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.