A Lesson In Winning Races

Hi,

A lot has happened since my last post both good and bad. I left off my last post just before heading back to Scotland for the Scottish Road Race championships. Unfortunately this didn’t go to plan and after not feeling 100% on race day it turned out that I had picked up food poisoning on the days leading up to the championships. This resulted in 10 days spent in bed  trying to recover and get rid of the illness so I could head back to Belgium. Having lost a few kg’s during those 10 days I had lost some power so my first few races were going to be tough. I didn’t go into them with any expectations and merely to finish would be ok.  My first race back in the heartland was more of a glorified criterium than anything else, not really up my street and it is what west Flanders in renowned for. I lasted around 60km after attacking and trying to get in moves (not the best idea given my state of fitness) before the constant accelerations took its toll and I slipped away from the diminished peleton. I spent the next week getting my strength back and I was ready to race again the next Monday In East Flanders near Aalst. The beginning of this race went well, I managed to get into a strong looking breakaway but in my eagerness to push on I crashed on some slippery wet cobbles after going a bit too hot into the corner. Race over I had to make my way back to the start in the ambulance while the doctor patched up my various cuts and bruises on my elbows and hip. The next few races I was constantly feeling better, getting back to a decent state of fitness.

A kermesse near Brussels showed that some good form was coming. Having raced the day before my legs took a bit to get going and by then the winning move had already managed to slip up the road. I spent the next part of the race trying to bridge across either in small groups or on my own. The wide long exposed roads were to my liking and there was a fair bit of gutter death!! I had good fun trying to bridge across with a former member of the Zingem House Team Chris Jory who rides for the Doltcini Continental squad and we pushed on for a while before getting caught again by the group behind. Most recently I have had my best result in Belgium to date with a 19th place out of 157 starters in a 1.12A kermesse, Again in my favored East Flanders. After a rapid start (which is to be expected here) I managed,  along with several others to bridge across to the breakaway and for the next 45 mins we rarley went below 50km/h as we established a gap of over  3 minutes. To get such a large gap when riders were constantly getting dropped from the peleton behind showed how hard we were going. Instead of easing up after we had a large gap, the speed was constantly high even though we weren’t really working together with riders firing off the front almost constantly. The heat during the race was very high with temperatures at 33 degrees and this certainly proved tough to deal with especially as everyone in the break had somone to hand them up fresh bottles apart from me! With 5 laps to go two of the “kermesse kings” in the break began to become more active putting everyone under pressure. Their method of winning races is to constantly attack until they wear everyone else down and they are free to grind it out to the finish. I accompanied them on some of their attacks but soon the pressure proved too much and with half a lap to go the breakaway split in two and I was in the second split. We rode into the finish and I finished empty and severely dehydrated with salt covering my the skin around my lips… My flat mate Alex Anderson won the bunch sprint behind so it was a good day for most of the Zingem House Team. Unfortunately we also had a man down, Kevin from South Africa had suffered a huge crash which wrecked his pair of Zipp 303’s and he required stitches to his chin after face-planting the concrete at 55km/h…As he headed of to hospital I picked up my prize money (20 euro #bigmoney) it was time to ride home.

Riding Home after a solid day in the breakaway.

Riding Home after a solid day in the breakaway.

The Break worked well for the first half of the race..

The Break worked well for the first half of the race..

Standard Belgium, One Line!

Standard Belgium, One Line!

Mixed Fortunes

Hi again!

