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.