Controversy and scandal fail to overshadow the Tour of Talybont.
The third Tour of Talybont was run over last weekend and it was bigger and better than previous years, bringing the Tour back to the traditional September dates seemed to have brought in form riders to the race rather than riders building fitness towards the three big Tours.
Our riders arrived at the new accommodation of Talybont Farm, although smaller facilities than the previously used Gilestone Farm they were pleased to have a fully working village. The legal wrangling from last year is over and Gilestone is gone, the owners hounded out of the town for upsetting the locals and they have subsequently gone out of business. One local said “They won’t be missed; you can get away with upsetting some people, but not the whole village. They just upped and left leaving us to deal with their livestock, it’s better that they’ve gone. We welcome the Tour of Talybont back”
After settling in to the 5* accommodation four of our five favourites set off on Stage one. Dan “Donkey Kong” Kujawski back defending his yellow jersey and hoping to win over the crowds after last years stained win, Mike “The Boss” Bloomfield hoping to emulate the inaugural Tour and win, Chris “Wobbler” Wood and Chris “Cheaton” Heaton on his first Tour. This year with new jerseys up for grabs the competition attacked from the off and the surprise early leader of the KoM was Heaton with a blistering ascent of the first climb of the day stealing a jump on his competitors who had misread the stage profile and all thought the KoM was on the next climb. The race then settled down as they rolled through the picturesque countryside, although the amount of bugs down one particular lane was hairy to say the least with Kujawski coming off worst with several bites and stings. As the peloton crossed onto the heath land for the first time a breakaway of Wood and Kujawski got away and it was Wood who powered away from his breakaway partner to claim the first sprint points of the day.
The riders then entered the dreaded run in to “Sheep Hill” the now infamous climb, easily the steepest of the day, the road switch-backing up the mountain; Bloomfield was first to the top to take over the lead in the KoM.
Shortly after the peloton was split when Wood crashed on one of the non categorised climbs of the day, he and Kujawski attacked at the bottom but the gradient was clearly steeper than either of them realised and Wood struggled to find the appropriate gear causing him to come to a virtual standstill before his chain locked and he toppled into a thorn bush (first and only mechanical of the weekend for Wood – ed.) Wood clearly hadn’t recovered from this when the peloton reached the next climb, he went on a lone attack only to be caught by Bloomfield who passed him with ease and Wood couldn’t hold his wheel, Kujawski passed him just prior to the summit and Wood’s hopes of a KoM jersey were all but gone. Wood and Heaton caught up with Kujawski prior to the next sprint point and the three tried to chase down Bloomfield, when it was clear this was not an option Kujawski and Wood contested the tightest sprint of the weekend, they were level entering the reservoir Kujawski kicked first and got a slight advantage, Wood was coming back as they crossed the line but Kujawski won it by less than half a wheel, Heaton rolled over in fourth clearly fighting hard but finding the pace of the peloton a little too high.
The last climb of the day was nearly stolen by Kujawski who made a fruitless attack only to be caught by Bloomfield within sight of the Summit. The peloton all started the descent together and there were no mishaps on “flower corner” this year, Wood lost contact with the front two and although his time trialling technique has much improved he was unable to catch Bloomfield and Kujawski before the finish, both riders crossing the line together as neither of them wanted to attack, the stage win officially going to Bloomfield.
Wood was 30 seconds back and Heaton a further 2 minutes back on GC.
The second stage saw James “T-Bird” Flower join the peloton and for the first year the riders didn’t need to spend the morning at the mechanics support in Abergavenny meaning a more relaxed start to stage two and a nice breakfast in the local café. The peloton set off with Heaton looking jaded at best but determined to finish the day, Flower as always full of enthusiasm and the others raring to go. After the early pave section Kujawski and Wood attacked and built up a healthy lead over the peloton only to be held up just out of Crickhowell by traffic lights and a slight confusion over the route. This meant that the peloton were all together for the first climb, Bloomfield extended his lead in the KoM, Flower nicked second from Kujawski and Heaton claimed fourth after Wood dropped his sunglasses and had to stop extending his lead over Wood to four points at the bottom of that particular competition. Interestingly the organisers had decided to put the KoM line by a bench, but to our riders surprise the climb kept on going by at least half again.
