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.

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