The racing here is now in full swing with multiple races to choose from everyday, Belgium is a truly fantastic place for getting to race! I’ve had an up and down few weeks recently so iIll start with the bad luck and get that out of the way first. 2 weeks ago I was to take part in my first stage race of the year the “Ardennes Challenge” and not only would it be 4 days of quality racing it would also be 4 days of racing in the hills which I have sorely missed in the last few months! So it was safe to say that I was pretty keen to get a good result. As luck was to have it it wasn’t going to be my race. The first stage was 130km featuring a rolling parcour, a mere warm up to the stages that would follow. As the peleton was whittled down under the constant pressure and attacks up front I found that I was holding position comfortably and decided I would try and save as much energy as possible. However this turned out to be my downfall as I was soon caught up in a crash with the result being a mangled rear derailleur, forcing me out of the race. Not being like other stage races, every stage was run as a individual race also so you were not required to finish in order start the next day although your place in the overall classification would be gone. This format of racing would also make the racing progressively more difficult for us doing the full 4 days as there was always “fresh” legs signing on every day. Stage 2 was a better day for me even though my bike was barely working. I managed to finish in the chasing group behind teammate and fellow housemate Chris Jory who finished a well deserved 7th from the breakaway group. That night (with quite alot of help) I frantically tried to get my bike in working order for the next day. However during the next stage I had shocking bad luck- returning to the car 3 times to change wheels followed by my rear brake locking full on and then my gears packing in. It was fair to say I’ve had better days! The last stage was incredibly hilly-something Belgium is not well known for but trust me it can be incredibly hilly at times! Again bad luck struck again. I had a front wheel puncture at over 80km/h descending one of the first climbs of the day and after a very slow wheel change from neutral service I had a lung bursting chase back to the group which saw me hitting nearly 80km/h behind the car! After a few kilometers of relentless chasing I finally made it back to the rear end of the convoy…just as we turned onto a massive 6km climb. Having gone so deep into the red chasing back on I had no chance and blew up half way up the climb. All in all a very frustrating end to a disappointing weekend.

Some good news on the kermesse front however. My form is increasing all the time and i’m really managing to get in the thick of the action including a few breakaways with some very strong riders from an post and the New Zealand national time trial champion. I’m really putting pressure on myself now to get a good result as the form seems to be heading in the right direction. However this past week has not been the best with some niggling injury’s forcing me off the bike which again is frustrating as it is a important part of the season for me to get some quality races and training in the legs for targets a little later on. Hopefully I will be fit to race on Sunday..

Upcoming races include the Triptyque Ardennais- a 3 day stage race won in the past by Philippe Gilbert, Ivan Basso, Paolo Tiralongo and Russell Downing. Following this I may be heading home to race the Scottish Road Race Championships then will have a month of solid Belgian racing before completing the first half of my season at the British Road Race Championships in Glasgow on June 23rd.

Untill next time,

Craig

First Pro Race…

Hi there,

I’m well and truly getting stuck into the racing now having raced 4 times since my last post. The racing has been going well, Iv’e been attacking and getting in some moves and am happy that the form is coming along nicely. There have been times when I’ve not been far from that all important first good result of the season especially at “Leirde” on the 3rd of March where I got in a move with 3 laps to go and we were close to bridging to the lead group which would have meant a possible top ten result in the bag but unfortunately we were caught with an agonizing 3km left to race. That Wednesday saw me racing again this time near Tournai again on a pan flat course and sweltering 18 degrees to cope with!! This was the fastest race by far I have ever done with the speeds averaging the high 40’s for the whole race. It also happened to be one of the most dangerous races I have ever done with many big get downs and pile ups as riders jostled for position on the tight, narrow and dusty farm roads. I was coughing up dirt and dust for a good few days afterwards but it was nice to finally race in shorts and short sleeves. I just hoped the warm weather would last to the weekend where I had been selected to ride my first ever UCI Pro Race, the 1.2 event Omloop Het Van Waasland.

