Whilst most of the British peloton spent the run up to Christmas either winter training or having a break, the team of Achieve-Northside-Skinnergate sent a team of 6 to the UCI Tour of Al Zubarah in Qatar. With Charlie Tanfield, Ben Hetherington and Bradley Stokes all able to contest for the U23 jersey, this was the team’s main aim with Rob Orr, Martin Ford and Tom Timothy having a freer rein to contest stages and assist the younger riders in getting on the podium.
The race began with a short prologue, whereby the team really made its first mark on the race, with Charlie taking the U23 jersey and 5th on the stage. Ben also placed within the top 20, and it was also good to see fellow British rider, Jacob Tipper taking the coveted yellow jersey. With full professional teams such as Skydive Dubai, Pishgaman Giant from Iran and various national teams present it was good to see that the team was well-placed and in form to make an impact.
The first stage of 130km saw the team eager therefore to defend Charlie’s lead. High winds in the desert saw the race split into several echelons, as wheels were lost on the wide desert highways of Qatar. However the team rode actively and managed to establish both Ben and Charlie in the first echelon until disaster struck shortly before the finish, when Charlie crashed heavily. Whilst Ben raced on, Charlie was forced to visit the team doctor before losing a significant amount of time on the GC, forcing the team to revise its goals for the forthcoming days.
Despite Charlie’s crash, on day 2 the team was still motivated to race hard to replace Charlie on the podium of the U23 with Ben, our next best placed rider. On the lengthened stage of 141km the team therefore raced aggressively, placing an injured but resilient Charlie and Tom in the main break of the day. Whilst Tom Timothy took the first sprint of the day to earn the team some TV time, Charlie eyed the stage victory to make up for the previous days disaster. Unfortunately however the break was caught shortly before the finish, resulting in a bunch sprint that saw Ben move up to 3rd on the U23 classification and 11th overall, only 32 seconds off the retained yellow jersey of Jacob Tipper.
One final road stage saw the team determined to force Ben into the top 10 overall, as the field started to suffer with fatigue and the wind started blowing again, causing echelons to develop. With Ben managing to make the front break, the rest of the team managed the remaining peloton to give Ben the breathing room to gain the small number of seconds required. By the finish however Ben was joined by a small group and took 12th on the stage after attempting to help Jacob Tipper respond to the late attacks on his yellow jersey. Unfortunately for Jacob this was unsuccessful with the race being won eventually by Maher Hasnaoui of Skydive Dubai. The team however were delighted that Ben retained his 3rd place on the U23 classification and managed to gain the key seconds to take 10th place overall.
Looking forward to next season the riders will use this race as a vital part of their training before a large number of the team head to Calpe as final preparation for the start of the 2016 season. We would like to thank our sponsors, in particular Zyro and High5 for supplying the riders with the equipment for the race and look forward to more success next year!