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!
Thanks For Reading.