Being 192.6km (around 120 miles for those back home) in length not only would it be my longest ever race but it would also be the second longest distance I’ve ridden on a bike. Having had a few easy days after racing on Wednesday I was all set to race again on Sunday. I made sure my pockets were stuffed full of food to get me through the distance and I only hoped that there would be enough respite to actually have time to eat any of it!  Having changed and pinned my numbers on in the warmth of a sports hall where the teams were getting ready (the weather had returned back to its normal temperature, a pleasant 3 degrees with snow) and just about survived the fumes from all the sports embrocation being lathered onto legs, I was ready to sign on. This also marked the first time I’ve ever signed on to a race on a stage for the riders to stand with your team and get your pictures taken by the fans and press. It all felt pretty professional!! Soon all 200+ riders set off from Lokeren town square and after a short neutralised section the racing began. For the next hour breaks were constantly forming, getting a small gap and then being brought back before quickly being replaced by a new group trying to escape the vast peloton. We began by racing two short laps of around 20kms each which included a cobbled sector where the bunch kept splitting and then reforming shortly after. This made the racing pretty difficult and eventually a break away group established a solid lead on the main bunch. The next hour was probably the strangest hour I’ve experienced in a bike race with the speed dropping right down allowing the break to get a bigger advantage on us. It also proved a perfect opportunity to stop for a quick toilet stop at the side of the road, something I’ve never even attempted to do during a race! Making sure I stopped with a small group we had a small chase back on through the convoy of following cars before I was safely back in the sluggish peloton. As we made our way towards the finishing circuits the speed gradually increased as teams who had an interest in a bunch sprint began to put their men to the front to chase the break, contrasting to the usual free for all seen in the Belgian Kermesse’s, there were teams properly controlling the race which again was a first for me! The finishing circuit was a short and fast loop that took us through the finishing line where large crowds had gathered to encourage the riders. It felt pretty good to flash by all the screaming fans which goes to show how much the Belgian’s love their cycling here. The final two hours proved to be very tough as several teams really upped the tempo especially into a tough crosswind sector where riders were constantly getting dropped out the rear end of the group. I gritted my teeth and resigned myself to suffering in the gutter for the last 40km and even found myself on the wheel of former Belgian champion and all round legend Niko Eeckhout, and I swear he stayed in the 11 sprocket for the whole race…some guy! Desperate for a drink and under the guidance of Michael Nicholson I made my way to the back of the group and put my hand in the air for the team car to come up to me. It didn’t take long before I had two fresh bottles to see me through to the end of the race. Avoiding a few dodgy moments in the final feed zones I happily finished in what was left of the main Peloton, tired but over the moon at finishing such a high quality event and only being my 5th race here.

This week hasn’t been very productive towards training with snow and ice effecting what I could do however I’m sure some extra rest wont do me any harm and I hope to race twice this weekend and with around 7 races to choose from I’m spoiled for choice!

Breaking Away

Breaking Away

Getting the break working!

Getting the break working!

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Looking Nervous

Looking Nervous

Team Presentation.

Team Presentation.

Thanks For Reading.

Full Gas!

Hi!,

So I’ve finally started racing and getting stuck in as best as I can. First impressions of the racing are :

1: Its fast and hard

2: Its fast and hard

3: Did I mention how fast and hard it was?

My first race was on the 17th of February in Bottelare, initially dubbed as a “practice race” with the idea that the field would ride behind a car for 5 laps and then there would be 5 laps of racing. However it was decided this would be too dangerous as the roads that were used were narrow farm roads so the decision was made that it would be a normal race over a short distance of 100km. The week before I had scouted the parcours with the team and it mainly consisted of narrow winding farm roads and a town center start finish line that we would pass through every lap with the added excitement of having to negotiate our way around some small traffic islands in the middle of the road. There was a also a sharp short hill that in training we had used the little ring but that was not going to count for much during the actual race. After doing 2 hours training before hand I was ready to race at half past two and it felt great to be pinning on the numbers once again. We set off and after a short neutrilised section the racing began. The field instantly stretched out into one long line and it became clear that to be at the right end of he splits you would have to be positioned up toward the front especially on the narrow roads. I managed to get myself there (by using my first bunny hop onto the pavement belgie style of the season) and instantly I found myself attacking off the front. I was joined by several others including an an post rider (the eventual winner) as well as a a lotto development and Dolcini Flanders riders. On paper this looked like the move to be in and I immediately began to try and push on desperate to make the first move stick. We were soon joined, however by another group off the front that had split away from the rest of the field. The climb that had proven steep in training was merely a pimple in the race as we big ringed up it every lap turning over the top into a crosswind sector that had the group lined out gutter sniping. Having pushed a little too hard in the beginning I began to suffer having never had a chance to recover. Every lap the hill seemed to be getting longer and steeper and the crosswind stronger. Eventually the group began to splinter and I attempted to make the move across the gap. I got to within 10 meters of the last wheel but then there was a sharp corner followed by a cobbled section and the wheels zoomed away from me as if they were on fast forward! Race over I was caught by the chasing group and I suffered round in the gutter for the remaining few laps. Race number one done and I was happy to finish the first one and get in some of the action, maybe I just needed to use my head more in the opening few laps!

