Lots has happened over the last month, plenty of racing both in Belgium and the UK. With some good results but also disappointing problems.
First up was Spokes National series in Scotland on June 9/10. It was a great experience, lots of climbing and fairly open racing providing lots of opportunities for aggressive long-range attacks. I managed to get 6th place on the 2nd stage after a long false flat sprint and 1,200m of climbing in only 90km.
This weekend was followed by a kermesse trip to Passendale. This was a good race with some strong riders, I managed to get off the front at the start of the 2nd lap of 14 and stayed away in a group of around 6 to the finish. This was hard maintaining the pace out front but the race split up behind reducing the number of riders that were chasing us. I went early in the sprint bridging to a rider who had made a late attack to kick off his wheel. It was not enough to hold on for the win as one rider passed me on the left-hand side before the line. I think these races are arguably harder than the large UCI races as with less riders and more aggressive racing you can’t hide from the effort.
The following weekend, 24th of June was a slightly bigger race in Rekkem - Interclub (Belgian national race). I was racing for South East with John Barclay along with Theo Model, Matt Shaw, Charlie Walters and Ieuan Woods. These are always fun races as you have nothing to lose but a great competition with some of the best teams riding.
The race started fast as riders tried to split the peloton, I wasn’t the best placed in the opening laps as the well-known Remco Evenepoel was up front drilling the pace. I made it across the main group as Remco pulled away with 4 others, he rode them of his wheel leaving them to be scooped up the main bunch. Matt (Shaw), Theo (Modell) and I worked well together during the race allowing both Me and Theo to attempt digs off the front. My attack lasted one lap as the two with me weren't fully committed and I was starting to swing. I decided to lead out Matt as I was feeling low on gas and thought I didn't have the legs for an individual result. I lost Matt off my wheel in the last km (due to a crash) after successfully keeping him near the front for the last lap so I decided to go for myself as I was in a good position. I managed to take 4th in the bunch kick and 5th overall, which was a good result for me.
After Rekkem Interclub I had a week and a half of preparation time for Kontich which is a UCI 2.1 tour over 4 days with 5 stages. I had a 3 day geography felid trip leading into this which was far from ideal and was where I picked up a bug. I felt ok leading into the TTT on the Friday but far from perfect. We looked at the course and then had lunch after catching up on Love island (thanks Leo) The TTT had unnecessary stresses with a Puncture for Tom Dussek and some miscommunication causing a lot of chasing and resulting in Theo and Matt doing a 2 up TT with me breathing out my arse on the back. We finished in 7th place which was surprisingly ok when considering the circumstances but left us over 30s down. I felt extremely bad for both Theo and Matt as this was a big opportunity for them and I had really not helped the situation by being unable to contribute to the work load. I definitely owed them one over the next few days.
That evening and the next morning was when I knew I really didn’t feel well I woke up with about 50% of my normal range of breath. I wasn’t very optimistic for the stage as I had started Guido Reybrouk earlier in the year in a similar situation and only lasted 40km. I felt surprisingly ok in the first 50km, staying right up there and following moves. We all managed to miss a break of 25 go up the road (yes, I know. Stupid) so Matt, Theo and I tried to bridge across. After failing at bridging I decided to take up some work on the front as the pace was very inconsistent allowing the break to stretch its lead. I knew I was not going to do anything special so this was a good opportunity to try and help out Theo and Matt. I worked with two other riders that had the same idea of limiting losses to the increasing gap of the breakaway and Matt came through and did some turns towards the end of the race however it really wasn’t enough. 3 or 4 riders against a very motivated group of 25 was never going to end well. I rolled in towards the back of the pack with my chest feeling worse than ever.
The morale was low in the team. We were all tired and disappointed after two days of mistakes and little sleep due to the heat. We had dinner and went to bed ready for double day of a TT and road stage. We woke up and went down fairly early as due to Toms puncture he was last on GC so first off in the TT. The hostel hadn’t opened the breakfast room so we had to leave with empty tummies. We got some bread etc from the local boulangerie however Theo opted for dry Weetabix (desperate times lead to desperate measures).
We warmed up and got our bikes checked before starting, Theo Matt and I were one after another in GC. I painfully watched Matt crunch his gears on the start line in no fault of his own causing the chain to tangle. So, he got a slow bike change and set off already 40s down. I set off and immediately knew I shouldn’t have started, my chest was in pain causing me to cough throughout my effort. I finished in a state and decided immediately to pull out. It then took me a good 15mins before I could catch my breath and I had a really saw head for the rest of the day. I felt awful.
This was definitely enough to tell me not to ride the next stage which was seriously gutting as I was so excited to come to this tour not only to ride for myself but also be there for my team mates helping us pick up some decent results. Leo (Hayter) had done really well in the TT which was a good consolation but I was so gutted to pull out. Just to add to the disappointment Theo was set for a mega time when he had a front puncture and had no support car.
This weekend was a good learning curve and even when the weekend goes to pot it’s still great fun. Big thanks to Simon Mingay for giving up his time to ship us about and look after us over the weekend.
It was then the question of whether I would be fit enough to ride the National road champs which were just one week later. I didn’t feel it was going to be likely at all at the start of the week (I had pretty much ruled it out) but as the week progressed I felt ok pretty quickly, I rode track league on Wednesday and didn’t feel 100% but by Friday I felt great. The National road champs were on a pretty simple course with not much to talk about. The race started at a relaxed pace and it only picked up when a dangerous break rode away. This was brought back together and it ended in a late attack / bunch finish. I followed Lewis (Askey) the whole way up the final climb feeling great but hesitation at the top when him and Ben (Tullet) kicked on, left me to challenge for the bunch kick. I rolled in 7th which I would have taken at the start of the day, especially with the way I was feeling earlier on in the week, but after feeling so good and just watching them roll away from me at the end I was a little frustrated with myself.
Up next is Track nationals followed by the Johan Museeuw Classic UCI 1.1 and Route de Geants UCI 1.1 back to back. Before a few more races and preparation time before Junior Tour of Wales.