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!
Getting the break working!
Thanks For Reading.
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
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:
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:
Bridging Across the Gap
Splits in the group
Cold Race in Tournai
Heading Out Training
Untill Next Time