The week after the race I enjoyed a good recovery Monday which involved watching a few  movies and cycling on the laptop. On the Tuesday I had a good training ride to the Roubaix Velodrome and it proved quite inspirational turning the corners into the entrance where so many epic editions of Paris Roubaix have been won and lost.

Paris Roubaix Finish Line

Paris Roubaix Finish Line

The week went by and I clocked up more valuable training kilometers on my own and with the team (team training usually consists of a smash fest so it is good training for during the week, with the added bonus of having a following car with spare wheels, food and bottles, so it all feels pretty professional!) as well as seeing a fair few pros out and about training for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Soon it was time to race again this time in Tournai or Doornik as it was known it the French speaking part of Belgium. The morning of the race I woke up to this scene:

Snow!

Snow!

It turned out that this was enough to cancel every race in Belgium including the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne…apart from the race in Doornik. Being too cold and snowy to ride to the race we all drove to the race which was around 35km away. Snow was falling and I was dressed in full winter kit on the start line as were most of all the other riders asides from a few brave enough who were wearing shorts!! This race contrasted to my first race in using a few wide open roads exposed to the strong Belgium winds. There was a few smaller roads with a particular tough drag upwards into a crosswind that proved the hardest area of the whole race. After one lap the race had split in the crosswinds and I found myself in the second group on the road of around 12 riders. It took around half a lap to get the group organised and soon we set about setting a fast pace to catch the group ahead. 15kms of chasing and we made contact but two riders had already nipped off the front and they would end up staying away for the rest of the race. With one lap to go I started to feel the pace and when the gaps starting to open in the crosswind sector I couldn’t respond and soon blew up. Not long after I was sick probably due to the combination of cold, effort and a large quantity of caramel waffles I scoffed before the start. Race over I was so done in that I couldn’t even jump on the wheels when I was passed by the next groups on the road and had a lonely ride to the finish! Hopefully with a few more races in the legs i’ll have the speed to still be in contention at the final.

I’m racing again this Sunday and after riding the parcours on Wednesday we are in for a tough race! In other news I now have some English speaking company in the flat with Dan Whelan and Tommy Murray now staying here. I also have my new team bike which feels super fast so hopefully will have some good results on board it this season.

Some Pictures from the races so far:

Full Gas

Full Gas

Bridging Across the Gap

Bridging Across the Gap

Lined Out

Lined Out

Breakaway!

Breakaway!

Splits in the group

Splits in the group

Cold Race in Tournai

Cold Race in Tournai

Break

Break

Looking Cold...

Looking Cold…

Break

Break

Heading Out Training

Heading Out Training

Untill Next Time

Craig

First Week In the Heartland!

Hi!,

I’ve finally arrived and so excited to be here! I’ve ridden my first cobbled climbs and i’m starting to get to know my way about, enough to get me to the supermarket and back anyway!

Last Sunday I left Aberdeen to stay the night at Edinburgh Airport Travelodge. All was going well until I released I had left the key to my bike box at home. Already settled into my hotel I decided to wing it the next day in the hope that airport security wouldn’t want to check inside the box. Luck wasn’t to be on my side and even though it got through the security checks it turned out the box was 3 kg over what the (unnamed) airline could carry. An hour of stress later and I finally managed to bump into a airport engineer with a bag of tools and used his screwdriver and pliers to break the lock open. However my problems weren’t over yet. I had managed to get the required  3 kg of clothes out but having no where else to put them I had no choice but to wear some of my cycling kit onto the plane! Drama over I could look forward to a not so comfortable flight…

