First race of the year... the week leading into KBK wasn't easy, you don't know how your legs are feeling and with so much time you just want to get racing. It was nice to get going on the trip as from that point onwards there is always something that needs to get done or things to take your mind off the race.
We arrived at the hostel in Kortrik as the light was fading so me and Tom (Gloag) had to head out quickly before it started getting dark just to spin the legs. The rest of the team had done a ride in the UK before getting on the tunnel to France, so it was a romantic ride for two. After getting 30mins on the bike we headed to dinner with the others at around 7:30. Dave (driver and all round legend) booked us all in at the restaurant around the corner from the hostel, that I'm sure they have been going to for longer than I've been alive.
The team for the race was Tom, Owain Roberts, Lewis Askey, George Mills-Keeling and me. We all backed down to pear pressure and followed the tradition in ordering Spaghetti Bolognese, or as served at this restaurant - cheese with a topping of bolognese. Lewis was the only one going off piste with his Lasagna. Close enough.
Race day started with a relaxed breakfast comprising of Weatabix, Weatabix and more Weatabix before we set off to Kuurne for the start. We changed, got the bikes ready, and headed out for a quick spin where we reset our tyre pressures by guesstimating the formula :
John's old school rock hard pressure that he insists is the best for cobbles ~ 130psi (minus) 2-3 squirts of air taking us to a hopeful 90psi.
After signing on we went straight into the holding pen and left our bikes with Georges dad, allowing us to keep warm before people started turning up on the start line. We squeezed back into our spots and the countdown began for the start of the race.
I think its fair to say the start was majorly unsuccessful... the lead car holding the commissaire, performed a well timed emergency break, riders trying to clip in then ploughed into the bumper of the Renault. I was just to the right of the incident however Lewis and George hit the deck quite hard and the race was stopped before restarting at KM 0 with riders already looking battered and bruised.
The neutral zone is never nice, people so eager and full of energy. I stayed relaxed and managed to find a gap through to the front as soon as the flag dropped. I stayed there for a few kilo meters and then dropped back as the initial surge began to die down.
It was at this point I had a small crash, just after chatting to Leo (Hayter) we both found our selves on the deck and then working to reattach ourselves with the rear of the peloton. Thankfully there were plenty of riders around and it was less than a km before we were back in the slipstream of the bunch, and barely any energy was used in doing this. My bars were a bit bashed and gears were a little louder than before but nothing to complain about, I had gotten off very lightly.
From there onwards I was very consciously conserving energy, making sure I was there or there about before the bigger climbs but not trying anything too crazy. I watched Tom (Gloag) and Oscar (Nillson-Julien) go up the road early and at the time thought it was a little suicidal, so at this point I was actually quite proud of my control. (little did I know)
We got to the Kweremont and I was feeling great, little further back than I would have liked but I felt strong so I was happy to make up the ground on the climb if that was necessary. A little crash gave me and Leo a small gap to close before hitting the cobbles but both feeling confident in our strength, we shut it down and prepared to overtake as many riders as we could. However little did I know how difficult it would be to move anywhere let alone up the bunch on wet cobbles. Wheels were slipping, people were unclipping, even just the unpredictability of the direction that the rider in front of you will go next made it so much harder than the previous climbs. My legs felt great but I ended up crawling one cobble stone at a time just trying to find the momentum to keep myself upright.
I pushed over the top and accelerated into the decent, catching a small group in front of me, we could see a group of around 15-20 just pulling away so I started a concerted chase with some other riders catching them just as we hit the bottom of the Tiemburg a few kilo meters later. I watched Jack (RKG) and others attack up this climb, but did nothing about it in the naive hope that the bunch would organise a better chase to close down the growing breakaway.
After a little while Leo and I decided that we would have to do something if we were going to make the front group. We put in a few attacks stretching the bunch out but not quite snapping it, when finally Leo made a break on the right hand side of the road and I got caught behind a few unmotivated wheels, slowing the bunch down.
I tried a few more digs but the riders that came with me didn't want to ride though or they were running low on gas. We made it to the finishing circuits as a depleted group and I rolled in 24th. I made many mistakes throughout the race that aren't reasons why I could have been in the front group but just things that I need to bear in mind for future races.
I feel its a decent building block for the upcoming races. I think I got a bit caught out by my experiences at UCI races last year where I would have to conserve energy all day just to get round the race whereas here I did the same thing but finished the race with so much more in the tank never really feeling like I was in the red all day. Overall Kuurne has given me lots of confidence and I can't wait to see whats possible and Nokere Korse and Guido Reybrouk later this month.
I want to say a huge thank you to Pedal Potential for supporting me again for the 2019 season, it makes a huge difference. Especially when you need a few replacement items after a little lie down.
Also thanks to John Barclay, Dave story, Ian and John Mills Keeling for looking after us all weekend. And mega to see so many VCL and South East riders in the top 10.