Over the course of a season, there are always ups and downs, lows and highs, but unfortunately for me this year so far there have been more low points than high ones. This year has been one marred by crashes, and looking at huge inconsistencies in my results. Of my 11 races this year so far, I have been in the top 10 4 times out of 7 finishes. Unfortunately this means that I have now DNF’d at 4 races, for 2 different teams. Yesterday, as I write this, at Liège Bastogne Liège after 79k exactly, 1 kilometre away from the bottom of the first decisive climb, there was a compression in the bunch, leading to a touch of wheels 2 or 3 guys in front and to the right of me, but unfortunately their bikes came left and threw me off balance, going head first off the roadside into a valley at 50kph. After sliding for a fair way, I came to an abrupt stop by going shoulder first into a tree. I got up and managed to get back to the road, but I assumed I’d broke my collarbone as my shoulder hurt and the shock was too great to continue. Once I popped it back in it actually felt ok, and the xray was all clear thankfully.
A better weekend came right at the start of the month, racing the E3 Harelbeke, a Belgian Kermesse and Ixworth 234 in the same weekend. I want to say a huge thanks to Team Backstedt for taking me out to Belgium that weekend, and also for bringing me back.
E3 was a hectic race, with riders even overtaking the neutral car to hold position before the race began. It was a long neutral zone, but thankfully once the race got underway things calmed down slightly. With 40k to the first climb, the Cote de Trieu, no one wanted to take it up so early on. As we approached the first sectors of cobbles, and the “mountain chain”, the pace ramped up, and with many guys wanting to be at the front there were quite a few crashes that had occurred, and for once I had avoided them. Through the next hour I sat in the bunch, surfing the wheels as the bunch started to slowly break apart, but up the Paterberg the race went extremely hard, and with everyone only riding the left hand gutter, it quickly got very full, and I made the mistake of joining the queue, rather than powering up the completely empty crown of the road. This caused me to lose around 30 seconds to the front 30/40 guys, and then I couldn’t come back from that on the Oude Kwaremont. Coming back to Harelbeke, I was in a small group of 5 that got very close to the back of the bunch, maybe 50m, but then a climb started and there was traffic coming out the back meaning that we never made it to the group.
On the Sunday, we travelled over to Duisberg, near Brussels, for a Kermesse race. These are a staple of Belgian bike racing, and always hotly contested, so a fast pace was to be expected. Right from the off, a small group started to go, and I just happened to be on the wheels of the boys that made a move, dragging me clear with them. Fellow Brit and Backstedt rider Dylan Hicks latched on, and we soon had a force of 6 driving the pace, with over 80kms to go. However, the other riders were not strong, and Dylan and I rode away from them almost by accident. However, we were not going hard as we were expecting others to bridge up. However, we continued for a lap at a strong pace, and suddenly the car comes up to us and shouts “een minuten jongens” catching us both by surprise. We had not planned for this, but we were almost forced into continuing such was the gap. Another 10 km went by, and the commissaire, rather excitedly, gave us “een minuten en viertigvijf seconden”. At this point, we really pressed on, hoping to make the bunch sit up, but the gap started to close, and we got news of 6 lads at a minute. Still, too big of a gap to wait. We were caught at 20k to go, after the chasers had chased for at least 30 mins. I saved some energy, and secured the KOM prize, but over the top of the sprint, one guy went, and I could not hold the wheel. We never saw him again. With 1k to go, the bunch came back to the group for 2nd place. Mattie Dodd, another Brit joined us at the front ready in the leadout train to get Dylan on the podium. We did a great job of the leadout, getting a 2-3-4 and top 3 in the front group, but we couldn’t catch the winner.
A swift transfer to the UK and on the Monday it was back in the car for the famous Ixworth Crit. Although only a Regional A class race, it is always fast and furious on the 800m village loop. With 4 team riders present, we all went in with a plan to light up the race, and that’s what we did. For the whole 50 minutes, there was always one of us on the attack. After half an hour, I was really feeling the hot pace after my exertions over the weekend, and was getting distanced from the leading group, but then the pace slowed and I came with some momentum straight over the top of the group, legs absolutely screaming with lactate and heart rate far too high, and went all in to try and gain a gap, in the process setting a new 1 minute seated power PB. After 90s, I was caught, much to my relief almost, and my teammate Joseph Smith went straight over the top and created a race winning gap, which he held to the line. Callum Laborde and Mark Lightfoot filled out the podium spots and I placed 6th. It was great to have gone in with a plan and finished it off, I think all 4 of us celebrated through the line!
Hopefully things will get better soon, and I can write something with happiness next month. Thanks to everyone for their continued support, and at some point, I’ll be back at the front end of the bike race.