Then came the first controversy of this years Tour, local thieves had stolen the Green banners that mark out the Sprint points (and in one case the entire road sign) meaning that the Sprint jersey mid points were neutralised except for one with obvious landmark and the stage finish. Kujawski and Wood obviously feeling good attacked again and again to get into breakaways, most were reeled back in by the peloton but it showed their intent. The next categorised climb up the Black Mountain was contested by the whole peloton, they were all together until the last moment when the gradient ramped up, Kujawski and Bloomfield contested for first place, Bloomfield got it. Wood and Flower were next, Wood constantly remonstrating with his limpet mine wheel sucker but Flower was not interested in helping out only to kick on at the end, Wood couldn’t match his speed and seemed happy to take fourth.
The peloton entered the final third of the stage and Wood and Kujawski were off the front again, they held this lead until the final climb, Wood attacked first but again was overhauled by Bloomfield and Kujawski, Flower obviously struggling by now could not contest and he and Heaton crossed the line some time later. The peloton re-grouped after the last and only recognised sprint point of the day crossing the River Taff. Wood had been stung by a wasp on the descent and was clearly having a reaction, he and Kujawski continued their trend for the day and attacked opening up a lead, Wood was on the front and kicking hard, however his breakaway partner like Flower before him seemed uninterested in helping, entering Pencelli Kujawski was virtual leader and Wood was in second, most thought that they would work together and Kujawski might gift Wood the stage win and take the overall himself, but we all remembered quickly that Kujawski isn’t one for team work and sportsmanship, remember the stained win last year? No Kujawski kicked on in Pencelli and built extended his lead over the GC. Kujawski took the stage win and Wood second, the rest of the peloton rolled over 2 minutes further down.
At this point we had our first drugs scandal at the Tour of Talybont; Wood was clearly struggling with his reaction to the sting and his leg was swelling up, his team Doctor gave him some anti-histamine to ease the swelling, the rest of the peloton cried “Fowl! Dopage!” and demanded Wood was suspended for doping offences during competition, the organisers promised to look into it and provisionally suspended Wood from the competition, not that he would have been able to ride the next stage.
At the end of the day Kujawski was overall GC leader with Wood provisionally in second 1 minute down, Bloomfield 3rd 1:30 down, Heaton 4th 4:15 down and Flower 5th. Bloomfield had sewn up the KoM and Sprints Jerseys as no points were available in the TTT the following day.
Stage three was unfortunately cancelled again this year, not because of rider strike over legal wrangling as last year was but the weather, similar to a stage in the Tour of Britain being cancelled only a few days prior the British weather struck again, high winds and torrential rain fell in Wales on the Sunday and the organisers in consultation with the authorities felt that a TTT in those conditions was too dangerous and cancelled the stage, both riders and fans were disappointed but understood, they are all hoping that the TTT can finally get run next year.
This meant that Bloomfield failed again in his attempt to take yellow and Kujawski is once again champion of this prestigious race, winning over the crowds again and winning fairly this year. Wood was re-instated into Second place after WADA confirmed that the Chlorphenamine Maleate that was in the tablets prescribed is not on the banned list and assumed most riders thought they contained Ephedrine which is. This is a great result for Wood who has been Lantern Rouge for two years running. Flower admitted mid season riding had let him down and Heaton was just glad it was all over, he did admit a few days later though that it was a privilege to be invited to such a great Tour and he hoped to continue to attend in years to come. Bloomfield did take away both KoM and Sprint classifications, Kujawski won the White jersey and Wood the most Combative for his constant attacks and breakaways.
Looking forward to next year DMC Sports Management have promised to sort out the issues with the KoM and Sprint classification signage and ensure the TTT is run. The only negative is that we all have to wait 12 months for the tour to roll around again.