It’s been a while…

Almost 3 years ago I wrote my last post about junior worlds. To be honest, during my first years as an U23, I’ve mainly been focussing on just trying to hold the wheel in front of me! I feel like I’m finally finding my feet and with the spare time I’ve had during this lockdown period there are no more excuses for my absence in the blogosphere. Please enjoy a read about my 2020 so far…

Building the foundations

In the middle of January, I headed to Calpe in the South of Spain. I had a great block of training when I was there and got plenty of hours in, as well as specific efforts. I was working on 3 days of training then 1 day recovery. I felt like I came out in a great condition, probably one of the best I’ve ever been in. I returned home in early February and that gave me two weeks to dial in my new team bike and get everything packed for Belgium. I also spent time tuning up my race legs with some shorter efforts. Eventually the day came to pack everything into my Skoda Citigo, it’s amazing how much you can get in a car that small! The journey was stress free and before I knew it, I was in Zottegem, Belgium where I planned to live for the next 7 months.

The baptism of fire

Before I knew it, race day was here. Looking out of the window in the morning, it was apparent what a tough day it was going to be. There were gale-force winds and rain had begun to trickle down. Race numbers were pinned, kit on, legs oiled up, sign on done, and the flag for neutral dropped.

Straight out of the blocks it was a furious pace with people flying down my left and right, trying to avoid the classic Dutch road furniture. The inevitable crash happened and I had to swerve the next one while barely staying upright. It became a pattern of avoiding crashes and chasing back on, until a sharp left turn onto a narrow road where the race really was switched on. 

There was echelon after echelon and the race was blowing to pieces. I had managed to get in to the 3rd echelon and we were rolling through until eventually after 15k we managed to bridge to the second group.  

The problem in an echelon is that there is only space for a certain number of riders across the road (about 8) and we had almost four times that. It was going to be a fight to make it in to the line. I managed to make it into the front half when our group split. The easiest way to ride an echelon is to keep doing your turn otherwise you end up fighting in the wind and battling to hold the wheel on the back. Every couple of kilometres we were losing riders. We eventually pulled back half of the front group but the other half had split off and would contest for the win. We were still riding hard and the wind and rain was getting worse and worse. As we came in to one important section there was a massive gust of wind. I was blown off the road and down a big grass verge onto a bike path, I had to ride back up on to the road and luckily stayed upright. Unfortunately, the group was gone and all I had left behind me was the team cars and no other groups in sight. The commissaires car let me sit on the bumper until I reached the next group which had split in two. We kept riding and a couple of us managed to get back to my original group. We ended up sprinting for 20th place and I came in 23rd, not a huge result but one I am quite happy with considering it had been one of my toughest days ever on the bike.

Crash, bang, wallop!

The following Wednesday I lined up for the Wanzele pro kermesse. I knew the course from last year when I was 10th. I was confident going into it and knew I was in good shape. The race started really well – I was in a couple of moves and always well positioned. We were only 40 minutes in to the race when I heard that dreaded noise of a crash on the other side of the bunch. I thought “good job I missed that!” but seconds later there was a swerve in the peloton and I lost my front wheel. I hit the deck, but luckily not to heavily. My bike was pretty damaged and I didn’t have a team car so I had to ride on with a bent saddle and handlebars. At this point, the race was long gone. I chased for a lap but it was clear it was race over.

A change of fortunes…

On Sunday, I had another chance. It was just a standard kermesse but with a big field of 120 riders. The race was 110km over a flattish course but with a really nasty steep climb 1k from the finish. The climb wasn’t too long (about 400m) but it maxed out around 15%. I wasn’t sure how I would feel after the crash but luckily, I felt quite strong. I attacked on the first lap and we had small breakaway group but we were brought back after 1 lap. I kept following moves and attacking but missed a small break of 6 riders go up the road. I knew I had to bridge to that breakaway as otherwise I would have no chance of contesting the win. I made an attack 1 hour in with one other rider and we worked really well together, making the bridge 1 lap later. I was relieved to get across and a couple of laps later we were joined by another group of 8 which had some well-known kermesse hitters in it.

Despite all of us working together I always had an eye on the guy who was skipping turns. It was coming into 1 ½ laps to go when attacks started coming and everyone began really watching each other. A group of 2 attacked up the road and that was the race winning move. I knew I had to be in it so I went just after the bell to signal the final lap. I took one other rider with me which really helped. I just remember riding full gas and only one more rider managed to get across after us two. Coming into 1.5km to go I was preparing for a sprint but knew I had to be careful on the climb. One rider went earlier than I expected but luckily the rider on the front shut him down. We went pretty hard on the climb but 4 out of 5 of us were still there at the top. It was a twisty descent down then a small kick up to the finish. I was sitting last wheel which was perfect. I laid off the back slightly and then, as we came around the final turn with 300m to go, I opened up my sprint. They swerved to the left so I hit it on the right, hugging the barrier. I knew I couldn’t afford to look round and I held on for the win. If I knew I had a slightly bigger gap I would have celebrated properly but I wasn’t prepared to risk it! 

It was an amazing feeling to get my season off to a great start with a win so early on and I was in high spirits looking towards the following weekends race, another pro kermesse. However, then came the announcement that all upcoming races were to be cancelled. It was such a shock to everyone, what were we supposed to do? At first, there was talk it would only be for two weeks, but I had a feeling that was pretty unlikely. It seemed I was right as its now coming up to mid-July and we are still yet to race. Things are looking up, however, as my first race back is scheduled for August 1st – here’s hoping it all goes ahead… 

Keep an eye on my blog for more updates when racing resumes.

 

 

Thanks to everyone who has helped support me this season and to all my sponsors it’s greatly appreciated.

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World Road Race Championships

Recently, I was lucky enough to be selected to ride for Great Britain at the World Road Race Championships in Bergen. It was a great experience, this post I am going to go through what I got up to each day I was in Norway.

Wednesday: This was predominately a travel day, the only main drama happened at security control. Stupidly, I left two multi-tools in my bag, luckily they weren’t to harsh but I did, however, loose one of my favourite tools. The flight went fairly quickly and I touched down to meet fellow team mates, coaches and the standard Norwegian rain. We headed straight for lunch and sitting across the room was Chris Froome eating a mound of rice but nothing else. After lunch was out of the way, me and Ethan Hayter went for spin to shake out the legs. After taking every wrong turn possible we eventually found our bearings. We ended up connecting onto the course for the men’s TT and saw a couple of the favourites come through. We span back to base and at least my legs were feeling fresh, I couldn’t say the same for the rest of me as I was soaking wet!

