Kuurne Brussels Kuurne was my first big target of the season and kept me motivated through the winter. I was excited but nervous and this is how my weekend went:
I went out for an easy spin around my local lanes, to check all my equipment was running smoothly. When I got home gave my Boardman a final clean and began to sort out my race kit. I always use my checklist which I’ve used for two seasons and it’s never let me down. With everything packed, I headed for an early night (two nights before race day is the most important time to get a lot of sleep).
Up at 8am, the car was packed and me and my mum were out of the house by 9am to meet John Barclay and the team at 10. The old South East Merc was loaded up with the bikes on the roof and off we headed for Belgium. Once we arrived, we had lunch and got out on the bikes soon after to recce the race finishing circuit. It wasn’t too technical and was pan-flat, however there was some nasty crosswinds which I knew would play a big part in the final few kilometres. I followed my usual pre-race activation, doing a few 15 second sprints with the rest of the team. After completing two laps and going slightly off course, the sun was starting to set and it was a relief to get back to the hostel. For dinner we went in to Kortrijk and I chose spaghetti bolognaise as I normally try to have pasta the day before a race. Then we returned to the hostel for final race preparations, such as sorting out my kit, giving the race manual a once over and writing when the major climbs came to stick on my stem.
We woke up at 7:30am to freshen up and head down for breakfast for 8am. I had my favourite of Weetabix (4 and one for luck) topped with cornflakes, then followed with a fresh glass of orange juice and some toast (wholemeal of course). We had a short drive to the race HQ where John and Dave went to collect our numbers and Ian set up our bikes. Off to the changing rooms, numbers pinned and skin suit on, I was in the zone to race. We rolled down together to the start to guarantee ourselves prime spots on the start line. The pro race went past with 10 minutes until the start, we followed the neutral car out and the flag dropped shortly after. Race on.
My tactic was to keep towards the head of the race especially for the climbs and cobbled sections. Even if this did mean having to use up some energy early on, it meant I was guaranteed avoiding trouble at the rear of the race. I felt strong for the first two climbs and at the top of the Kanarieberg I had a dig off the front with the French national champion and a Dutch rider. However, we were reeled in after about 3km and I got back in the bunch to recover. A fairly steady tempo was set up the Hotond with 10km to go until Kwaremont. There was lots of fighting for the head of the race and a big crash 2km from Kwaremont, I just avoided it by locking up my wheel and swerving around it. We hit the cobbled climb, I’d lost some positions which made the climb more difficult while I tried to make up places. I reached the top, managing to latch on to the back of the front group. However, the bunch shortly came back together with around 40 riders.
There was a couple of breaks but no one could make it stick. After the Knokereberg (the final climb) when we hit the main road I saw an opportunity to attack at 30km out. There was 4 of us battling the crosswinds, but the bunch was keen not to let the break gain too much advantage and we were reeled in after 8km out front. We shortly hit the finishing circuit and there were a few attacks but they were shut down until 10km to go, when 5 riders got clear. They gained a fair margin and then another 6 managed to jump clear of the bunch and try to bridge. I was a bit hesitant to try and get across to them, at 2km to go I made sure I was near the head of the peloton. We took the final left hander with 700m to go. I latched on to the back of the Acrog lead-out train and came out of the slipstream with 250m to go. Looking back, it may have been too early as I was rolled and ended up 2nd in the bunch sprint, 13th overall.
I was fairly happy with how I rode the race and felt strong. However, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t make the final break. I am really grateful to John Barclay for giving me the opportunity to ride, and would also like to thank all my sponsors. I wish a speedy recovery my training partners Georg and Fred, and all the other riders who came down in nasty crashes during the race.
Roll on Belgium again next weekend!