24 May, 2012

France: take three, and four.

The Tour de Loiret was next up, and having done it last year I was hoping that I could excel using prior knowledge. I got in the break on day one which was great! Then I got a bit sick during the stage, which wasn’t so great. Then I was sick and went out the back of the break with 30km to go. I hung in the second group on the road, just doing my best to get to the finish in one piece and then my flipping pedal seized up! The team car was with the break so there I was mashing along on a bike that felt like it had araldite bearings. With three kilometres to go an attack went in front of my wheel so, naturally, I followed despite being on my last legs. One un-expectedly sharp corner later and the guy in front had put me off the road, forcing me to hop a ditch and ride across a park. You couldn’t make this up. Hindsight makes everything funnier!

Stage two consisted of excessive hub staring after two teams decided to hit the front in the crosswinds after 7km. Yes 7km! Somehow all of the team were caught out at the back and thus we spent the first two hours reaching new levels of self harm in order to stay in contact. The next day it was payback time and we were determined to get some positive racing done, so early on we forced a break off the front with three Terra riders and the yellow jersey in. Kinch was up on GC too so we had every reason to make this split of fifteen work. Inexplicably I was feeling incredible so I absolutely drove it. We got over a minute on the bunch but the danger was apparent to the guys caught out behind and they put two full teams on the front. We were hauled in. Kinch was feeling good for the sprint so I gave him a full gas lead-out with 1km to go and got him to about 250-300m. He secured a solid 3rd.

In the afternoon there was another stage which was effectively a criterium. Gus snuck into the early break which did very well to stay away until the end, where he was just outfoxed in the last kilometre when an experienced rider escaped. He convincingly won the sprint for second: a great result!

Three days later and we were off to the Tour de Franche Comte; a pretty hilly four day tour. This race convinced me of the benefits of training in the mountains, because racing up them really is a shock. It’s a different sport. I was dropped on the final climb on the first two days and made my way to the finish with a few other stragglers, often Belgians similarly bemused by the speed with which dwarfish Frenchmen can ride uphill. Day three was 55km in the morning and 110km in the afternoon, and far flatter, which meant I was able to infiltrate (by brute force alone) the break on both occasions. In the morning I actually attacked on the final climb of about 4km (I know right?!) in a bid for freedom, before being caught on the false flat descent. I attacked again with about 2km to go, down the technical descent but was fooled by the final left hand hairpin with 800m to go, and swept up shortly thereafter.

In the afternoon Josh Hunt and I both got in the break of twenty or so and worked well to get over four minutes, before the bunch picked up speed again. With 25km to go we had just over a minute and hitting a short sharp 1km GPM climb the attacking began. It was still a long way to the finish but it was relentlessly aggressive none the less. Without exchanging words Josh and I knew the plan: attack, counter attack, counter attack… Somehow 20km and perhaps thirty attacks later it was still together. I launched one last cramp inducing, lactic fuelled attack with 2.5km to go, timing it so that Josh could let me go and give me a few seconds of surprise advantage. I rode through the chicane and final roundabout with zero concern for personal welfare and told myself it was my day.

It wasn’t. I was caught with 600m to go and managed to lose six seconds once the sprint started. Hunt managed an impressive 5th place with a lung bursting final sprint. The final stage was a real mountain beauty. I tried for the early break, but it didn’t happen and I found myself unable to retain contact on the first climb, 25km in. I rode as hard as I could over the top and got back on on the descent. This pattern was repeated twice more on subsequent climbs, before it flattened out for an hour or so and I was able to recover, a little. As we hit the second to last climb, I hit a wall of reality and realised I wasn’t a climber. It was a monster. A shout of “Gruppetto” was all I needed and the bunch was a receding memory. Nevertheless, it was still an absolute ordeal to get up, well over 20% at points, and the team cars were struggling as much as we were, wheel-spinning and clutch burning. Down the descent and now joined by Hunt and several other hardnuts, we hit the final climb thinking ‘how hard can 5km be?’ Pretty hard. You know it’s going to be a bugger when the climb finishes with a dead end because there are no other roads that high!

23 May, 2012

France: parts one and two

The last few weeks have been quite labour intensive on the bike: a labour of love of course! We’ve been back and forth to France four times which has meant I’ve seen the inside of a lot of different hotels and spent copious amounts of time counting the hairs on the back of my hands in the car. I even read a book.
Standard car activities: phone subwoofer and crisp & salami sandwiches.

First up was a one day called the GP Beauchamp where we fairly successfully cleaned up: we got four riders in the break of twenty, dropped some strong riders in the crosswinds and then claimed 1st, 3rd, 10th and 11th.
"This is the best echelon ever!"

Then after two days respite, casually spent driving the width of France and back, we returned to frog territory for the Tour de la Manche. My personal recollections of this race are few and far between (consigned safely into my black box of past torments, to be unlocked no doubt through extensive therapy in future years). It was quite hilly (ha!) but I was holding out for the time trial on day three which, unsurprisingly, turned out to include an ascent or two. Being a filthy tester I put massive amounts of pressure on myself (all bottled up, obviously) to perform despite it not suiting me, and conveniently ignoring the fact that my current form was worryingly errant. I took myself apart and, despite being most probably the slowest up every one of the three climbs, managed a respectable 12th. I was moderately pissed off, but at least my white skinsuit looked snazzy. I finished the final stage and headed home for some Nutella based healing.