Thursday: Thursday was a bit more of a hectic day. It started with a course recce at 10:30 with the women’s and U23 men’s teams and Tao from Team Sky. We span out fairly steady then took on two laps of the course. The course was pretty grippy without much let up. It started and went up through a tunnel then after about 2k there was about 700 metres at 10% followed by steep downhill then a sharp off camber hairpin. From there it started to kick up and there was nowhere to ease off the pedals. It was really draggy for about 2k before you took a sharp left and onto Salmon Hill. It was 1.4k at 8.5% average and its fair to say it was pretty nasty. I rode up it on James Shaw’s wheel (a Lotto Soudal pro). He was setting a pretty hard tempo so I was hitting into the red but it gave me a good feel for the climb. The climb was followed by a sharp technical descent for 1.5K and then onto another 1K of slight downhill in which I was spinning out like mad. You then hit a drag uphill (where the feed station would be situated), before another fast twisty downhill section. Then was the cobbled sector with 5k to go which had a slight kicker at the start and end. It was slightly downhill into a sharp left hander with 3k to go and fast and twisty coming into the finish. There was a sharp chicane with 500m to go which opened up with 300m to go but into a nasty head wind. We headed back after completing another lap, as you can imagine it was pissing it down again. This was then followed by a talk from the UCI governing body in the evening. It went through things like training, nutrition and doping, as well as a quiz. Some big names helped give advice, including Anna Van Derbreggen, Annamiek Van Vluten and Bob Jungels. This was a really helpful talk and it was a bonus to get a free goodie bag!

Friday: We had an easy spin to do of one hour. We were out with the women and Tao again but this time being followed by Rod Ellingworth, the Team Sky coach. We headed out and after about 20 minutes we hit what we were told was 1.5km climb. It actually turned out to be about triple that length. Never the less we rode up it as easy as possible then descended down the other side only to find out we were going back the way we had just came. There was another long climb and descent before I put in three 10 second sprints to open up the legs. Then we span back to the hotel and chilled for the remainder of the day, watching the junior girls and U23 men’s race on TV.


Saturday: Today was race day. It was an early start, we had to be up at 6am (5am UK time). For breakfast I had 8 Weetabix (2 more than the usual 6 as it was going to be the biggest race of my life so far) followed by some scrambled eggs on toast. We headed out at 7, but then doping control turned up and wanted to test Tom Pidcock. After this, we headed out onto the Team Sky bus (‘Death Star’ from Star Wars) which was lent to us. This was a really amazing experience for us. On the way we got to see what the first 40k would be like. It was fairly flat with some rolling parts. We turned up and chilled for a bit before getting changed. We then went to sign on and it started to piss it down. After going up onto the stage for the team presentation we headed back and had a little spin on the turbo trainers. We rode to the start line and went off for a short neutralised section then it was full gas. During the first 10k there was three bridges which only had one barrier either side, then a 50 metre drop into the sea, luckily the only thing I got wet from was the rain! Shortly after that the rain stopped and the sun showed his face for the first time in about 200 days. After about 5k I had managed to squeeze my way up to front, me and Mark had been set the task of covering all the earlier moves. I managed to cover for the first 25k before Mark got away in a break and went clear of the peloton. The breakaway built a healthy advantage of just over a minute and I stayed present at the front of the race, just in case any dangerous moves went to try and bridge across. Shortly after, we hit the course which consisted of almost 5 laps. The 1st lap it was a fairly controlled pace up the climb and for the remainder of the lap. On the second lap it started to kick off and more people started to try and get away. We hit the Salmon Hill and there was a massive pile up and the pace increased on the front but luckily I had just got through it and held onto the leaders. Slowly the riders who had been held up all gradually got back on, we came through the finish with 3 laps to go and I saw my brother so chucked a bottle and tried to hit him (only joking). The pace was really starting to set in and the third time up Salmon Hill I was suffering but holding towards the front of the peloton. I stayed in the front group as it was whittling down. I was suffering for another one and a bit laps. When we hit Salmon Hill for the penultimate time I gave it everything and just held onto the back of the group as more riders got dispatched. There wasn’t any let up and it was strung out for the remainder of the lap until bell sounded with 1 to go. The peloton then started to ease and I made a move around the outside to move up towards the front. I knew I just had to make myself suffer on the final lap and my legs were burning up Salmon Hill but I just kept fighting the fatigue. Unfortunately, the riders just in front of me got dropped leaving me with a gap to try and close. There was about 6 of us riding and spinning as hard as we could and we just got onto touching distance with the peloton with 6k to go. I slowly started moving back up towards the front. With 3k to go I hit one wheel from the front. Mine and Tom’s job was now to lead out Jake Stewart for the finish. I hit the front with 2.5k to go and just went as deep as I could. I started to have riders coming over the top but as we caught the remainder of the breakaway (apart from two riders) so I just gave it everything until 500metres to go where I swung off and handed over to Tom. Jake came home 5th so the lead out had paid off. I was absolutely hammered and after a refreshing Coke, we headed back to the Sky bus and reflected on the day. I was fairly happy after a long tough season I had kept with the front group and carried out my job for the team. I was gutted to not be able to go for a result myself but happy I managed to help the team. Also well done to Mark, for smashing it out front all day. 

It was a great end to my time as a junior and I want to thank British Cycling for the opportunity. Also a massive thanks to my club VC Londres and my sponsors: Boardman Bikes, Specialized UK, Trainsharp, Pedal Potential, Galibier, Rule 28 and TenEighty.