On arrival at Brussels Charleroi airport I quickly collected all my kit and began the journey to Oudenaarde. One bus and a train journey later and I was met at the train station by Callum, who then drove me to the apartment. I wasted no time in getting my bike built and out for my first ride around my new home :)

I have since met my team and been on several training rides with them which have all been fantastic. The roads round here are brilliant for riding and if you know where to go can get a very hilly training ride in the legs. Oudenaarde itself is a lovely place with a busy square that’s traditionally hosts the start and finishes to many races including the Tour Of Flanders. There are a number of cafes and restaurants with my favorite so far being the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cafe and museum. It is a fantastic place and well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.  I have a team presentation coming up this Friday and will hopefully be racing within 2 weeks. Cant Wait!

And to finish off with some excellent news i’m pleased to announce that I’ve been granted Braveheart Funding for 2013!!! Words cannot describe my gratitude to all those involved…

Until next time

Craig

Winter Update

Packing!

Packing!

Hey everyone,

Just a real quick update on whats been going on recently and what is planned for the coming weeks. I’ve managed to get some consistent training in the last few weeks even though there was heavy snowfall a week ago. A week on the turbo wasn’t as bad as expected and I got some decent sessions in. This past week I’ve managed to get out on the road everyday(apart from today, the now has returned!), racking up more kilometers in the Aberdeenshire hills. The last few days my legs have started to feel semi good again so I hope to have some good form by the time the racing starts.

Usually my only company on my long winter rides

Usually my only company on my long winter rides

This is my last weekend at home before I fly out to Belgium on Monday morning and I can’t wait!! It feels weird that after months of dreaming of going to Belgium I am finally ready to go. I’m just in the process of packing my bags full of all the kit ill need for a season out in the heartland. Once I arrive at Brussels Charleroi  airport I have the task of making my way to Oudenaarde, my base for the season. A huge thank you to Callum Gough who is letting me (and other young aspiring riders) stay at his apartment.  It is a huge help and i’m very grateful. From the airport I have a bus and a train to catch. This will probably prove to be quite interesting considering I’ll have all my bags plus a 30kg bike box in tow. However its all part of the adventure and I’m counting down the hours until my flight in excited anticipation.

Also if there is anything in particular that you would like me to write about in Belgium then let me know in the comment section or on Facebook.

Next update I’ll be in Belgium. :)

Ready To Go

Hi there!,

Welcome to my blog which I hope to update regularly during the coming racing season.

As you may or may not know I’m off to Belgium to see if I can step up my game in the hope of one day securing a professional contract. I’ll be riding for the well-known ASFRA Flanders Team and will be based in Oudenaarde, East Flanders – the heart of European racing and home to the fiercely competitive Kermesse Races. I feel that to develop and mature as a bike rider I require the level and quantity of races that the continent offers.

On the whole I was pleased with my 2012 season. I feel that I progressed physically after each race and definitely hit a peak towards the end of the season where I had the bulk of training and racing in my legs from the previous six months. Also I matched the gains in physical progress with invaluable racing experience – at the start of the year I would race flat out from the gun desperate to get into a break and would often have spent all my energy leaving nothing left for the finale. I soon realised that I had to be more canny in my approach if I was to win races and I soon found myself able to “read” the race in a way I wasn’t able to before. By the end of the year I won six races. Five Road Races and one time trial. A particular highlight of mine was finishing second on stage 5 of the Junior Tour of Wales but it was also one of the most frustrating having come so close to the win. If anything its results like this that spur you on during the long winter months of endless base miles or in today’s case, a mind numbing few hours spent in the torture chamber looking out at the snow falling to the ground outside.

The past few months have been fairly good bike wise and since I left work on 1st of January I’ve relished the training opportunity’s that being full time offers, racking up the valuable kilometers that I hope will put me in a good enough shape for when the races start.

Anyway, I’m under no illusion as to how hard it will be but with a solid winter behind me I hope to be prepared to the best of my ability. Best get out on the bike now!

Thanks for Reading

Craig