07 April, 2014

Quelque Souffrance

I’ve had a ruddy busy few weeks recently, hence the lack of a post last week, but hopefully this bumper-sized blog-a-rama will feed your appetites sufficiently! Last weekend I had two Elite Nationals in a row (Bousquet and Guegon) and then the weekend just gone I rode le Tour de l’Artois Coupe de France stage race. If I were a man of few words I could summarise all of these athletic outings in a single word – suffering – but luckily (?) for you all I’m a bumbling windbag.

It was really good to race with Sam again last weekend.

First up was Bousquet, and it was a lovely day for a bit of tannage, and chatting with bike-fwends in the bunch. Unfortunately some people wanted to race, so we had to fit some of that in too. I covered attacks for the team early on but nothing meaningful really stuck until the finishing circuits, which included a just-that-bit-too-long finishing climb. I had been feeling pretty un-good throughout and doing my standard bottle miss meant that I’d resorted to ducking behind other riders as they drank to try and get some residual liquid spray inside me. I also started licking my arms to try and replace some salts, looking a bit like that weird monkey at the zoo who’s a bit too interested in his bodily functions.

Those aero overshoes really helped me get that top 100 I wanted!

All good clean fun of course! I came good for about 10km, got my teammate Fabian into the front group and blew my nut on the climb, to crawl home at the back of the bunch.

Tick tick tick tick BOOM.

Sunday at Guegon was a pretty similar affair, although I’m struggling to remember ‘coming good’ at any point. A split went after a mere 15k in some hideous crosswind section dirty enough to merit my having nightmares about it for a few nights; and I’m meant to be good at riding in the wind! Unfortunately for me I was near the front end and thus had to pull the group back, more or less on my own, whilst rival teams sat smugly behind. Of course when it did return, I was feeling beyond fantastic and the break of the race went over the top. That was my race over from then, really.

The youngest Mayor in France was at Artois. 22 years old innit, no joke!

Boucles de l’Artois began with a 23km prologue, and to say I was excited would have been an understatement. I was positively pumped for it to begin and even more so once we’d recon-ed the course as it was rolling, dead roads with exposed windy sections. It was perfect for me and I was totally ready to take my chance and take that jersey early doors.

I felt incredible during my warm-up.
I felt outstanding during my ride.
I finished more fatigued than I’ve ever been after a time trial. I had given everything.

Everything was not enough. I came 16th, and I was 53 seconds down on the winner. That is what heartbreak feels like. I’ve thought over my ride many times since and I honestly believe I did the best ride I’ve ever done, and that I could have done. It is hard for me to swallow because (without sounding dreadfully headstrong) I am good at time trials and I can’t understand how I didn’t win. 

Bahahaha, no words required.

Anyway it’s cool, I’m over it (I’m SO not over it). The afternoon stage was a sufferfest and I actually sobbed joyfully onto a teammate’s shoulder when the break went away because it meant that the pace, mercifully, slowed. When the break came back on the final lap I dragged my sorry beehive up to the front and did team duties for the boys, elbowing, leaning on people and generally intimidating my way to the front with them on my wheel. As a team we are well respected as winners now so we get given a bit more road space, but in the final of a Coupe de France race it’s still an absolute scrum irrespectively. I blew my nut on the final kicker climb with 5km to go (the beast who had already ejected me out the back of the bunch twice prior) and then it was down to Lorenzo and Fabian who, between them, got a 1-2 respectively. It was an awesome result to come away with!

I fear that I’m beginning to repeat myself now by saying that yesterday was painful, but trust me I'm getting bored of it too…
“Oh, here I am again! Five riders from the back of the bunch staring at the back of some guy’s ankles, reading the sponsors on his socks in a bid to distract myself.”

Just joshing about, lolling like a bowwwss.

Following team orders on the final circuits I got on the front to chase down a dangerous breakaway with 20k to go, as we had no one in it. I truly emptied myself, as one only can on the final day of a stage race, 150k into a 170k stage, and dragged back the group. What I didn’t know, as I didn’t look behind (and could  not really see anymore at this point), is that I split the peloton with most of my team on the wrong side of it. I had been trying to work for the team but in effect I’d screwed us all, not least myself. I completely exploded with 7k to go and was caught and passed by what was left of the bunch. I could barely pedal. I’m having a few days off now, yessireee. Until next time friends, take care all!


25 March, 2014

No Excuses.

But I got a puncture.
But the weather changed and I had to go back to the team car and give them my knee warmers, caskette and gabba jersey.
But I had backache.
But my landlady had friends round last night and they were drinking and talking until 1:30am.

Big deal! I could have used all of these excuses on Sunday, but I didn’t, because I’m so tired of hearing excuses. Phew, got that off my chest, now...

Oh here I am, just climbin' and stuff.

I’m not sure exactly why but I don’t have many memories of the race, Fleche de Locmine, but I have snippets that come back to me when I close my eyes. I’ll try and write them down for you here.

After going back to the team car to drop off some excess kit I remember seeing a corner coming up, and a potential crosswind section emerging rapidly, as I struggled to move up the bunch. ‘Uh oh!’ is the edited version of the words I said to myself.

With one hand on the drops I’m fishing around in my jersey for some sustenance, whilst the line of riders in front slinkies along the road. I catch my hand on something and the pin gauges a neat slice through my palm. I’m so focussed on the wheels ahead I barely notice and after the race it will take me hours to work out how it happened.

A sudden hail storm descends on us with 20k to go and I feel the rider’s expressions turning sallow, morale deserts them and their shoulders slump. I smile, knowing that the painful impacts of the icy marbles are hurting them but they’re not hurting me. They’re not even touching me.

Okay maybe they were touching me here...

I take a deep sigh and change into the correct gear for the finishing straight before the final corner. I don’t have to take any risks now, I have thirty seconds, maybe more. I’m dancing on the pedals out of the saddle to get up to speed and then I’m in the noise and in the reflection of every person’s eyes. I close mine and breathe in the scent of anticipation, tension, stress, suffering. And I breathe out. I own this moment.

This feels awfully self indulgent!