Johan Museeuw and Kermesse

Saturday: Johan Museeuw
It was a fairly relaxed start to the day with the start not until 2, but I won’t dwell on that for to long. After a spin we were good to go, well I thought I was until I realised I had a slowy (slow puncture), anyway a quick change and it was the roll out. The race consisted of 10X 12k laps with each lap having its own £10 preme. There was no neutral and due to having my puncture I was towards the back of the bunch. It went out hard from the start and I managed to start weaving myself up through the bunch until we hit the tail wind section on the main road 3k in and I heard a massive crunch. A Belgium had ridden into my rear mech, bending it. This meant I couldn’t get into to anything bigger than the sixteen. As you can imagine, being in Belgium it was pan flat, this was alright as I didn’t have to go up hills but, I have to say, there was two motor way bridges on the course of the lap and they were the hardest motor way bridges I had been up. I was able to change down but my chain was slipping and once I had managed to bend it over into the fifteen I decided I would leave it in that gear and ride singlespeed. Its fair to say this made the race tough and I would like to think I made the best of a bad situation. A break of 8 riders had got up the road(I had three team mates in it) so they cleaned up most of the premes which was good. It hit about 70k and a break of another 12 of us got away and managed to bridge with two to go. Shortly after we had got on with 1 ½ to go a break of 2 went up the road including one of my teammates. They gained a healthy advantage until a further 5 riders got away due to a rider letting the wheel go. Me and another 3 set off in pursuit to bridge however the others weren’t as keen to try and get across. The original 5 and next 2 joined up and ended up sprinting it out for the win. At least the team got a win(congratulations Ollie) and that left me sprinting it out for the minor places and coming in 8th. I was disappointed at first but I felt I made the best of a bad situation also it was a big bonus to win the team prize.
Sunday- Kermesse
Kermesse day is my favourite, after Saturdays downer I was keen to lift my head up and hit it with confidence. Todays race consisted of 15 laps of a 6K circuit, there was a preme every lap and a bonus special preme of £50. There was a fairly big field of 90 riders so it was going to make for good racing. I was keen to make my mark on the race and went out and won the first preme, I put in a dig straight after the line to see if I could split it early on. However that turned to no avail. The next half of the race was fairly boring I picked up another preme but that was it. There was nothing sticking and most attacks would get brought back fairly quickly. After the half way point a break of three established themselves and built a healthy gap to almost one minute pretty quickly, I knew this was threatening and with peoples legs started to tire I went for it. Three of us got away and started to pull out a decent advantage before a further 5 bridged and with a bit of driving from most of the riders we established 30 seconds on the peloton and caught the three leaders within three laps. With 4 to go everyone was still working well together, I managed to grab a bottle off Dave luckily as I was running low on fluids and it was a hot day, I tried a couple of digs but most of them were shut down. I won the final preme on the bell lap and I hit it from there with Fred but we got brought back within a kilometre and I decided that I wouldn’t waste energy trying to get away, instead follow moves and see what I could do in the sprint. It was coming into the last 2K and attacks started coming but most of them were luckily shut down and it was clear with 600m to go it was going to be a sprint. I managed to weave my way through the wheels and latch ontoFred’s  wheel as he hit it 300 out. I bided my time and came round with 150 to go(there was a slight headwind) I threw everything at it and managed to pull away from the bunch to win and throw my hands up. I’m happy to end my drought of wins and get the great feeling of winning again. 
I learnt from this weekend that not everything always goes your way but its how you bounce back from those negatives and help use them to turn into positives and motivation.
A massive thanks goes out to John, Dave and also my Dad for taking us over, also a massive thanks to VCL, Boardman bikes for my fresh bike and all my other sponsors who it wouldn’t be possible to do what I love without. 

Junior Track nationals

After a couple of months absent from my blog I’ve found motivation to start writing them again and hopefully keep you updated more often.
Monday-
Monday consisted of a 3k pursuit for me, I wasn’t keen to do it after a bad ride last year but with a bit of persuasion from my dad I decided to give it a crack. I went in not expecting to come away with anything and no specific training as this was only my first pursuit of the year. I settled into the pursuit fairy well and I was ahead of scheduled which we had set to be a 3:27. I was a couple of tenths up most laps and felt like I was strong and well-paced. It hit 2 laps to go and I just emptied the tank thinking how it was only one lap of Herne Hill left and I was going for that lotus biscuit preme. I had finished only to realise I had done a 3:22. 9 seconds better than last year’s 3:31. I was over the moon with my ride and it came as a complete shock. I ended up 5th just 0.4 seconds of a Bronze medal ride off. This left me in the ride off for 5th-8th, after a bit of recovery time and all fuelled up on a Tesco meal deal pasta pot I was ready to go for round 2. After hoping on the rollers it was clear my legs weren’t at what they were earlier on in the day and soon I was on the start line, I decided to stick to my previous schedule of a 3:27 for the final and I managed to hold it finishing on a 3:27. Which I was fairly happy with considering my legs felt heavy and I had no one to try and catch. I ended up finishing sixth which at the time I felt a little bit disappointed with but looking back I realise my qualification time I should be proud of especially up against riders who have had a lot of specific training for pursuits. 

The two other moments of my day were Rachel getting second in the junior girls points race and a special mention to Ethan Vernon for winning the pursuit and setting a new national record.
Tuesday
Tuesday was the scratch a 10k qualifier followed by a 20k final if I qualified, the qualifier was fairly controlled with nothing really getting away apart from one rider Theo Modell who was brought back with 6 to go. From 2 ½ laps to go I got on the front next to jake stewart just to make sure of not getting swamped. Sure enough my plan worked and I wasn’t swamped and came in third(top 12 qualify). The scratch final was 80 laps it was fast but controlled and no breaks really gained much of an advantage for the first 60 laps. I knew I wouldn’t be able to match some of the top riders in a sprint so I went at 16 laps to go however after 2 laps of hanging out there on my own I was joined by Jake Stewart and we managed to work well for another 2 laps before being reeled back in. I went again one lap later and emptied the tank and left everything on the track but I started to tie up and was caught at 8 to go. Fred wright(vcl) countered my move with one other and it looked promising but they was unfortunately caught with 2 to go. I hanged on to a top 10 which was alright but not what I was going for. 

