Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK launched their season with a strong showing at the 58th edition of the Eddie Soens Memorial handicap race, despite the windiest conditions many of the riders had faced.
Victory was claimed by Matt Bottrill (Team Bottrill-Vanguard), who won the race for the second time in a distinguished career, 21 years after first crossing the line at the Aintree Motor Racing Circuit with arms aloft.
Scott Thwaites was the first rider home for Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK in eleventh place, while Adam Kenway was twelfth, Freddie Scheske fourteenth and Chris Latham, nineteenth, all one lap down. Ed Clancy OBE, Graham Briggs, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson and Red Walters retired from the race.
Bottrill, now racing as a cat 2 rider, took full advantage of his handicap and powerful crosswinds to maximise his advantage over the scratch group. The wily veteran used his formidable time-trialing skills to swiftly gain a lap on the entire field, leaving many of his rivals from the scratch group unaware that they were racing for second place.
Before the flag fell, Cherie Pridham, team owner and manager of Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK had described handicap races as a lottery. The result and the conditions confirmed her analysis, but she was fulsome in her praise for the winner.
“I have to give all credit to Matt Bottrill,” she said. “The lads are a bit disappointed - people race bikes to win bike races - but that was a super display of riding from Matt.
“We said before the race that handicaps are a lottery and so it proved, especially with the weather conditions. We had the strongest team here and the greatest numbers, so it was always going to be up to us to take on the race. The positives are that we did exactly that. Credit to Adam Kenway, he gave it a good go, and for a while it looked as if his group might stay away. Had they done so, things might have been different.”
Pridham’s riders began with a show of strength and an impressive display of unity for a group racing together for the first time. A red train dragged the scratch group behind it in the opening stages of the race.
Powerful crosswinds soon forced the riders to fight for themselves, as much as for their team-mates, however. New signing Scheske offered an accurate description of the challenge he faced in racing “the windiest race I’ve ever ridden.”
“In a headwind like today’s, it’s basically impossible to get away. You can launch a 600w attack and establish a bit of a gap, but someone only has to make a short effort to get on your wheel and into your slipstream,” he explained.
“In the tailwind section, you’re not getting any recovery, because it’s just as hard to ride on the wheel as it is to ride on the front. It was nails the whole way, but we gave it a good go. We’re a bit disappointed, but that’s racing.”
A busy opening weekend for the team continued with a long journey south to Dover for the staff and some of the riders, before travelling onward to France for tomorrow’s GP de Lillers, a prestigious UCI 1.2 race.
Ali Slater, Mikey Mottram and Tim Torrie will begin their seasons in northern France, while Thwaites, Kerfoot-Robson, Kenway and Latham will roll out for the second part of a challenging double header.
“I’m happy with the guys today, in the sense that they were all on new bikes, new equipment, and new race wheels, so now is the time to work through any teething issues,” Pridham concluded.
“Tomorrow at Lillers will be very different – a proper race! Soon, we have our training camp, and in a couple of weeks, we’ll be flying.”
Eddie Soens Memorial Race
1) Matt Bottrill (Team Bottrill-Vanguard) – 1:49:32
2) Gruffudd Leiws (Ribble Pro Cycling)
3) Max Rushby (HMT Hospitals-Giant)
4) Samuel Watson (PH MAS-Paul Milne Cycles)
5) Russell Downing (Giordana Racing)
6) Oliver Rees (HMT Hospitals-Giant)
7) Simon Wilson (Ribble Pro Cycling)
8) Dillon Byrne (Tactic Sport One)
9) Alfred George (Discovery Junior Cycling Club)
10) Jonathan Bourne (Pro Vision Race Team)