28 March, 2013

Grand Prix Super U

Getting ready for the race and it's two degrees,
So I cram on the layers to avoid the freeze.
Looking like the whopper of the peloton,
With my leg-warmers, hat and a thermal on.
But the sun comes out just before the depart,
And my choice in clothes soon begins to smart.
All the other guys it seems are laughing now!
At least I've got my baggy sleeves to mop my brow.

Spin spin, tailwind,
Guys attacking downhill like they're going for the win.
Smashing it full gas and it's coming to nada,
There's 100k to go guys, you're not Cancellara!

The finishing circuits have climbs a-plenty,
I do my best to stay put in the top twenty.
In the sprint for the line I've a lot to be desired,
And glancing around all the faces I see are tired.
So I roll off the front and do my best to get ahead.
Hitting the final climb now, the legs are completely dead.
I remind myself I'm a climber and stamp those pedals,
The break is just up the road but this is no day for medals.
Twenty metres is all I have, and all I need,
Over the top and to the line I try and hold my speed, it's over.


[And first 2nd category rider, hence the podium]

26 March, 2013

le Fleche d'Armor

This weekend was a really successful one for me: my first stage race win! It was in Fleche d’Armor, a 1/2/3 category race in the Cote D’Armor region on the north coast of Brittany. The scenery was very beautiful (I spent a fair amount of time enjoying it whilst sitting in the bunch all day on Stage 1) and despite warnings from my slightly crazed housemate the weather was good!

Stage one was 130km, rolling all day with a pan flat finishing circuit with about three corners, all very straightforward. A break went away early on as expected with my teammate Sam Allen in it, so I had the perfect reason to sit in all day and try and relax. The bunch was pretty nervous all day with lots of fresh legs and I actually felt pretty poor, but as we entered the finishing laps my legs suddenly came to life. The break’s advantage was dwindling rapidly; it split with Sam having some bad luck and getting on the wrong side, as three riders continued to push on. At this point it was around 8km to go, so I counter attacked, hoping to sly my way up to the three in front and perhaps gain some seconds on general classification or even have a shout at the stage win. It wasn’t to be, as everyone seemed very content to follow me yet rather unable to do any work. I tried a few times but they were fruitless efforts and in the end Fabrice Seigneur, a rider who last week won an Elite National race unsurprisingly won the break sprint three seconds ahead of the bunch. After a brief episode post-stage involving a broken down team van, a lack of clothing, food or drink we got to bed as early as possible on Saturday night.

Sam 'the bigdawg' Allen en route in the break on Stage 1

Sunday morning was a very fast 7.5km time trial with a climb of about 1% and minimal corners: it was right up my street! I did my best effort and headed back to the headquarters for a shower and some food. As I was just getting into the shower I got a knock from Sam who said something along the lines of “Mate! You ______ smashed it!!!” I chucked my clothes back on and turned up to the podium fashionably (painfully) late. I was leading the tour now by eight seconds.

You know the expression "keeping it under your hat"? Well I took that to another level this stage with an interesting mitt storage solution. Yes that's correct, my gloves are in my helmet here.

The afternoon stage was 120km and according to the DS had some tough climbs in. The first half was quite sedate with some crosswinds, but it was child’s-play compared to the Belgian gusts last year so I quite enjoyed it really. The second climb of the day was around 90km in (I think: my wheel had no magnet and the course info sellotaped on my stem was a little misleading!) One of the riders high up on GC attacked as I was getting a bottle, which was nice of him, and a few others clipped off with him so I put the hammer down over the top and got across. This group had myself and most of the favourites in, so it was guaranteed to stick, and get a bit tough near the finish. Various riders attacked me at this point and to try and take the initiative I clipped off myself to make them chase. This backfired rather horribly when we rounded a corner and hit a 20%+ climb: for me the stuff of nightmares! The guy second on GC attacked, I couldn’t go with it and the group shredded.  A group of five formed up front, then three behind them, then there I was, hacking along on the front to bring them all back. Luckily I had some help from 'Sammoth the Mammoth' who had somehow bridged across to us and we pretty much went full gas for 8km or so.

One of the few photos I can find online (disappointed!)

I bridged the gap as we entered the finishing circuit with 12km to go and then of course someone else attacked me. Four or five riders went up the road and we worked to keep them within 20-30 seconds as I waited and waited for the guy second on GC to attack me again. He did so at 2km to go (Sam shouted “Doug!”) and I put out more or less my maximum power to follow him. He was pretty strong. I clawed him back and then had to get on the front to keep closing the gap to the guys in front and inadvertently lead out the sprint. Two guys jumped me at 150m to go but I managed to more or less hold onto them to finish 6th in the stage and just save the tour, by 5 seconds!

Of all the photos they took and I'm blinking in this one.

I was a little sore yesterday (Monday)! I've got an Elite National RR tomorrow up near Saint-Brieuc so I'm planning to try and roll around for a top 100 finish, get some tanning in and NOT do anything stupid. I hope it's sunny. Peace out.

18 March, 2013

I'm back in the game!

It was my first race back after illness yesterday, Fleche Locmine, and I'm pleased with how it went. After a wheel change in the neutralised section of the race I was on my way, and the legs felt pretty good. No breakaways stuck until the finishing circuit over 100km in, so I just milled about in the peloton. Unfortunately I managed to miss the break when it did go, and then the counter attack too - what a dummy! And that was race over really with everyone managing to follow me but not work with me it was impossible to get across. I'm pretty happy with my 69th position though after a week off the bike and no racing in two weeks.