My highlight of the day was seeing Oscar and Leo taking a 1,2 in the boys points race after taking a lap.
Wednesday
Wednesday was the Madison we weren’t on till the evening so me and Fred rolled down to track and spinned on the rollers. At 4 we hit the track for the Madison warm up after a couple of changes we was ready to race. I was racing with Fred my teammate. We had a chat but agreed that with Madison being so unpredictable that it was hard to go in with a plan. But we agreed on trying to pick up as many points as possible as well as trying to take a lap somewhere in the last 40 laps. The 120 laps was underway and after about two laps my front wheel was almost taken out but luckily I was upright and if anything it had got the adrenaline going. We failed to score in the first sprint as we got slightly chopped up and Fred made the right decision to not risk crashing for the sake of one point. The next 4 sprints passed and we was keeping very consistent scoring in every set of points however Jake and Rhys had built up a marginal lead on us soon it was 60 to go and we was being alert and making sure we was on every move. The race was on and there was only really five pairs left racing for the win, we got more consistent pretty much scoring top 1 or 2 in every sprint after Fred managed to get the sprint over Jake with 20 to go we was up to make this a fight to the last lap. And with 11 to go we made are move I managed to get Nally in the sprint and Fred was fortunately there soon after the finish line to swing in unfortunately a lapped rider got in the way meaning could only push him on the back and we lost all the momentum and gap we had and we was pulled back with 8 to go. There was only one point between us and Rhys and Jake coming into the final sprint unfortunately I completely hit the wall and my legs started to completely tire. I swung fred in with 5 to go and screamed at him to do the sprint but he screamed back at me to do it. We was both knackered and unfortunately couldn’t match Jake and Rhys in the final sprint, well-done lads. It was nice after the race for so many people to come up to us and tell us how much they enjoyed the race as that meant a lot. 

The highlight of the day had to be claiming silver in the Madison my first track medal and it wasn’t possible without Fred helping get me around.
Thursday
Thursday the final day was the points race a 120 lap race with sprints every ten. It started off we a early start with needing to get to the track for nine for the qualifier. I was up in the first qualifier over 60 laps which had 6 sprints in it. The first sprint came and there was a lot of people keen in it I managed to pick up 4th and gain 1 point. Sprint two and scored again this time coming third and claiming 2 points. Sprint number 3 and this time it got one better coming second bringing my total points up to 6. Probably enough to qualify so I sat back in the wheels for the next 25 laps there was a group of 4 who took a lap but it wasn’t so much of a problem for me. Another three riders got off the front with 8 to go and at six laps to go I thought I would try and bridge the gap I soon got over with 4 to go and managed to pick up maximum points in the final sprint.
After a long break and a big lunch I was ready for the final, my last race of the week and I was prepared to leave it all on the track, I decided to gear down to a 94 after a 96 felt a bit heavy in the qualifier. i knew it would be hard in the first 40 laps on a smaller gear but I was hoping that a break would go and hopefully be able to take a lap. Unfortunately the race didn’t go as I had planned and I struggled in the sprints on a smaller gear. Nether the less after 80 laps I had managed to pick up 6 points over three different sprints. In the last 40 laps I was trying everything I could to get away trying every couple of laps. Eventually after the final sprint a group of 4 of us got away and it looked promising to win the final sprint and move up to a podium position. I thought i had it until 100 metres to go when I was rolled by three chasers and I held on for fourth leaving me on 8 points and in 7th place.


I would like to thank Josh for all his help and it wouldn’t of been possible without him, Mark and Chris for there cooking and mostly to the club for supporting us and to all the riders in the club who made it such an enjoyable time on and off the bike. 

Massive thanks goes to all my sponsors pedal potential, dolan bikes, specialized uk, galibier, trainsharp, boardman, rule 28

Isle of Man Tour: Junior National Series

THURSDAY: This was predominately a travel day, Lewis and Mark picked me up in the early afternoon and we loaded the car up before our long journey up to Liverpool, where we stopped off for an overnight stay at the local Travelodge. We checked in and then headed for dinner, of course, it had to be the classic Beefeater across the road. I tucked into what was a fairly decent lasagne while Lewis and Mark enjoyed the Thursday night special of fish and chips. It was soon back to the hotel with the legs getting a fresh shave and then the lights out.

FRIDAY: This was the last leg of our journey – not a lot of driving but a long ferry crossing. It was an early start getting up at 6. We headed straight for the ‘all you can eat’ breakfast (my favourite) but (you guessed it), it was the usual Weetabix, only four this time, followed by poached eggs on toast (a tip from Yanto Barker to have some protein within my breakfast). We were soon on the road heading for the ferry. After getting a bit lost through the outskirts we arrived at the terminal and checked in with plenty of time to spare. The ferry was a calm crossing, luckily for me. Then after 2:30 hours we were on the rock (Isle of Man). We got checked in at the hotel and then walked to sign which was a bit further than I had anticipated. We got back to the hotel and got in our kit, then headed for a little spin to loosen off the legs after all the travelling before the prologue. It was probably one of the nicest pre-race rides I had done, with brilliant views and great weather – even if we did get lost a fair bit. An earlier than usual dinner at 6 and then I was down the starting ramp at 8:30. I headed down with 45 mins to go, popped a cheeky gel then proceeded with my 20 minute world-class warm up. I was soon on the ramp. A short 1.3k prologue with a 180 degree turn (I will be honest with you not my forte) but I was prepared to give it everything and leave everything out there. I had a plan to ride just below my maximum for the first half and then empty everything on the way back which had a nasty headwind. I was quite happy to come home with a time of 1:46, only 5 seconds down on the leader and sitting in 12th. There was still everything to play for in the second stage.

SATURDAY: It was yet another early start with the usual routine, so I will cut straight to the racing. I was ready to go on the start line, I felt quite strong and was keen to move up the GC if I could. The race rolled out and we were behind the neutral car. Before we knew it, the flag had dropped and away we went with 106km of racing ahead of us. It was going to be 10 laps of a reasonably flat circuit; however, it did involve some nasty headwinds and a tail wind finish. Lap 1 passed and I was keen to try my chances at the Green Jersey competition. There was a sprint every lap with the top 3 getting points, unfortunately an early solo break away rider picked up first place, but I managed to take the points for second. Lap two passed and the bunch was back together and I was once again outsprinted to second place but didn’t have to go too deep. Lap 3, 4 and 5 went by and a breakaway group was established. I followed some moves and tried solo to bridge, but the bunch was keen not to let me get away. By the end of the 5th lap, the breakaway had pulled out a 1-and-a-half-minute gap but no one wanted to work in the bunch. Coming around with 4 to go, the course was still pretty slippery due to earlier rain, and as I tried to accelerate out of the saddle I felt someone hit my back wheel, before I knew it my wheels were gone from under me. I hit the deck hard, but managed to get back up. This was followed by a hard chase with help from my teammate Jose until I carried on solo. I got within 25 seconds of the bunch but the gap was too big to close and I completely bonked. I ended up being caught by and catching a couple of dropped riders and we rolled through to make the time cut. I was really annoyed as I had been feeling strong in the race, but it was good to see that my teammate Lewis had a good attack and stayed away until half lap to go. I spent the evening thinking about how I was going to ride the next day to make sure I made the most out of a bad situation.

