The first race block of my year had its ups and downs, with a dnf at Kuurne Juniors, a mid bunch finish at Hatherleigh National and a 10th place at Guido Reybrouck.
The first race of the year was Kuurne Juniors, a UCI 1.1 which is probably one of the biggest races I’ll ride all year. It is run on a largely flat course, but has a good number of short steep hellingen (cobbled climbs) to break it up. I raced this guesting with Team Backstedt Bike Performance, so I’d like to say a huge thank you to them for the opportunity. We went over to Belgium on the Saturday, I was feeling good in the recon and was desperate for the race to get underway.
On race day, the build up to the race is usually a bit more enjoyable than in the UK, riding out to the course from the hotel and having to go through team presentations, which helps to reduce any race day nerves.
Once in the pen, it was a waiting game to start the neutral section. Once we did roll out, it was hectic, with many guys wanting to be at the front from the start as the climbs started very early on, with the Tiegemberg cresting only 20km into the race. This nervousness only increased once the race got underway, and there was a lot of chopping and changing as the bunch swerved left and right through the suburbs of Harelbeke. This only continued onto the main roads, and riders were still using the verges in a desperate attempt to move up. Ultimately, this kind of riding caused a huge crash when one rider on the verge failed to hop the gap between road and grass and crashed into the bunch, bringing about a third of the field down. Crashing here ultimately ended my race, although I did get back into the bunch after the Tiegemberg chasing through the cars, I had a mechanical whilst trying to force a move before the main climbs, and this time I was not allowed to use the cars. This led me to not getting back to the bunch and was promptly collected by the broomwagon, having made it 40k into the 120km race.
After a weekend of no racing it was back to the safari green of my own Tofauti Everyone Active, for the first round of the British junior national series in Hatherleigh, Devon. The course is fast but rolling, meaning a break was likely to get away. The course seemed to suit me, and I was looking forward to the race. The conditions were vile, with strong winds and rain battering us for 2.5hrs. Straight away, the attacks from key riders flew, and I wanted to join most of these moves, as they all looked like a composition that could escape. After an hour and a half, a group of 6 went, including myself, and took a small gap over the bunch. We were joined by 6 others making it a break of 12, hovering around 20s ahead of the bunch. On one of the many ramps on the course, an attack split the group in 2, leaving me in the back 6. With a teammate in Oli Peace up front (who would ultimately take 3rd) I sat back, looking for a rider bridging up that I could sit on, but the bunch was dead. The front half of the break stayed to the line, whilst we were caught pretty swiftly.
Close, but not quite.
Then it was only a 5 day gap before we were off to Belgium for my second UCI of the year, Guido Reybrouck. This is an extremely flat race, with only about 80m of climbing in 120km. The main feature of this course was the cobbled sectors, of which there were 8 throughout the race. Although it was a warm day for the recon, the day of the race was a lot colder, and I had to implement the lessons learnt at Hatherleigh of wearing appropriate layers for the cold conditions. After two disappointing results so far this year, I was ready to get stuck in to a tough race. Right from the off, this was a fast race, with the battle for position starting right from KM0. With the first, and hardest, cobbled sector of the race coming at 12kms in, meaning you had to be on the ball at all moments. After this first sector, the pace continued to increase with the attacks flying from the day’s hopefuls looking to go in the breakaway. After 14km, a group of 3 went, who eventually took a gap of 1:30 over the bunch. Although we continued to race hard in the peloton through the first big lap around the town, but once we were over the cobbled sectors the pace eased to let the break take their gap. It was the constant battle for position into the cobbles that defined the day, but it wasn’t until we hit the first cobbled sector a second time that any meaningful attacks went. 2 riders from the 2 biggest teams, Cannibal and CCC, went and with the road blocked by their teammates they took a small advantage. This group swelled to 4 as they caught the day’s break, and this group took about 30 seconds. After the first time through the finish line, with 32k to go, last ditch attacks were flying, and I joined one of these moves, which just about made it across to the front 4 in a group of 9, which would go to the line. As we hit the flamme rouge, a group of 4 had come up, making it a 13 way sprint to the line. This was also an excellent day for the team, with us taking 3rd in the team classification, behind Cannibal and Willebrord Wil Vooruit.
The lows were pretty low at the beginning of the season, and left me lacking confidence, but with support from my team and family, I was able to cast my doubts aside, and put a strong performance in. Now, I will take a short break before resuming my season in Mid-April.
Once again, thank you to Pedal Potential for supporting me this season, and to the Dave Rayner Foundation, who supported the Guido Reybrouck trip, both enabling young riders to race abroad, and giving them the opportunities to develop as cyclists.