I even got a bit of a sun tan/wind-burn

A special mention has to go out to my teammate Sam Allen who was so sneaky getting into the breakaway that not even the team director realised, and he managed it with a bad stomach too! Fellow Brit George Moore also did an epic ride to attack across to the break and get 9th; I saw it from a distance, it was cool.

In other news I think it's time to get the mop shorn. It's not quite at this stage yet...

... But I think it's having a reverse Samson effect and sapping my strength. And conditioner is SO expensive! I've got a stage race this weekend, woo! I'll try and give you some details beforehand. Peace out.

10 March, 2013

On my back

I've had a week off since my win and it’s not been spent getting boozed and taking champagne showers; it’s mostly been in bed. And before any of you naughty people turn that into something good, I was mostly just lying on my back sweating a lot… Okay this is coming out all wrong! Basically I got some kind of stomach virus which completely knocked me out. To say it was horrendous would be exaggerating. Let’s just say it was really really awful.

Spent a fair amount of time watching this boil.

I've clearly been going pretty well on the bike over the last month and that’s what makes it even more of a ball-ache. I went from feeling like a bulletproof thoroughbred stallion to a limp overworked mule in the space of less than 24 hours. It’s a long way to fall when you’re at the top of your game, and I performed a pretty good double-pike back flip to face plant.

This was my week.

It feels like I've been holding my breath for the entire week, waiting and wishing, and today was the first time I've been able to open my mouth and breathe in the sweet taste of oxygen again. Hopefully that’s the end of the illness and I can crack on again. A huge shout out must go to Jon at TrainSharp for massaging my ego on Skype when I needed it the most; what a top bloke!

04 March, 2013

A win and a loss

I'm struggling to write an entry this afternoon after hearing about the news of Junior's death at Severn Bridge road race yesterday. I didn't know the guy well, but I did know him and when I heard the news on Sunday I was shocked. There are no words from me that will help his friends or family get over the loss but I feel it is important to acknowledge the tragic event that happened. When I raced against him in the South West he always had a presence at the head of the bunch and was a good rider.

Onto happier thoughts. I won the race on Saturday, with what is becoming a trademark show of stupidity/strength. After a rapid first 100km where no breaks were formed, one finally stuck once we were on the first lap of the finishing circuit. I wasn't in it, but I felt amazing, so I jumped off the front and took chase. A few minutes later and as I glanced behind I saw the welcome sight of my teammate Sam Allen riding up to me. I soft tapped for a bit and when he caught me we went full gas to catch the breakaway. 

The Brits show them how to play hard ball.

We were going great guns and did so within about 10km, leap-frogging a few stragglers from the break on the way there. When we joined the group we were just going through the finish up a small drag and as I drifted to the front I held my speed and got a little gap. I thought about it (for all of about two seconds) and then I just thought: 'Ahhh why not'!

This is just after my 'attack' from the break.

And that was it, either four or five 4km laps later (I lost count) and I had it in the bag. I held my lead of about 25 seconds over two chasers for the entire time and had plenty of time at the finish to enjoy myself.

I think it was starting to smart a bit at this point.

Testers eh?!

I was out front for so long I even grew a beard...

After plenty of faffing about on the podium, broken sentences in French and receiving gender ambiguous 'Parfum' for a prize I began the long journey home. It was a late night and I couldn't sleep. I think I knew then that I was going down with something, and in the morning sure enough, I was ill. I could feel it earlier in the week in the form of a tickley throat and coupling the cold weather and a big effort with little sleep meant it was inevitable. I started the race on Sunday but I was flapping about at the rear end of the bunch and after an hour or so I knew it was pointless. I climbed off and wrapped up. It's important to know when not to fight, and yesterday was one of those times. Nobody remembers the hero: they remember the winner.

01 March, 2013

No chain day!

I went out on the bike for a long ride yesterday, and cruising around the Bretagne countryside I realised how lucky I am. It was really cold, I was fairly lost, and I was feeling pretty worn out. But here I am in France doing what I’ve wanted to do for years. The terrain is perfect for me with rolling hills and plenty of forests to explore, as well as the seaside a short ride away.

Around three hours into my ride everything seemed to come together perfectly. I saw a sign for Hennebont (where I’m living) so I wasn’t lost anymore, my legs started to feel better again, and this song came on my mp3 player:

It was a combination of several factors which gave me the buzz I’m struggling to describe. I was clearly surfing a wave of endorphins, but it was so much more than that. I was actively pursuing my aspirations and at the moment I feel like I’m making real progress. I was balanced and solid on the bike. I couldn’t even feel my legs. To coin a corny Armstrong phrase I read once; I was having a ‘no chain day’! (Unfortunately a really depressing Kate Nash song came on next… I mean… No it didn’t. What?!)

Basically I wanted to express how happy I am doing what I’m doing. Every year there’s hassle with equipment and teams and houses (blah blah blah) but ultimately I’m in a seriously privileged position. When I look around at races and I see guys scowling, getting irate and swearing at their parents or the team soigneurs I can’t understand it. They’re doing what they love and getting supported by other people to do it. For me you can’t ask for any more than that.

I'm making myself at home here in Brittany

So now I’ve got that out my system here’s the schedule for the weekend. Saturday is a race called Etoile de Tressignaux and Sunday is another big one: Manche-Atlantique. My plan is to cruise around on Saturday and hope I get a bit of luck. I’m going to need good legs on Sunday as it sounds like a tough race so that’ll be more of a target for me. Talk to you after the weekend.