SUNDAY: We left our hotel at 7:30 for an easy spin up to the race HQ. On the way there, we went up the climb we would later be racing on, and it was clearly going to be a very windy day out (me and Lewis almost got blown off our bikes!) It was no surprise when we found out the race had been delayed until 10 and Backstedt Cycling were kind enough to let me sit in their van whilst we waited. 10am came round, and we rode up to the start line. The commissaires told us we were taking a full neutral lap to make sure everyone knew the course. We arrived back at the start line and they announced that the race distance would be halved and it was clear the riders weren’t happy about it. After a bit of negotiation, they agreed to bring it up to 6 laps  – still not anywhere near the original distance. The decision was made due to the race starting an hour late – they couldn’t keep the roads closed for too long. The race was underway after 1km of neutral and I was very keen after yesterday’s frustration to make a statement. As soon as the flag had dropped I was attacking, I took one other rider with me, however it was short lived when we were caught halfway up the climb. I look around to see a front group of 10 of us had formed. We had a very marginal gap and only managed to stay clear for a lap before the bunch swallowed us up. Two riders counter attacked and got clear, opening up a minute lead over the course of the next 2 laps. I tried to get away over the next lap, but it was clear that I wasn’t going to be let go. The bell sounded and the front breakaway riders still had a minute gap. It was down to the yellow jersey to pull the gap back, on the top of the climb 3 of us got clear and gave everything on the descent, unfortunately being pulled back with 1km to go. Mark Donovan had won and was closely followed by Dan Coombe and we were left with a depleted bunch sprint. I found Jake Stewart’s wheel and just managed to come around him to claim 3rd place on the stage. Congratulations to Mark Donovan for such a strong ride – picking up the GC and points jersey. Although it had been a frustrating weekend, I was pleased to salvage something out of the final stage.

In the afternoon we went up to support the VCL youth riders, who all rode very strongly on what was a really tough circuit. The was spent at the awards ceremony where I got to go up on stage to claim my 3rd place.

Massive thank you to Mark Winfield for taking us over there, VC Londres for all their support, Nick Fowkles for lending me his carbon wrist support, the chef for getting up early to have breakfast ready every morning and to all of my sponsors.


 

E3 Harelbeke

After missing last years race due to illness, I was worried it would be the same story this year after fracturing my radius a few weeks ago. Luckily my wrist had healed enough and I was once again ready to tackle the Belgian cobbles.

We travelled to the race on Saturday so we could recce the last 20km of the course once we arrived and see what we were in for. The final section only involved one climb, the Tiegenberg, and the run in to the finish was fairly flat, with the last 3km being quite technical. It passed through two kermesse courses I’d previously raced on. After the recce, we rode back to the hostel, got showered and went down stairs for a dinner of chicken, mashed potato and salad. Bed time.

We had a fairly chilled out morning as the race didn’t start until 2pm. Breakfast was the usual (yep, you guessed it) six Weetabix and some bread, ham and cheese. This was then followed by a pasta meal at 11am, which I had a large serving of. We swiftly headed to the race HQ, got our numbers – we were quite excited at first as they were stick-on numbers – but they ended up being pretty useless and we reverted back to the good old safety pins! We then went to the changing rooms where it was cool to see we’d been allocated our own South East room. Ian got the bikes prepped and we were shortly rolling to the start.



Gear check done and we were about three rows back as we waited for the neutral car to roll out. After 3km the race was underway. I was keen to keep at the head of the race as I didn’t want to get caught in any early crashes or splits. As I guessed, after 20km of racing there was a massive crash, completely splitting the peloton. When I looked behind me, I was surprised to only see around 40 riders left in the group and there were some Belgians who were keen to keep the group separated. However, within the next 10km, about 20 riders had made contact with our group. We hit the Knoteberg, which was 1.5km long, with a gradient maxing out 13.5%. I sat in about third wheel for the majority of the climb and pressed on at the top to secure some KoM points. It was back downhill for another 2km, before we went back up the Hotondberg which was fairly steady. I was still making sure I was at the front and followed a couple of moves. We hit the Kortekeer which had a nasty kick of 17%, which stung the legs a bit. We were now 57km in to the race and were hit with a long cobbled section which went on for 2km. I was trying to keep in the gutter as much as possible, partly to save the legs, but also the dodgy wrist!


The Kapelberg passed fairly easily, however a sharp left at the bottom led to a rider sliding out in front of me. Luckily, I managed to avoid tasting the tarmac and fought back to the front for the Paterberg. This was a nasty one, even though it was cobbled, there was a gutter to the left hand side of the road. Unfortunately I was held up behind a chopper who caused me to keep stalling and unclip, this led to me having to chase to get back up to the leaders. By the time I’d reached the bottom of the descent I was back on to the front group. However, a small break had gone up the road and I was keen to bridge across. I held a small 10m gap, but was followed by the rest of the bunch. I made touch with the front group just before we started to hit the cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont. After riding it at Kuurne, I knew how tough it was going to be, but I kept it in the gutter where I could and managed to get over the top with the lead group of 25 riders. It was a long descent, but the group worked well together, rolling through and off. There was a chase group of 20 who made touching distance with ours when we hit the Varenstraat cobbled section which was 2km long. It was lined out, with us switching from side to side to make the most of the pavements surrounding us. We finally hit the Tiegemberg – the 9th and final climb – with 19km to go. I kept alert, ready for any big moves trying to get away.

Nothing gained a good gap and we were all together by the bottom of the descent. We hit 15km to go and I was keen to try my luck. I put a dig in but the bunch weren’t keen to let it go, across the next 5km I put in a couple more but they weren’t sticking. I tried to recover and 2.5km from the finish I threw in a last attack but yet again I was heavily chased. I started preparing myself for what I thought was going to be a bunch sprint. I found what I knew was a good wheel to be on, however, a last dash attack from 3 riders 1km to go was let go. We took the final left-hander. 700m to go. It started to get cagey, with no one keen to lead out the sprint. It opened up with 300m to go and with a bit of leaning I found my way through, I was just pipped to the line, ending up 5th and 3rd team. Successful day out.


