Opportunity knocks for us on Saturday guys, possibly like never before and particularly in this Commonwealth Games year. If natural progression counts for anything it’s surely at last our turn to win the country’s blue riband of club road racing.
When we finally broke the mould that had defied the club since that memorable triumph in 1980 and took the bronze medals two years ago, we could have been satisfied, but having upped it to silver last year, as well as taking the English title, it’s left us with just one final hurdle to clear.
Unfortunately sport rarely respects such natural progression, and no one should underestimate the opposition that confronts us, headed by the high-flying Tonbridge squad who scored such an overwhelming victory in the recent English cross-country championships. According to the grapevine they are confident of repeating this success, and admittedly they will start as worthy favourites. There are other leading Southern clubs, notably Aldershot and Highgate, who could feature too if they get all their top runners out.
The Northern challenge will be headed by their new champions Lincoln, who are a rising and close-knit force with a growing reputation, while the same as applies to Aldershot does to the North’s other leading challengers Salford, Sale, Stockport, Leeds, Morpeth and Liverpool, with whom we have had many a ding-dong struggle in the past.
As regards our Midland opponents, Notts do not seem to be the force they were, while though top Birmingham club Birchfield ran us so close in the area 12-stage we are set to field a much stronger line-up, so it would be a major surprise if they trouble us this time.
So realistically what are our chances? Well an overall time of 4hours 18 minutes, that we only narrowly missed two years ago, represents an average of 27 minutes for the six long stages and 16 minutes for the six short, which is surely achievable for our present squad though by no means a stroll in the park. Swansea’s winning time last year of just over 4 hours 15 minutes has set a formidable record that equates to close on 26:45 for the long stages and 15:45 for the short. While that sort of performance might look beyond us, it seems very likely that we will need to clock a time well inside that 4:18 standard to be in with a shout of winning. I am sure that our Tonbridge rivals will have that sort of target and more in mind.
It’s a credit to all of you for buying in so wholeheartedly to the challenge facing us, and it has given us a headache or two finalising both teams, such has been the competition for places. As ever deciding on our running order is something of a lottery and always subject to any necessary late substitutions, but it’s the time behind the front of the race early on rather than individual positions that is all-important. I generally try to balance the two halves of the race, while ensuring a reasonably strong tail.
I know Chris has been juggling similarly with the B team, which is surely the strongest we have ever fielded and includes former international Martin Palmer, who is making a welcome comeback, as well as our outstanding junior Hugh Sadler making his first appearance for the senior team. Even Tonbridge will have to go some to beat them, while our target will again be to have the top B team as we did last year.
These are the selected teams in proposed running order (each long leg being followed by a short throughout):
A: JACK MILLAR, LUKE EVANS, WILL CHRISTOFI, RICH PETERS, STEVE MITCHELL, HARRY ALLEN, DAN STUDLEY, ANDY CHAMBERS, OWAIN JONES, JACK BANCROFT, JARLATH MCKENNA, MIKE WILSMORE.
Res: JOSH MOODY.
B: MATT BATTENSBY, JOSH MOODY, MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI, DAVID AWDE, BEN ROBINSON, HUGH SADLER, ANDY SALMON, ADAM WILSON, KURT TAYLOR, MILES CHANDLER, MARTIN PALMER, MARK EDWARDS.
Res: ROBBIE STEWART, ANDY WATT and MATT ROBINSON.
As a final message to you all: bear in mind that opportunities are never missed, they are simply taken instead by your rivals! Do you want that to happen? We think not, so it’s over to you all now to fulfill our destiny as UK champions.