After getting up fairly early to watch the men’s 50km Cross country skiing race in the winter Olympics (which was pretty exciting to be fair – so many parallels to cycling) I packed the car and got myself some breakfast and a cup of tea before starting our trip to Belgium. The drive down was smooth and uneventful with a short coffee and pee stop just before we met up with John Barclay and the others. We got on the train no problem and once off the other side John announced that he needed to stock up on wine and coffee at the local supermarché.
After we’d collected John’s supplies we continued the journey, with the intention of stopping short of the Hostel to ride. It was seriously cold and blowing a gale – and unfortunately it was a cross head wind all the way to the hostel. I made sure I was strategically missing turns pretending I needed a drink to keep the legs fresh for the run to the pasta restaurant later 😉
After a quick shower we headed to the restaurant for tea. As is standard at this pasta place the cheese comes with optional pasta not the other way around. When we got back to the hostel I watched some of the new series of the Grand Tour before heading to bed.
I decided to try a different version of my overnight oats which ended up being a bit of a disappointment. I will be returning to the usual overnight oats next time but never the less it had peanut butter on it so it was all good.
After breakfast we packed our bags and headed downstairs before heading in convoy to the race start. It was COLD. We had a while before the start so I took the time to look at the wind direction and the course to see where it might split up.
Time to get changed. After changing my mind on what to wear a couple of times, I finally came to a decision – that consisted of 5 layers which was just right. Soon we were lining up at the start.
As always the neutralised section wasn’t very neutralised at all but I stayed near the font out of trouble.
Km 0. The race had started with the first part of the course being into a head wind no one really wanted to take up the race with a few people getting off the front but coming back pretty quickly as the kms ticked down to the first climb I was near the front in a good position. We hit the first climb and I was about 10th wheel I worked my way to the front and over the top we hit the first cobbled section I was now about 3rd wheel as we came off the cobbles I looked behind me and the field was in a very long line with gaps appearing. Tthe bunch pressed on again to try and split the race up a bit more. Over the next couple of climbs it was a similar story until we hit the 4th climb, a 2km drag on a nicely tarmac peace of road. I was about 8th in line and could see Remco sitting in 3rd wheel click down the gears I followed the rider in front as he reacted to get on his wheel but he started to fade about 500m before the top so I jumped off his wheel and bridged over to Remco. When I got across he kept driving – at this point I knew my legs were good. I came through and pulled a turn when he came through again I looked behind and could see we ha about 15-20 seconds I came through to do a turn again. S**t! I then realised that there was a right turn that went round further than expected I had to scrub off a lot of speed and came to a standstill. Remco who was behind me made it round and pressed on as I was getting back up to speed I looked behind and could see the main field only about 80m or so behind I kept pressing on but with the cross winds as strong as they were I eventually came back to the bunch. I was really frustrated as I knew I was in a great position.
Never the less I kept focused. I knew the Kweremont was coming up so made sure I was near the front. We hit it and the bunch split up loads – afterwards there was a main peloton of about 30 riders.
As we stared heading to the finish we had a tail wind which I knew would play into the hand of Remco as the bunch wasn’t really making any effort to chase. As we hit the finishing circuit I decided to make my move. I kept getting off the front but the bunch would bring it back none the less I persisted as I thought eventually the bunch would sit up and with the tail wind I would be able to open up a gap quite quickly. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and coming into the last km I was spent. But made a big effort to move up the group. I ended up finishing in the bunch. But I felt proud about my approach which had been to force a winning (well 2nd place anyway) break, rather than just sit in the wheels – it will pay off at some point.
At the finish I had mixed emotions as I knew if I hadn’t have messed up that corner I am confident I would have been with Remco at the finish. But one of the big positives that I took away from the race was just how good my legs felt, the fact that I was able to follow Remco over the top of the climb and then have enough to keep attacking the bunch at the end has given me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season.
At the end of the race Richard Moore from the cycling podcast came over to me to ask me about John and how my race went. This was a really good end to a decent day out on the bike. Shame I didn’t get the result I wanted but that’s bike racing.
A massive thank you to John Barclay and Dave Story for taking us out, and to Pedal Potential to help me paying for it. Looking forward to Guido Reybrouk in a few weeks’ time.