I was happy to be feeling strong at my first UCI race back since my injury. I hope all the riders who crashed are alright. Once again a massive thanks to John, Dave, Barry and Ian for taking us and all their help. Also to my sponsors: Pedal Potential for their support, Boardman Bikes for the fresh whip, Specialized for the fresh kicks and Galibier for their great kit. As usual, it was a pleasure to wear the colours of VC Londres across the pond.

Overdue report from Jock Wadley

 

It was an early start up at 6 30am to be out of the house for 7.  I tucked into some scrambled eggs, followed by weetabix. We were on the road, it was a safe journey with no mishaps.  There for 9 to sign on, numbers pinned and clothes selected.  I went for my VCL skinsuit, short sleeved base layer, arm warmers and FHHV trackmitts.  It wasn’t the sunniest of days but it was nowhere near as cold as Perfs.  After a short spin on the rollers and the briefing, we rolled out the car park for the short neutralised section to take us out into the Essex countryside.  Coming to the end of neutral I was right on the cars bumper.  The pace started to pick up a fair bit, and initially I thought it was my legs but then I heard other riders calling “I thought this was a neutralised zone?”   The flag dropped and the race was underway.  

My plan for the 85 mile race was not to commit to any solo moves or small rider breakaways for the first 45 miles.  I stuck very much to my plan and the first 45 miles went by with me making sure I was at the head of the race and being in the majority of the splits.  However, after around 50 miles a big move went up the road, containing riders from all the big teams except Spirit Bikes.  The peloton looked to them to chase and sure enough they did.  After a big lap of chasing from them, it was all back together.  Other attacks went the main one coming from Ed Bradbury of JLT. 

 Small groups tried bridging but nothing was being let go, until 2 ½ laps to go when 6 riders escaped the bunch and bridged.  There was a lot of riders looking at each other.  But at 1 ½ laps to go JLT put their team on the front and I was adamant it was gonna come down to a bunch sprint.  I popped a gel and latched onto the back of the JLT lead out train (on Clancy’s wheel).  As you can imagine everyone wanted this wheel, which meant a bit of fighting for it.  The bell sounded and the break was slowly coming back.  Through the lanes safely, still just about managing to keep on Clancy’s wheel.  Back on the wider main roads.  It was pretty flat-out and luckily I was tucked in.  This meant it would be hard for other riders to make up and if they did would have to expend a lot of energy.  We hit the foot of the climb and the break was finally pulled back in.  Things got cagey and I was having to continuously fight for Clancy’s wheel.  Then there was the shattering of carbon wheels close behind me.  JLT started to line it out again around 1km to go and the One Pro lead out started to come up the inside.  400 metres to go Clancy is left and after a bit of hesitation he kicks.  At first I can’t quite match his kick but I’m still in his slipstream. Briggs and Vonhoffe come around.  By this point I’ve just got back on terms with Clancy and gave it my final kick, my legs were screaming at me.  3rd – I have to be happy with that.

After a spin back down to HQ, I was showered and it was the prize presentation.  I was given a nice glass trophy and a bit of prize money.  I thought One Pro cycling team were a great bunch of down to earth guys and were great to chat to.  Also I found out about the history of the race.  With Jock Wadley being one of the first reporters to go abroad and report on races, travelling around on his bike.

massive thanks to all my sponsors and velo uk for interview and photos.

Guido Reybrouck Classic

It was my biggest target post-Kuurne, I’d done a lot of training, working on my weaknesses leading up to the race. Unfortunately, I had a nightmare week leading up to it, suffering from a bad cold and cough which had me doubting whether I would be able to ride at all. However, come Thursday, I felt a lot stronger on the bike, going out on a ride made me feel much less congested.

On Saturday morning, we were back waiting for John at Maidstone services. This weekend, I would be travelling with Colin alongside my South East regulars Louis and Ollie, while the Junior Academy riders were in John’s car. After stopping at the supermarket to get a nice ham and cheese baguette, we got on the road again and headed to the course for a recce. Unfortunately, the changing rooms weren’t open which left us having to get changed in the car park, this was pretty chilly and we soon realised it was going to be a very windy race! We all gave our bikes a little spin, just to check they were in working order – for Pidcock this meant pulling a wheelie down the car park. We rolled out of the car park and got behind Dave’s bumper as the heavens opened and it started to rain, nevertheless we went towards the course for the larger laps. The crosswinds were crazy and it was starting to sink in what a tough race it was going to be. After 90 minutes of being thrown around, it was fair to say we were warmed up! We rode back to the town centre and got changed before swiftly going for dinner, which was put on by the race organiser in what looked like a massive church. The deal was you were allowed unlimited spaghetti bolognaise so I helped myself to three servings. It was interesting to be eating off of place mats with Ethan Hayter’s face on them (2nd place in the race last year!) We went back to the hostel, made up our beds and dried our kit from the ride before heading to the hut for some WiFi and to watch the ending of Milan San Remo. We got an early night and I slept fairly well even though I was still feeling quite rough.

Race day had come and we were up for breakfast at 8:30am. I came prepared with my own Wheetabix and had a serving of 6, followed by some bread, ham and cheese – it was going to be a big day! I let Pidcock and Ollie share out the remainder of the box, then we cleaned our bikes and lubed them up. We went back to the rooms, packed our bags and loaded the cars. We had another incident with a missing room key which had disappeared in to John’s back pocket… we finally got on the road and headed to the town centre. Everyone bought baguettes, I had cheese and ham salad with brown bread. We went to the changing rooms – this time they were open, so no more getting changed in car parks! I prepped my bike and pinned numbers, then got our drinks and food ready. We had quite a bit of time to spare, but it flew by and before we knew it we were on our way to the team presentation. Up we went to get signed on, and have our usual team pictures taken. Me and Pidcock had to hang around to go back on the podium and receive some flowers. This was nice, but with no doubt, meant we were going to be marked riders!

