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.
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.