After following an attack up the road at the Elite Men’s Canadian National Road Championships, Rob Britton of the BISSELL Pro Cycling Team found himself outnumbered in what was the move of the day. There he was with three Spidertech p/b C10 riders, defending champion Will Routley, Zach Bell and Keven Lacombe, with a lot of kilometers to go before the Maple Leaf was claimed.
Britton’s reaction when he looked behind to see his situation was simple. “I laughed.” he said on Saturday evening, a few hours after the race.
It wasn’t the first time that he found himself outnumbered against the same two back in their home province of British Columbia.
“I’ve raced Will and Zach back in the Symmetrics days,” he recalled, “on a very similar course with repetitive times up some sort of steep hill. I can remember years ago, same situation in a break, with them versus me. Oh great, it was basically deja vu all over again.”
Everyone knew that the only Canadian UCI Pro Continental team, Spidertech, was gunning for the win, even more so after losing the title last year to lone rider Routley, then riding for Jelly Belly. Routley was able to outsprint his breakmates, that included Spidertech riders, for the victory.
This year, the Steve Bauer squad once again stacked the field with 14 riders in the 178-rider peloton.
“Unfortunately, it’s not just the numbers they had, they’re extremely good riders so it was very difficult to race against them today.”
But with still 11 laps to go, Britton didn’t give up. He worked hard at the front of the break to keep the pace high and to soften up his opponents. With only one other pure climber in the group, his chances were still good to get on the podium.
“If I sat on, they would just take me off the back. I’d roll though and on the climb I would try to put as much pressure as I could without really digging too deep.” Britton said. “I was trying to put them under pressure, make them suffer on the climb to take the sting out of their legs for the rest of the lap, to keep them from doing anything later on.”
The strategy was working until another Spidertech rider bridged across with two laps to go. And not just any rider but seven-time Canadian TT Champion Svein Tuft.
“When Svein came across, it just changed everything.” A re-shuffle and Britton now faced Tuft, Routley and Bell.
Ultimately, the numbers and strength of Spidertech could not be overcome and the 26-year old Britton finished fourth.
There was some conversation between Britton and the Spidertech trio throughout the long, hard race. “I was joking around a little bit, trying to keep it light, reminding them that they don’t hate me. But, it’s tough, really honestly there was absolutely nothing I could do.”
The beginning. Though he was coming in with no teammates, Britton was looking to forming an alliance with the other solo riders in the field.
“The card we had to play, and by we I mean Cycling BC crew and the other guys like Dom Rollin and David Veilleux, we didn’t care which one of us maybe won as long as we could prevent them from winning, make a race of it you know. And we were content to really ride and we did that and I think it worked out honestly the best it could. It was nice that I didn’t feel completely alone, obviously it wasn’t like racing with BISSELL Pro Cycling but you’re not getting flicked by everybody, it’s kind of us versus them.”
The start of the 180-km race was a sign of things to come. “They were riding like they were in a GC lead in a race, they had all 30 of their guys lined up at the front.” he chuckled. “You think you’re seeing double because there’s just so many. I think there was 14 of them, an insane numbers of these jerseys.”
Nothing got away in the first two laps, with Spidertech controlling the front and setting a tempo to shell riders off the back. The notorious Rattlesnake Point climb at the end of the 12.9-km loop added to the culling.
Then attacks started. Some of the more dangerous riders, such as Christian Meier (UnitedHealthcare), Nic Hamilton (Jelly Belly) and Marsh Cooper (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth), tested the waters and managed to get away for a short amount of time, always with at least one Spidertech rider in tow.
Nothing stuck until the right combination was found. “I just followed a move up the road.” explained Britton who chased two other riders up the road. “A quick, really fast re-shuffle and I just marked Will because he was accelerating. About half a lap, I turned around and it was me and three of them, and that was that.”
The break. For the next five laps, the gap hovered between one to two minutes with Britton doing a lot of work at the front.
“I was having to take maybe a little bit longer pulls just to keep the pace up because I was okay with having three of them there, I didn’t need it to be five. If someone was going to come across I wanted to make damn sure it was going to be hard for them, not just jump across. Keep the pressure, and we did and it went back out to about two minutes.” Britton said.
Then they heard that Tuft was bridging, at only 42 seconds back. “They basically sat up and waited for him which was great.” Britton said sarcastically.
Simply said, Tuft coming across “sucked” for Britton.
The pressure was on. “He’s obviously going very well, I witnessed what he did at Beauce the week before.” Britton said about Tuft who soloed to the win the final stage and finish overall at the Tour de Beauce.
Tuft made the junction and hit on on the climb, dropping sprinter Lacombe. “Now it re-shuffled, and I was thinking okay maybe I can beat Zach in the finale but they’re not going to tow me to the line.”
Britton was correct. “Very quickly, Zach was the first to attack, and they let him go, Svein did a quick little t try and jump across which pretty much drew me out and then Will went, straight up to Zach. Then, I was stuck with Svein sitting on me which wasn’t the ideal situation.”
Tuft stayed glued to Britton’s wheel while the other two powered away at the front. After covering a few attacks, Britton was not able to go with Tuft when he put in a dig on the climb on the penultimate lap.
“Thankfully I still had some legs in me and the field had all but given up on it, they were five minutes back and I was able to ride it in for the best of the rest position.”
Bittersweet but overall happy. “I’m happy that my legs came out.” said Britton about his race. He admits to being concerned at the start at the start of the race due to a hip issue that forced him out of the Tour de Beauce just a week before.
“I had some work done just before the time trial.” said Britton, who placed seventh in the Canadian Time Trial Championship, won by Tuft.
He added, “I was definitely coming around and feeling better so to have the gas today to at least improve one step than last year, especially under more difficult circumstances, I was definitely happy with that.”
But he was also disappointed. “This is Nationals, always close, these past few years, always close to a medal but not quite there. This year it was that much more bittersweet. All the guys on the same team, that was kind of a hard pill to swallow but really, I don’t think there was anybody in the field that could done better than that.”
Overall however, Britton is happy with his year has gone so far, even though he’s faced “stumbling block after stumbling block.”
He explained, “This winter I had a lot of dental issues, I was on antibiotics, taking time off and it was really frustrating. I had no idea how it was going to go for the start of the year but I was able to come into good form.”
After the Merco Cycling Classic and San Dimas Stage Race in the early Spring, Britton came into form at the Amgen Tour of California following a gap in his racing schedule.
“California was great, I couldn’t have asked for better legs, every day felt better than the day before, especially on Mt Baldy. I was like a kid on a bike, it was fantastic, going head to head with (George) Hincapie (BMC) and Ryder (Hesjedal, Garmin-Cervelo).” Britton said.
Britton made his way into the break on the Queen Stage in California. The only domestic rider in the nine-rider group replete with ProTour riders in the 75.8-mile stage with three tough climbs including the finale up Mt Baldy.
Britton went pull for pull and put in a few digs on the final tough climb. “I’m not one for just sitting on for the free ride. I’ve had to do that before and it feels kind of bad, I’d much rather earn my place.”
Though often overlooked as a climber, Britton hopes that his riding since May will change that. “I think I underestimate myself a lot but I enjoy proving myself wrong more than anything. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and keep racing against these guys.”
“I love racing with the BISSELL team. We’ve got guys like Ben (Jacques-Maynes) and Jeremy (Vennell) who are proven, I get to work for them and they can bring home the win. I get to use my skills for stuff like that.” Britton concluded. “But on the days I get to ride for myself, it also feels pretty good.”
Next race for the Canadian are the Boise Twilight and the Cascade Cycling Classic.