North Shropshire with Simon Holt
DISTANCE 47 miles (75km)
MAIN CLIMB The Wrekin
TOTAL CLIMB 490 metres
ACHTUNG! Main road crossings
Simon Holt was one of the young racers that the Recycling.co.uk team invested in last year. This year, when Rapha-Condor share headline sponsorship, the team will be bigger and they will take on a foreign and domestic race campaign.
To handle the extra racing, team director John Herety and Recycling boss Charlie Jackson have beefed up the squad, but they now expect the young ones to win at Premier Calendar and elite circuit series level.
Simon Holt isn’t worrying about the pressure though. Instead he’s excited by it. “I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time,” he tells me before we start this ride in Newport, home of the famous Nocturne criterium race.
Criteriums are where Holt has, until now, made his name. “I’m a zippy kind of rider, criteriums suit me. I reckon third at Brentwood in the criterium series was my best result last year,” he adds.
Tale of two Dans
But Holt isn’t leaving it at that. This winter he’s already tried track racing and got some encouraging results, and he’s working on something else. “I’ve got to improve my climbing to progress. I’m training with the two Dans, Martin and Fleeman, and I’m having to get better just to stay with them on the hills,” he jokes.
It’s a joke that hides some serious intent. Holt’s friend and landlord Andy Birley (“I charge him buttons”) says: “The two Dans have benefited from the knowledge Dan Lloyd has built up by training with SRM power meters, and together with Simon they are getting testing done at Birmingham University, so they know exactly what they need to do on the bike.”
Careful planning is something of a Holt strong point, and one he underlines by handing me a sheaf of notes about the ride we’re doing. But all work and no play would make him dull, so he doesn’t let it. Once on their bikes Holt and Birley sprint for nearly every road sign on the route, while trying to switch each other into the hedges.
“The route is basically a circuit of Telford,” Holt says before pointing out the big landmark to the west of town — the Wrekin. It’s a great lump of a climb which sticks out above the flat eastern approach. A foretaste of the Welsh hills behind it, the Wrekin looks like a scaled down model of the Puy de Dôme in France.
Holt and Birley hammer up its slopes before stopping at the top where Holt recounts an old folk tale. “Apparently a giant [called Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr, according to Holt’s research] was upset with the people of Shrewsbury and decided to flood the town. So he dug up a giant’s spade-full of earth and set off. On his way he met a cobbler who showed him a bag full of worn-out shoes, and told him that he’d worn them out walking to Shrewsbury. The giant didn’t fancy walking that far so he dumped the earth where the Wrekin is now.”
Cradle of industry
A bit of fictional history maybe, but a nice introduction to some real stuff as the route descends the Wrekin and into Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge. “That’s Abraham Darby’s house,” Holt points out. It was Darby’s discovery of a way to smelt iron with coke from locally mined coal in 1709 that started the industrial revolution.
Darby’s son, Abraham II, improved his father’s method to the point where he could produce pig iron which could be forged into wrought iron.
And his son, Abraham III (the Darby’s were top inventors but not great with names) constructed the world’s first iron bridge in 1779 near to Coalbrookdale, over the river Severn.
The place he built it in is now called Ironbridge, and the famous bridge still stands majestically spanning the river high above the Severn Gorge. It is an amazing sight, and a very elegant piece of construction given that there was no experience of this kind of bridge building in those days.
We stop for more pictures before heading on down the gorge, past the Coalport China factory, to pick up part of the route of the Midlands stage of this year’s Tour of Britain. “We go up one of the climbs, Sutton Bank, now,” Holt warns me. “Some of my mates were standing on it during the stage with a banner saying something like, ‘Come on Simon, it’s not too far to go before the finish, keep trying hard’, or something like that.
“How did they expect me to read all that while I was breathing through my ears?”
Big ring cruising
It was tough on the day, but now Holt and Birley cruise the climb on their big chainrings —
training with the two Dans must be working. From the top of the bank it’s mostly flat back to Newport, through Shifnal.
“A cyclist owns that restaurant,” says Holt as we pass by Darcy’s on the main street. “At Christmas he has a special day for a load of club runs round here,” he adds.
A quick left off the main road after Sheriffhales takes us to Lilleshall. “The big hall here was one of the first big national sports centres,” says Holt distractedly, while slowing down to take in a women’s football match.
Back in Newport, Holt reflects on his place in the Recycling team. “I had offers from other teams for more money at the end of this season, but I stayed at Recycling because I feel that I am part of a structure there.
“I went through an apprenticeship last year and now it’s time for results,” he says, before setting off home to put some more miles into his goals.
YOUR GUIDE: SIMON HOLT
- Age 19, single, born in Newport, Shropshire, lives in Burntwood near Lichfield
- Races for Rapha-Condor-Recycling, day job for High Five
- Started racing after seeing his big brother Ian racing in Italy. “His team let me go in the team car and I thought, this is cool,” he says
- As well as Recycling, Holt thanks personal backers for helping his progress so far: Andrew Rigg of Mar Services, Hugh Fend of Fospat and Steve Sweeny of Power Adhesives
From the centre of Newport (the famous Nocturne cobbles are on St Mary’s Street) head north and turn left (TL) on the B5062. Cross the A442 and follow the B5062 south. Turn right (TR) on unclassified after Longdon on Tern. TR on B4394. TL on unclassified at Walcot. TL on B5061. TR on unclassified under A5.
Climb the Wrekin and follow the unclassified road through Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge. Climb Sutton Bank and cross the A442. TR on B4379 and TL on unclassified. Follow signs to Shifnal. Pick up the B4379 in Shifnal and continue north. TL on unclassified to Lilleshall. TR on A518 and TL on unclassified back to the centre of Newport.