Cycling certainly is a journey and that’s not just the journey I take on my training or race rides. It’s the journey that takes me across the Channel and up and down the country. At times it feels relentless, another day, another place, another road, another bed. But that is the sport.
Since my last blog I had one last race in March that saw me back in England. Melton Mowbray for the CiCle classic national race. I knew a little bit about this race from some Seniors who had ridden it, but little prepared me for the farm tracks and mucky, greasy roads in horrific conditions. We reconned the race on the Saturday afternoon, already the tracks were messy but nothing like what Sunday would bring. It rained most of the night and a 5am alarm call into the cold, grey Rutland skies did not fill me with enthusiasm. Arriving at the Cattle Market for a grabbed breakfast and race prep didn’t encourage much either but out we rolled. I decided that the bunch was not the safest place, the spray and muck was everywhere so I attacked and got out front. I stayed out for about 45 km gaining all the King of the Mountains points, to little avail. I was caught just before the feed zone a small group of us were still away and as I had a chance to breathe, I also took the chance to eat, while I was reaching to my back pocket for a gel the road took my front wheel, this was the first time I had taken a hand off the bars, and down I went. On to my bad shoulder and hip. I remounted unaware of where the team cars were, my bars had slipped in the crash, and I needed a bike change. The race went past me and I got to the feed zone. Cold, wet and pain in the shoulder and hip, climbing off I got in the team car. Cross, frustrated, upset. I felt strong but … I would have to wait until next year. Chapeau to this 30 that finished.
A weekend off at the start of April with a leg stretcher in the Colchester Rovers Reliability Ride, taking in the East Coast and through Frinton saw the legs feeling strong again and ready to head back over the Channel to Belgium and the region of Limburg for Easter weekend.
We arrived on the Thursday after a long-wet journey through Antwerp. Stopping off at 3 Action, where we were able to test their new products and get a chance to stock up on Gels and Bars for the season ahead.
Then Friday we headed up to the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park to take part in a Prologue time trial of 4km. The course was technical with a hill in the middle section. I put in a decent effort placing 31st out of 150. Then back to the hotel to prepare for the first of 3 – 120km closed road races from start towns to finish towns, a true Tour of Limburg. Stage 2 was pretty flat, and I was feeling strong. The team of: Charlie, Stan, Paul, Reece, Ben, and I set off in good spirits, the weather was good and the wind minimal. Unfortunately, the bunch was nervous, on one of the earlier narrowing farm tracks a crash happened in the bunch and took out Stan and Paul. Charlie, Ben, Reece, and I were further up the field and safe. On the finishing loop there were bonuses on the line, and I had a dig on the penultimate pass, coming through fourth, but after that the bunch came back together and we rolled over safely, 4 of us going through to Stage 3.
Stage 3 was a bit lumpier with a couple of climbs early on in the race, then pan flat for the second half. I was hoping for a chance in the finish but after the first finishing loop was completed, I knew it wasn’t to be. It was essentially a highly technical town centre crit and would benefit those more local who knew the course well. I finished comfortably in the bunch though and moved up to 9th in the Young Rider competition. Stage 4 and all 4 of us would make it to the start line, The weather had changed for the last day, overcast and windy! We set off well, staying in contact on the first major climb and then a massive effort to stay in touch as the crosswinds began to split. I made it into the second echelon, my first-time racing in one! I had seen this so many times on TV and knew it looked hard, I can assure you it is terrifically hard. Back through the bigger loop and up the climb again. This time the effort to get across to the split told and we were distanced as a group but still in the race. Arriving at the short finishing loop we were 1.5 km down on the front and the Commissaires decided that they would pull us, as the loop was so short, we would inevitably be caught. So sadly, we were classed as outside the time and only 54 ended up finishing the race in the time limit.
What an experience though, echelons, cross winds, 3 days of 120 km. All firsts for me and all banked ready for the next one.
And then eventually home and a chance to ride on my home patch. The Ike Saul Memorial Race of 108 km was to set off from Great Chesterford to Littlebury and then laps of the Wendens Ambo Loop. This is 10 miles from my home. It passes Audley End Estate that I have visited many times as a kid. It was great to ride a road that I knew and meant I also had local support from my mates. 60 in the race and a relatively calm day, we rolled out and on to the main loop. I attacked early and the group split quickly unfortunately though my inner ring started to loosen and was in danger of detaching. I nursed it to the finish line and thankfully had my spare there, I swapped bikes and set off, adrenaline fuelled in pursuit, on the charge. Getting back into the bunch and then through; I attacked again taking five riders with me and then in the final effort up Littlebury Hill I came in 2nd behind Callum Laborde. My first podium in a Men’s Senior Road Race. It felt great! Great to hear my name called around the course, great to know the roads and great to overcome the adversity and gain a podium in a strong field. Also, great to be on home roads and home for a Sunday Dinner!
April then came to a close, back on the road. Heading to Manchester to a GB camp and back on the boards for the first time in a while.
A few thanks this month, firstly to Newdales at Saffron Walden for help sorting out my spare bike at short notice. Massively Appreciated. Highway Cycles for sorting out my race bike after Guido-Reybrouck. Thomas for taking me to and back from Manchester at short notice. LVYCC for the trip to Belgium.
Also massive thanks to MK Scaffolding, more to follow on this, they are supporting my next trip to Holland. I honestly couldn’t continue to race without all this support, so thank you.