12 May, 2014

La Roue Tourne, et l'Essor Breton

My comeback race at Rouillon last weekend wasn't terrible, nor terrific really. I got myself into the break of the day, we got caught by a big counter group at around 100km in, and then my legs exploded. It's to be expected really after a few weeks without endurance, but it wasn't that jolly nonetheless! I crawled to the circuits, getting caught and passed by another group and then the peloton, climbed into the car and told myself I'd done my best.

Penguins have got the right idea.

Onto Thursday and Essor Breton, one of the most popular stage races in Bretagne. Smoothing over the rough edges like any good carpenter of life I'll breeze over Thursday and Friday because, frankly, I wasn't very good. I had some grupetto time on Thursday and on Friday I was abused by the GP Plouay climb six times and didn't fancy the uphill sprint.

Luckily I remembered the sun-cream. 

Saturday consisted of a team time trial followed by 96km in the afternoon: the French love a double day! The weather for the TTT was dreadful - a downpour, and the parcours was a leeeetle bit crazy. Narrow roads, fast technical descents, blind corners, a few sharp little kickers, a spattering of cobbles, of course plenty of wind, it had it all! At some point I did 76kph which is pretty darn rapid when you can see basically nothing through your helmet visor!

As a team we did a pretty good ride for our first TTT together and personally I was really happy because I had good legs! We didn't take any risks on the corners and were slightly ragged in places so to be 29 seconds down on EFC Omega Pharma (minimum rider height 190cm, minimum quad diameter 80cm) ain't too shabby really!

In the afternoon stage a split went early and having some knowledge of the roads because I lived nearby last year I caned it down a descent and rode across alone. We were later joined by more riders to make a group of 25 or so at the front: I was the only Nantais at this point. Queue sitting on like a boss! I nearly got put into a stationary motorbike by a combination of no signalling by the riders in front and some poor moto-marshalling but hey, all's fair in war (there was no love in this breakaway, trust me!). In the last few laps of the circuit the group had swelled after a counter attack arrived with Greek reinforcements, (thank you Pol!). Unfortunately we were both swinging a touch and I couldn't do much other than launch the sprint early to claw back some time on the few riders in front. It had been a short stage but the race was completely shredded with a new leader on GC and a lot of people dropped and abandoning.

Getting my arse kicked by the Plouay Worlds circuit

5:15am and the alarm beeps away merrily, but in fact I've already been awake for 45 minutes (thanks body clock!). I lollop to breakfast and proceed to pour a full cup of coffee down my crotch... wow, today is going to be a good day! The final stage was on Belle île so we had a two hour boat trip to get there, leaving at 7am sharp. You can imagine how high morale was in the rider camp even before a pretty sickening crossing! I did have to laugh though when, thirty minutes in as the sea got really rough and people were lurching for the sick bags, someone shouted "la sélection a commencé!". A lot of riders got shelled on that boat crossing!

Always positive me!

The stage was 160km, extremely windy and exposed and with some painful climbs included. Pol got up the road early doors (hero) so I sat back (sort of) and tried to hang in there. The legs were pretty sore and I was very close to being dropped several times. We passed the team vehicles six times that day, which is a horrible mental challenge, and a lot of guys just couldn't make themselves continue after being spat out the back. We also passed by a beautiful beachy cove with some quaint little boats bobbing at anchor and a few deck chairs just sitting there empty, mocking us.

Omega Pharma decided to absolutely smash a crosswind section on the first lap and words cannot describe the panic in the field: one line, a gutter, a wheel in front, a prayer in your head. Secretly you want a gap to go several wheels in front so that the pain can stop and it not be your fault. But no one ever says that. I survived, and two laps later the Dutch team Croford did the same thing again, and split the bunch. I was five wheels behind the split but it was now or never and I stuck it in the eleven and rode across alone. I was hanging twenty metres off the group in front for literally a minute. In a word: hell.

All events after this are a blur to me. My legs came 'good', relatively speaking, at around 100k in (about flippin' time!) and after many splits and regroups and catching Pol's breakaway group in front I found myself in a break of five riders with 20k to go. I did as little as possible as one of the riders was going for GC, before we were pulled back by the race leader behind defending his jersey. Another group went straight over the top and I marked it, clawing my way up to the wheel in a disgusting cross-headwind section. I did one turn and then sat on, because second and third on GC were here with a teammate each (in a group of six) and I wanted to win really badly. I played poker, trying to be a cool cucumber and await my chance.

I knew to win I would have to disconnect my brain for the final few corners, with 1k remaining. I attacked just before them on a little descent and went round those dodgy damp twists 'comme un fou', nearly losing it on a cobbled gutter and taking out a spectator. I hit the final 600m climb with maybe five seconds advantage and my body was shutting down, I couldn't really hold the bike straight anymore. I knew it was only 150m now to the line, and I gave it all I had. A flicker to my right told me it was lost, finished. Second place is ok, but a win is something else!


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