DISTANCE 45 miles (72 km)
MAIN CLIMB Hinton Hill
TOTAL CLIMB 450 metres
ACHTUNG! Two crossings of the A46
Ben Luckwell is another ex-pro who can?t stay away from cycling. He raced at a time when there was a lot of talent in British road racing, although there wasn?t the money and racing to let that talent really blossom.
Mark Lovatt, John Tanner, Wayne Randle and Chris Walker are all of a similar age to Luckwell, and no less an authority than nine-times Tour de France stage winner Barry Hoban says that these guys had the talent to make it as pros in Europe.
For one reason or another they didn?t go. Or, as in Luckwell?s case, they went too late. They stayed in Britain, but it wasn?t the best time to do that. Before their era, road racing in Britain had supported a pro class. After them, British Cycling created the system that has brought amazing results on the track and is now trickling onto the road.
Pro racing for Luckwell?s generation was a precarious affair, with teams sprouting up and then disappearing all the time. They never quite got their chance. Some say they are a lost generation, though most of them are still racing ? but then perhaps there?s a lesson there as well.
For the fun of it
Lovatt, Tanner and Randle race simply because they enjoy it, and that?s why Luckwell came back too. ?I treat races like people do a Sunday football match. It?s sport, but it?s social too,? he says.
?I also enjoy the traditional group rides we do here on Saturdays. A group of us meet every Saturday in the winter at the suspension bridge in Bristol and we will do 70 to 100 miles,? he explains at the beginning of today?s ride.
It?s the end of Luckwell?s season, his fourth since he started back. ?I got to a point in my pro career where my motivation was flagging. I had a mortgage and was not sure whether I could keep going on the money I was making, so when I got the chance of a job using my mechanical engineering qualification I had to go for it,? he says.
He works about 13 miles from where he lives so, he says, ?I started riding there and back.
I raced a bit at first. I won a stage in the Ras [Tour of Ireland] and was third overall, and won the points. But I?d had enough of racing really, so I stopped and had six years away from it,? he says.
The break did Luckwell good. ?I bought a motorbike and enjoyed taking that on Sunday runs with mates,? he says. But pretty soon his competitive urge brought him back to cycling. ?That is why I do it. I like racing. I enjoy being in a race and seeing how it will develop. I like riding my bike, especially when the sun is shining like today, but it?s racing that I really enjoy.?
To race you have to put in the miles and, in doing so, all cyclists develop a deep awareness and knowledge of their surroundings. They know where the quiet lanes are, the big hills and which way the wind will blow. Luckwell is no exception, and his favourite training country is the network of lanes just to the east of Bristol.
?There are so many to choose from, which makes riding here interesting,? he says, after riding out from his home in the city to the start in Pucklechurch on a Sustrans bike trail. ?I think it was the first trail in the country. Sustrans started in Bristol you know,? he proudly tells me.
Luckwell is a Bristol boy. Born just to the north of the city in Thornbury, he started cycling with the local clubs Gordano Valley and Clevedon Wheelers when he lived in Nailsea. He says his proudest achievement in cycling was winning a stage of the Milk Race at Weston-super-Mare. But it didn?t make up for his biggest disappointment.
?That was another Milk Race stage, but one that finished right in the middle of Bristol. We were climbing the Cheddar Gorge, which is just outside, and I felt good. Then all of a sudden I could feel my back tyre going down. I couldn?t believe it. I was at the front but things were really stretched out, so I had to ride on a flat tyre to the top of the Gorge before getting a wheel change.
?I flew down into Bristol after that, and just got to the back of the bunch as they started the climb that went up to the finish. I went mad, passing rider after rider, but I was fourth on the line.?
After that Luckwell raced for a pro team in Portugal, then for two years in Belgium with the Maestro team, before calling it a day.
He?s been a regular winner since he started racing again, and was very pleased to win the National Masters Road Race Championships this year. ?I had been a national champion before when I won the team time trial with Manchester Wheelers, but even though it?s an age group race I was very happy to win an individual championship this year. There were some good riders in the race and it?s a title Malcolm [Elliott] has won too,? says Luckwell, as if he had to set his victory in context.
The ride Luckwell picked is a good one, thanks to a real feeling of open space on these Wiltshire lanes. There are a lot of horses about though, so be careful. The route passes through some interesting villages, including Badminton, of three-day event fame, and Malmesbury, burial place of Athelstan, the first King of England, and now home to some decent coffee stops.
Luckwell may have ended his racing year, but in the spirit of riders from his era who often had to put together their own sponsorship packages, he?s not stopped wheeling and dealing.
Before he heads home he tells me he is putting together a new team for next season. ?We are going to do some Premier races, though not me necessarily. I?ll be a sort of rider/manager doing local races and maybe a couple for Premiers. The team is sponsored by Jelly Belly, who have a team in the States. It will be called Sports Beans and we?ll be riding Wilier bikes.?
These old pros never really stop, do they?
MASTERS CHAMPION ADVICE
?WHEN you are working full time and you?ve got family commitments, you?ve got to balance your training with that. I base mine around riding to work and back. I work near Bristol airport, so I can add a loop coming home that includes climbs like Cheddar and Burrington Combe.
?In summer I ride to work all week. In winter I try to ride to work and back three out of five days, and I do my big group ride on Saturday. It?s different from when I was a pro. Then I would do 600 miles a week if I was getting ready for a stage race.
?If I was starting out again though, or if I had a son who wanted to race, I think it?s best to start racing on the track. It?s always been frustrating for British riders who start out as road riders, and it still is with the BC system. But they are right ? good track riders make good road riders. Not sprinters, but riders who can do the scratch, points races and the pursuits.?
YOUR GUIDE: BEN LUCKWELL
* Aged 41
* Lives in Bristol with wife Colleen and step-daughter Mikayla
* Works as a mechanical engineer, turning drawings into the real thing
* Ben will race in 2008 for a team sponsored by American company Jelly Belly, which is trying to break into the British market with its Sports Beans
* Represented Great Britain in the team time trial at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Take the unclassified road east from Pucklechurch through Hinton, cross the A46 and turn left (TL) on unclassified to Tormanton. Turn right (TR) and TL to join B4040 for 300 metres. TR on unclassified and TL in Badminton. TR to Sherston. TL on B4040 to Malmesbury. TR on unclassified and TL at Foxley.
TR to Norton and Hullavington, then follow signs to Leigh Delamare. TR on unclassified to Yatton Keynell. TR on B4039 and TL to Castle Combe. TR to Mountain Bower and TR in village and TL towards Marshfield. TR and take 2nd TR then follow this road, crossing the 46, to Dyrham. TL to Doynton and TR to Pucklechurch.