After Kuurne I had two weeks before getting back into the car and back to Belgium. These weeks weren't easy, I had taken a little bit of a knock in the crash at KBK and my legs were taking a while to recover as the first race can come as a bit of a shock to the system. However I got some good training in and prepared again for Nokere Koerse. I had identified the route as one that might suit me a little while back with open roads, flat cobbled sectors and a little climb up towards the line. But you can never predict anything in a cobbled classic.
Again... 12 Weatabix were consumed at breakfast along with a box of pasta at 12pm before being rinsed of all my coins on 8 ball Pool by a very hyper Thomas Gloag. We lined up on the start line relatively early, I managed to position myself in the second row but right behind a tree blocking my route onto the road, this was the subject of me and Alex Haines's pre race entertainment, calming the nerves but also stopping my mouth from chattering from the cold wind.
The team for this race was Alex (Haines), Thomas (Gloag), George (Mills Keeling), Joe (Burns), Owain (Roberts) and Me. We had thought it was going to be a hard start as the forecast had predicted a head crosswind for the first 20km however that changed to a block headwind on the day meaning the first 15mins of the race were easy as the riders at the front slowed allowing people sitting in to go at a slower pace without being effected by the wind. Having said this it soon got tough, a big crash covered most of the road and split the group in half before turning into the cross winds, I had a big effort to get back into that front group before it swelled back to its original size.
I struggled through the first half of the race and have now come to realise that this normal for me. Finding my legs around half way through pushing on the front of the bunch on the Nokereberg and with that, quickly closing the gap to the 3 riders upfront. I tried to keep the momentum going at the front as I could sense riders starting to fatigue. With 20km to go I slowed the group down allowing Alex to rolled off the front with another rider. I then attacked from the group behind bringing two riders with me up to Alex where we worked as a 5 before losing one with 12km to go. I knew me and Alex were the strongest in the group as the last time up the Nokereberg Alex put on the pressure dropping our breakaway companions only a little but enough for us to realise. In the sprint I sat behind Alex relatively confident in my ability to ride around him at the speed he was currently holding however once we took the final bend in the road he kicked again and it wasn't a speed which I could hold for long enough, I wasn't annoyed whatsoever when I crossed the line though because losing to a friend and team mate feels like winning.
I couldn't quite believe it when we crossed the line... not sure John could either, he was chuffed with the revenge as he had got his application to ride this race rejected 3 times this being the first time south east had ridden the race.
Guido was a race I did last year with Cervelo Goodzo however was ill but didn't feel I could turn down such a good opportunity for experience (I only made it 40km). I really wanted to get something out of it this year however.
You know the drill now... 12 Weatabix for breakfast and a box of pasta before the race was all that was consumed. We filled up our bottles before entering the well known chaos of gear check where this time it seamed we were the ones causing the chaos. I escaped before Alex was cornered and told he would be last to get his bike checked but if I'm honest I was probably second last anyway.
Again I didn't feel amazing as the race kicked off, everyone is so full of beans and ready to use them but I don't seem to have that energy at the start. Unfortunately in an attempt to move up I slipped out on a corner bashing my knee relatively hard giving me a short chase before I reattached myself with the back of a very long peleton.
The weather was really nice... for sunbathing. But when you want a tough race with small groups dotted along the road its not all that fun for bike racing. Many bad crashed occurred of which I dodged them all, however in my attempt to dodge the worst I picked up a rear pinch puncture when hopping back onto the road, I waited 2:15mins for I set off again as the crash had been at a width restriction stopping all the cars from coming through and Iain the south east mechanic hadn't seen me waving 100m up the road.
I chased for a while, with much appreciated help from other British team cars before reattaching with the bunch. At this point a group had gone up the road and were looking convincing for the win, riders were trying to bridge across in the cross winds some being sucsseful. Lewis Askey a team mate and Thomas Gloag had managed to split away and were heading towards the front group of around 10.
I took a few gels and started to find my legs again with a few laps (7km laps) to go. Tom came back to the bunch with one lap to go having been left with weaker riders which meant we only had one rider up in the front group. I didn't fancy the idea of a large bunch sprint up the cobbled finish so I planned a last minute chip off the front in an attempt to stay away and pick up a minor placing. I did so with 3km to go bringing a CCC rider who was unwilling to work with me and I managed to stay away to the line picking up 11th. I was pretty surprised I had managed to make something out of the race as I had written off my chances of even getting back to the bunch when I was in the cars chasing.
Lewis ended up coming 4th and the team placed 3rd in the team competition.
Gent Wevelgem 1.ncup
Finally after a long but very enjoyable month of racing (that makes it sound like I have been racing non stop for a month, but pathetically I had only done 3 races at this point) I had been selected to ride Gent Wevelgem Nations cup with Ireland, this was an amazing opportunity and I really wanted to make the most of it.
I arrived on the Friday night with the race being on the Sunday, and built up my bike before heading to bed, I was rudely awoken by the rest of the team arriving at midnight thinking waking me up with a scare would be a fun activity... I can't blame them. It was quite funny.
The team here was, Archie and Will Ryan, Tom Moriarty, Mark Smith, Shay Donley and me. We all had breakfast before heading out on the bikes for a pre race ride with the U23 riders. It felt good to be riding in the national kit, it always adds an extra bit of motivation even when you don't think thats possible. We did some efforts and sprints and then got ourselves some lunch and chilled out until dinner.
We had a 5:30am wake up the next day for the race which with the hour difference made it 4:30am and the clocks also went forward meaning it was technically 3:30am - so we were in bed early.
The wake up wasn't to bad I don't know why. Even though there was a nice full buffet of yummy food. I ate 12 Weatabix and enjoyed every one of them. We drove to the start and fully woke up with the fresh Belgium air before changing and signing on.
The race started harder than I was prepared for, with some crosswinds splitting the group up but I stayed there or there about, staying out of trouble. We hit the first set of climbs, the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg and I felt awful, Legs just weren't turning and the bunch felt like it was riding away every-time the road pitched up. I tried my best to recover and we hit the climbs for the second time and I was feeling better and better. by the time we were on the Kemmelberg I was feeling the strongest I had all race and I made the front split of 25 riders which stayed away to the finish.
From here there were loads of attacks, everyone knew this was the front of the race and now is the time if you were going to go alone. I gave it a good go with 14km to go solo but with 3 USA riders and 3 Brits in the group behind nothing was getting away without one of them being there. I got swallowed up and Lewis attacked followed by Quinn (eventual winner), this met the specification of USA and GB and them both being the strongest in the race meant that was it and everybody knew it. Attacks continued and with 5km to go, classic Sam Watson went, I waited a a kilometre or so and went after him with one other but the bunch wasn't letting any more go and I didn't quite have the strength that Sam was showing. I prepared for a reduced bunch kick keeping myself up towards the front with 500m left to race however I was squeezed back as we hit the chicane with 70m to go and I lost my momentum rolling in 14th. This was initially frustrating, however looking back on it I am very proud of this ride as I gave it two goes not being afraid to get caught and was still there at the finish to contest for a good placing.
The Irish lads were really helpful throughout the day making sure I was ok and even though the results may not seem like it Archie and Will had great rides up front. Unfortunately Shay was ill and Tom and Mark didn't have their best days on the bike.
Finally, I want to say thank you to Cycling Ireland with all the help and support they provided and Martin for giving me this opportunity, also pedal potential for the support allowing it all to happen. But most importantly I wouldn't be getting any results whatsoever if it wasn't for the help and guidance provided by Mark at Epic Coaching - the hard work in the background is starting to pay off.