14 May, 2012

Another weekend in France

I spent another long weekend racing in France and actually enjoyed some good weather this time! I’ve definitely gone a nice shade of Umpa Lumpa from the bicep down which is nice. I managed to pick up a stomach bug or something for the first few days of the tour so that made things considerably less enjoyable. I got in the break on day one but was feeling sick as a dog and ultimately I went out the back door on a little climb, before actually being sick. I got caught by the group behind and clung on to them before realising 30km from the finish that my pedal had completely seized up and the team car was ahead so it couldn’t help me. I stuck it out in the group until the end, when I was on the wheel of an attacker who I followed off the front. Unfortunately there was a dodgy corner 3k from the end and drifting out too wide I had to hop over a ditch and ride down a grass verge to avoid wiping out. I got back on the road, chased for the final section and finished just off the back of the group. It was a pretty poor race all round for me.

Day two involved most of our team getting caught out at the back in the crosswinds when our rival team smacked it at kilometre seven (so bloody early) and having to drag our hinds back to the business end of the race. It was a full blown suffer fest which my dodgy stomach did not really enjoy. It was nice and sunny though so I worked on some great tan lines.

Teeeeeam camp!

Day three was a double day – the Frenchies favourite! It was breakfast at 6am, stage at 9am, lunch at 12 noon, race at 3:30pm. Unbelievably I felt amazing! I got in an early break with two teammates and drove it to try and take the yellow jersey for Llewellyn, and we got a minute on the bunch, but the Frenchies behind eventually got their act together and pulled us back. I did lead-out duties at the end for Kinch and he got a strong 3rd place. 

The afternoon was a crit of about 80km and Gus got in an early break (which ended up staying away) so we had no obligation to work. He did a great job, getting 2nd on the stage, but unfortunately our idea of putting time into Kinch’s rivals for GC went wrong when he lost my wheel in the choppy run in to the line.

Sweet tree-house or what?!

I learnt a few things at the weekend: even when you think the race is over because you’re off the back after 25km, it’s probably not. Long journeys are great for reading books: I’ve read 288 pages in two car journeys and I’m pretty slow (at reading). Make sure you tighten all your bolts because when your bottle cage falls off at 55kph it’s a bit unnerving. Speedplay pedals are crap! (I’ve broken three pedals in about three weeks). Racing in the sun is a LOT more fun than racing in the rain.

Yaaaaay, we finished!

Off to France again for Franche Comte in two days!

08 May, 2012

Le Tour de la Manche

It was a successful weekend for the team in France! I’d like to say at this point that I played a ‘team role’ which roughly translates as – I didn’t have the legs to do anything good so tried to help the bigger boys.

Beach break! We never actually went though: it was too far to walk.

The first stage was quite twitchy and nervous and there was a big ol’ tumble 35km in that took down a lot of the bunch, including me. I snapped my forks in half and my front wheel folded itself nicely around the guy who was lying down in front of me. I was pretty unscathed though; I just took most of it on my head, so no harm done. I chased back on, but then the race was neutralised anyway as 80% of the field were off the back. Then it was game on again.

Well at least I didn't puncture.

Bjorn convincingly won the stage in the end, after infiltrating the break of the day and climbing like an absolute demon. This meant we were holding the yellow jersey! Llewellyn was also up there the whole day but Lady Luck had other ideas, and he came back to the bunch after getting the slowest wheel change since cycling was invented. I got in a counter attack near the end but went so deep up the climb that I was on my knees, and then we got caught anyway. Classic!

Dream team.

Day one had been sunny and rather pleasant, but from then on it was a much damper event. It rained every day. Llewellyn was in great form and was in the break on day two as well, claiming a strong third place after a gritty stage.  

Enjoying the view from our 'balcony'

The morning of day three was the time trial and I was hoping for a decent result to pick up my spirits and justify the team’s confidence in my abilities. We drove the course beforehand and it turned out to be three hills in a row with some descents in between: not in my favour really. I bashed out a twelfth place though which in hindsight is quite good, but at the time I was disappointed. Mostly I was just confused as to how the winner took a whole minute out of me. Animal.

The second stage of the day was fast and furious and Llewellyn was again in the action, in the break, up the road, and first over the line - awesome win. At this point he was sitting second on General Classification so on the final day we had some work to do, dragging breaks back and generally trying to help him out. I did my job for the first 90km or so but once we got to the finishing circuits, which turned out to be hilly and seriously sketchy in places, I was toast. I clung on until 11km to go and then rode to the finish alone. Kinch lost a second on the line and so slipped to third place on GC but it was a strong performance, and a big bonus on top of the stage performances.

Sufferfest 2012: final stage, finishing climb, three laps to go.

We’re back to France on Thursday for le Tour de Loiret which should be a bit less hilly but no less aggressive or dangerous. You can always rely on the French for that! Bonne Journée.