollers loaded into the car, Nicola and Sandra riding back to the HQ and to change out of the soaked clothing, wipe the stunning RT-90 bikes down and go for another coffee.

The experience was incredible, with the atmosphere on the circuit, the time in the pits, the nerves coupled with the buzz was a great feeling. Round one down, ready for the 2nd round in Motherwell next week, personally I can’t wait! 

Words by Stewart Smith

20 May 2015