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It was finally race time. When the flag dropped and the neutralised car sped away, the race was flat out with teams sticking it in the gutter causing lots of splits within the peloton. I managed to make the front split and there was a quite a big gap until the second group. With the first cobbled section coming after only 9km, it was clear that there was a couple of teams who wanted to make it hard. However, despite their best efforts, the majority of riders all came back together as we hit the first sector of cobbles. This would be the first of 9 sections over the race. I made sure I was keeping at the head of the peloton so I could avoid danger and make sure I was on the right side of the split. I kept the powder dry as I wasn’t sure how I would be feeling. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to commit to much until we hit the finishing circuit, so I decided not to attempt to bridge across to the break. The breakaway got up to a minute gap, with about 10 riders in it, but I wasn’t prepared to chase, having my teammate (Tom Pidcock) up the road. The Polish team and Acrog were keen to get the gap down and it soon came down to around 20 seconds. We were on the road heading back in to the final circuit, with only one cobbled section left. The pace was fairly high and by the time we’d hit 6 laps to go of the finishing circuit the majority of the break had been caught, but there was still 5 up the road.

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I knew if I wanted to podium in this race, I was going to have to commit. When we hit the final cobbled stretch with 5 laps to go, I gave it everything and got a gap. I grabbed a bottle from JB and got my head down, I was shortly joined by four other riders who had managed to escape the bunch. We were in pursuit of the leaders. Within a lap of chasing, we’d managed to get back on terms with them and were working well together. Over the next couple of laps, the crosswinds and tired legs took their toll on a couple of riders, meaning we were left with a group of around 7 of us. Coming in with two to go, there were a couple of counter attacks but nothing was sticking until one lap to go when a Dutch rider got away. He got a decent gap and then a Belgian set off in pursuit of him with 4k to go. I knew that would be the winning move and I saw my opportunity when we took the right-hander with 3k to go. I stuck it in the gutter going in to the headwind and gave it my all to get across to the second rider on the road. Once I was across, we were both keen and worked well together to pull back the leader, but it wasn’t until we hit the final straight of 300m of cobbles when we caught him. I wasn’t keen to lead out the sprint, but it was clear the other two were not going to either, so I sat on the front. At 150m to go I picked up the pace, and I could see the pain on the faces of the other riders. I unleashed my sprint but was slowly dying off, the riders began to come around me with 50m to go but I pushed as hard as I could and just managed to hold them off by a wheel for the win.

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I flung my arm up in celebration, I was so happy. John came over and congratulated me and I was glad to have done him proud. We headed over to the podium and I was shortly presented with flowers, champagne, my very own cobblestone and a cheeky beer. The doping control made it clear we were not allowed to drink the beer, so that was given to Ian the mechanic . We went to doping control where I met the rest of the top 10 finishers. Unfortunately, after going for a wee after the race, I wasn’t in need of one any more, this meant drinking 3 litres of water and finally after about 2 hours, and the rest of the riders completing their test, I managed to give a sample! I went in, filled out my details and proceeded to urinate in the cup they gave me. We were soon on the road home, and I had no time to change out of my kit – it was another car change for me! Due to the doping control, we’d missed our crossing so there was no time to stop for food on the way. I then faced the downsides of drinking 3 litres of water and had to make use of a few bottles in the car..! Back to the euro tunnel and it was another successful trip complete.

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I would like to say a massive thanks to John, Dave, Ian and Colin for all their help and also to VC Londres for all their support, as well as all my sponsors. I was really happy to pick up a nice bunch of flowers and champagne for my girlfriend Rachel, to say happy birthday and this win is dedicated to you.

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VCL Trip away 

I was travelling to Belgium with the Burnett family so I arrived at their house for 2.30. We loaded up the bikes and were soon on the road. The journey was going well and I was surprised at how good the traffic was for a Friday rush hour. We made the Eurotunnel with good time, only to find out our 5.30 train was delayed by 90 minutes. This meant that, by losing an hour to Belgium time, and the delay we wouldn’t have time to have dinner when we arrived. We went in search of dinner in the terminus. I wasn’t keen on the poor choice of Burger King or a WHSmith meal deal! Fortunately, I had brought a large tub of pesto pasta with me, so I was sorted. We went to relax on the sofas and as I went to sit down, a flying bag landed next to me. I thought this was one of my fellow VCL team mates, but it was a French schoolkid who seemed to think chucking his bag meant it was his sofa. He proceeded to start babbling in French at me. I replied ‘Oui!’ We had a hassle free crossing and safe journey to arrive at the hotel for 9.30. We got settled in the rooms and lights out at 10.30.

We got up at 8, showered to freshen up and had a bit of chill time, to head to breakfast for 8.30. We went to sit down before a very unhelpful hotel manager told us we weren’t allowed breakfast. We of course asked “why?” But luckily Mr Jary was on hand with some smooth talk and sorted it all out. Come 10am, we were back on the road, heading to the HQ. It was meant to be a 15 minute journey but worked out to almost an hour due to a faulty sat nav. We swiftly got signed on, numbers pinned, bike prepped (105 psi in our tyres), gels in back pocket and a final banana before heading for a spin and the team presentation.


Before we knew it, 3 hours had passed and we were rolling out, I was well positioned at the head of the race, after 2km of neutralised, the flag dropped. It was pretty flat out. I was holding my position well, I hit the first 2km cobble sector in 2nd wheel. I got over it comfortably.


When we hit 28miles in, a rider locked on his brakes and came swerving towards me. I had to quickly decide whether I was going to go flying into a Belgium ditch or try to hold my line and not get taken out. His skewer went flying into my front wheel, taking out several spokes. The wheel swayed from side to side banging against the brake blocks. I was looking for the neutral service, however they were nowhere to be seen. Several dropped groups passed, followed by the neutral service which went flying through even after a very furious wave, steaming along. This now meant I was looking for the VCL team car, however, it had not been called to the front of the convoy and was sitting last in the 33 car convoy. By the time the car was up to me and a quick wheel change, I was ragged on the back of the bumper. I was here for a good few miles before we got back to the convoy. The bunch were still a long way up the road and I was weaving through the cars, however, they seemed incredibly apprehensive to help get me back on. After yo-yoing through the final few cars, I was finally on the back of the commissaires car, however I hit the wind and it was still a 100metre gap to a strung out peloton. I was still 50metres off the back when we hit the 2k cobbles for the 2nd time. I got on the tops and started grinding away. After 1km I had made what I thought was the back of the peloton, however it wasn’t as it had fragmented the bunch.

It wasn’t until we hit the end of the cobbles that I was back in the main bunch. I gave a final surge up the Nokereberg to move back towards the front. It was six shorter laps left, by this point I was heavily fatigued and a large part of the breakaway was already up the road. It took me a good 2 laps to fully recover before I started getting in other moves to try and bridge the gap to the break.

