Saturday – Travel and Recce
The plan was to meet up with John Barclay and the rest of the South East Cycle Team at Maidstone Services at 11:50, quick unloading and reloading of cars. Then off to the Eurotunnel and then finally to the bottom of the Teinenberg, where we would do our recce of the last 20km of the race.
After arriving at the services I had my lunch – a quinoa curry my Dad had made that morning. Shortly after John arrived with the rest of the team – Jacob, Ollie, Theo, Louie, and Charles and we set off for an uneventful journey to the Eurotunnel and Belgium.
When we arrived at the bottom of the Tiegenberg we got changed and started to ride the last 20km as per the plan. I only lasted about 3km before my infamously small bladder meant I had to stop for a waz behind a Belgian bus stop. The recce was going fairly smoothly up to the point where we started to ride to the Hostel, when Charles and me ended up riding an ‘alternative’ way home to the others. When we eventually arrived it wasn’t long until food, and I was starving so was looking forward to it. To my utter disappointment all that was left by the time we got to the dinning room was mashed potato and a very small amount of chicken (we were limited to one small piece only). Unsurprisingly I was quite hungry after tea, but at least had my massive bowl of overnight oats that I had brought with me to look forward in the morning.
After watching a couple of episodes of The Grand Tour, it was time to go to sleep.
Sunday – Race Day !
The race wasn’t until 14:00 so we had plenty of time in the morning to chill out. I delighted in my big bowl of overnight oats for breakfast. That is totally the best pre-race breakfast. Bit more watching of The Grand Tour to take my mind off the race, and before I knew it it was time for our pre-race meal of pasta which the hostel had provided. I wasnt actually that hungry but forced it down me as I knew I would need it for the race. In the mean time John was getting our numbers and signing us on at race HQ. When he returned we all headed towards the race HQ to get changed and ride the last 3km of the course a couple of times.
Crunch time ! The beginning of the race was fast but fairly safe on the 20k of wide road that took us out to the much narrower roads the wind their way around and over the hills. However about 5k into those narrower roads there was a big crash. I avoided it thankfully, but ended up unclipping which then led to an extremely hard chase for the next 20km. There were 5 of chasing at first, working well together, and that group gradually grew to 20. Eventually I got back on.
For the next 40km of the race I tried to stay near the front and out of trouble as we went over the climbs and a couple of cobbled sections. The main cobbled section of the day came as a bit of a shock to me and I found myself too far back. I ended up chasing again. At first I absolutely hated the cobbles, but then I got the hang of them and was able to ride them much better (the metal bottle cages helped a lot here) As the race progressed my legs felt better and I was nearer the front ( where I should have been from the start).
Thats when we hit the Paterberg. one of the reasons why i loved the race so much.
I steadily worked my way to the front, and by the time we were at the bottom of the decent I was there. The group stayed together for the next two climbs. I had a bit of a dig going over the second from last climb but nothing came of it.
With 20km to go a couple of attacks started, but came back quickly. But with just under 3k to go 3 riders just seemed to ride clear of the peloton.
A moments hesitation meant they got a gap and stayed away.
I found myself finishing 22nd in the front bunch of about 35 riders.
E3 Harelbeke was by far the most fun race I have ever ridden – just the whole experience was so good. Learnt lots like making sure I had good bottle cages, definitely liked the tubeless tyres on the cobbles, staying near to the front of the race and being confident in my ability. I will hopefully get to put the lessons that I learned into good use for the next big race. Although it was such a good race it did mean that I missed out on Will Tidballs B-day down in Exmouth – sorry about that bro 🙁
Onwards to the Isle of Man Youth & Junior Tour this weekend.