However the peloton was not keen to let me go. When we hit 2 to go, the breakaway still had a 90 second gap. I knew I had to react soon. I attacked as we hit the headwind and had a small gap as we hit the 1k cobbled section. However I was reeled back in, coming out of the sharp right-hander I could see the bunch was fragmented, so I hit it hard again and gave it everything to open up a gap. I held my rhythm to the top of the drag, then got in a aero tuck on the short descent. I just put my head down and started my pursuit of the break. There were 2 Welsh chasers after me followed by the bunch. I kept tapping out my rhythm. Luckily the gap from me to the chasers was gradually growing and before I knew it was one to go.


I went flat out and as I hit the headwind I could see the breakaway halfway down the cobbles. I knew that they would be hard to bring back but I was prepared to give everything. I soon hit 5k to go but the break was no closer. I rolled in 1 minute down on the break and 14th, I was disappointed that I couldn’t have got a better result for the team, however I was pleased that I made the best of a bad situation.

I would like to say a massive thanks to VCL for funding the trip.  Also a massive thanks to Mark Jary for organising,  Herman and Walter in the feed zone and to Phil for driving the team car.

Prime Hunter

I will cut pretty quickly to the racing, though I’m sure you would love to read about my trip squashed up in the back of the Barclay mobile with Tobias’ sharp elbows digging into me.

We arrived with plenty of time and the usual routine was carried out. Soon we were on the course, or what we thought was the course. Unfortunately, we were, number one, going the wrong way on the parts of the course we actually found and, number two, were completely lost on some random roads. However, we had hope with some Belgians on the back of the group, although they were more clueless than we were. We retraced our steps and managed to get back to the start. I opted to go for a couple of lengths down the finishing straight. Back to the start. Gel down my neck, jacket off and to get you in the zone, nothing like listening to a bit of JB (the annoying singer, not the legend John Barclay). There was a short delay due to the Belgians getting slightly upset over Joe Saunders of Mid Devon CC’s Belgian highlights (of course, the Brits were cracking up, the Belgians not so much.)

Whistle sounds, off we go. I knew the course was going to be technical, so I kept within the first five riders. After lap 1 it was clear how technical the course was and how important it was going to be to stay at the head of the race. There was a group of 10 or so of us, mainly Brits, setting a fair pace through the sweeping corners and sketchy cobbled sections. I was putting in a couple of digs but nothing was sticking in the early laps. However, it was depleting the bunch. It was now down from the original 80 to almost half at 45. Bang! Two riders down, Tom and I swerved either side to avoid it. The pace picked up at the front and it was head down to close the gap. This surge in pace whittled the bunch down even more, within half a lap of the crash. Then I heard the thing every cyclist dreads, Hiss, 2 miles from any support. (There was no neutral service). The front wheel getting softer and softer with every corner turned. All air gone now, right on the rim, luckily getting close to support. However, I couldn’t find anyone to help. After a couple of minutes waving my wheel around, one of the English dads came to help with a front wheel. By this time, I was a good 5 minutes down. The race was gone but I was still determined and in the aero position. My aim being to see how many riders I could pick off and to fight off the Broom wagon. The puncture had only occurred halfway through the 50 mile race. It was gonna be a long solo chase lap by lap, it ticked by as I picked off a couple of riders per lap. It was clear I was gonna get pulled from the race, but how long could I last and where could I make my way up to? 19th.

Incredibly frustrated a short and wet ride back to the hostel left me dwelling on the day’s race. What had I done wrong? Why did it go so badly? I had to think twice. Why was I so frustrated and annoyed with myself? It wasn’t my legs, it was bad luck. I had to get my head back in the zone. A shower, protein shake and (not my favourite) but an all right Chilli con Carne and large plate of pasta. I was ready to fight Sunday!

After a good nights sleep, Sunday rolled on. A visit to Ypres and to that good old Frite Shop. I had Bolognese not frites, don’t worry. We arrived at the race with plenty of time to spare, so it was sign on, numbers on and kit on. We were out on the course reccing. The course had a nasty block headwind from the finish, heading up a 4% drag before hanging a left down a narrow technical descent, before taking another left onto a road with a nasty cross wind, then left back on the main road, up a hill, then a swooping left back into the headwind and to the finish line.

The pro race Dwaes door West-Vlaanderen went passed and once the convoy had cleared, we were off, 11 laps to go, no one was committing into the headwind and I made sure I was in the front when we hit the left hander, the bunch was strung out down the descent with a couple of us pressing on and carrying it on. We shortly hit the S bend and seeing the bunch had split up a bit and was carrying a bit of speed, I hit an attack around the front few riders. No one was prepared to chase and I opened up a pretty decent gap when I hit the main road. I pressed on up the climb. I was fired up and felt good, I kept a good tempo with the aim being to stay out front for another one or two laps picking up the 20 Euro prime. 3 laps had gone by and I still had a decent gap. A bunch of six, I could see, started working well to pull me back, but I just stayed locked in my tempo expecting to be caught with 5 to go. By now I had picked up 100 Euros, so was pretty happy. But I just had in my head, go on hold off the break, go for one more. The group was getting closer and closer, I thought the catch was going to be made but I kept drilling. They were so close within 150 metres of me.


It was 2 ½ laps to go. I told myself commit, you’ve got this, however the gap only grew by around 5 seconds for the next lap. I was digging deep in the pain cave to the point I threw up a bit in my mouth. 1 ½ laps to go. This is where the race is won or lost; I gave everything up the climb and the bell sounded.


I saw the left hander at the top of the road as my finish line; I dug as deep as I could to get there, took the left hander and got in the aero tuck down the descent. I emptied everything left until the top of the climb to give a look over my shoulder. I couldn’t see the group, the gap was good. It gave me enough time to take the final lefthander with care, unzip my gilet and make my love heart celebration in memory of my Grandma.


What a race, I was over the moon to win. 250 Euros in the back pocket and a bunch of flowers big enough to split between my mum and girlfriend. That win was for you Grandma!!!

Many thanks go out to John Barclay, Kris and Dave Storey for taking me and for all the help. Pedal Potential for the continued support, Boardman Bikes for an absolute monster of a machine. Specialized UK for the freshest kicks going. Galibier for all their top clothing and accessories. But biggest thanks to my amazing parents.