It's been a hectic few weeks for our Flandrian Lionheart from Liverpool. This time he reflects on his performances at the Tour of Britain and the Eneco Tour.
As I write this I’m sat on my bed in a Campanile (chain of french hotels best know by bike riders for over-cooked pasta and ludicrously narrow beds) on the eve of my penultimate race of the year Paris-Tour; which believe it or not doesn’t start in Paris but does in fact finish in Tours. Tours the place not a Tour of Paris either, which is a common mistake made by most people… I think.
(c) Chris Auld
Anyway, a lot has happened since I last sat with my laptop in front of me and jabbed away at the keyboard to form some semblance of sense. I did a rather underwhelming Tour of Britain. I think this was mostly due to the fact there had been a lot of injuries and illness in the team, which meant I was drafted in to do more races than I had originally planned to in the build-up. So I went in pretty puffed (that's bike rider language for tired). Because of going in tired and the ever-more-challenging parcours of Tour of Britain I suffered like a dog. I got around, carried a few bidons for my team mate who was top ten in GC and won the King of the Mountains jersey (only the highest calibre of riders win the mountains jersey in Tour of Britain! Although I did prefer the old white jersey to the new black one… Just saying.)
After Surviving Britain I was given a five day block without racing before the one day Belgian race GP Impanes Van Pettigem followed by Eneco Tour with one day rest in-between. In Impanes I felt surprisingly ok. You get to know your body well as a bike rider and in general you can tell pretty soon whether you’re on a good day or a bad day. I didn't ride a result but I knew my sensations where good going into Eneco Tour. I think this was a massive lucky coincidence of the fact that I was knackered after Britain and the races before and then with a few days easy in-between I’d freshened-up a lot and come up good in the run-up to Eneco.
The first two days in Eneco where a pan flat sprint day and a short time trial respectively. They were pretty uneventful for me. Then came Stage Three. I made my way into the early break of 5 guys with an aim of going for the Sprints jersey. The two sprints passed by and I scored second in both which was somewhat disappointing. But as we battled on our time gap to the peloton didn’t diminish as much as we would have expected. As we came into the last 5km we had roughly a minute still which meant the peloton would have had to do some serious shifting to catch us. It was all going well until two km from the finish line a guy from IAM launched an attack and to be honest once the attack was neutralised the group stalled. I waited until 200m from the line to launch my sprint, as I went I knew I had the jump on my breakaway companions and I got 50m from the line. How I would celebrate my first World Tour win crossed my mind, but 20m from the line I was brought crashing down to reality as the big sprinters rushed past me as if I was standing still. I finished 5th it was still a good result but to come so close was somewhat bitter-sweet. I stayed positive and thought there's always tomorrow…
Turns out I got in the break again the next day, another day to go for the sprint another second and a third. I edged closer to the jersey but we were brought back pretty far from the line. Then Stage 5 was a Team Time Trial, we hadn’t really done any prep for it and to be honest we didn’t make a show of ourselves, so it was another day ticked off.
Then came stage 6 with the finish in Lanaken. I still felt good and to be fair I knew I had the legs to get in the break again but it wasn’t as easy as the other days. This break took about 30km to go and we were with six guys in the front. The first sprint came and I was once again beaten into second. Deep down I knew it was my chance of the jersey pretty much gone but we battled on as we got closer to the finish it looked pretty much like we where going to be caught. With 10km to go we had only 30 seconds, but the difference to stage three when we’d faltered so close to the line the last ten km where quite twisty and technical. So the age old principle of ‘out of sight out of mind’ came into play and as we rounded each corner and the km rolled away I began to realise we could once again make it to the finish. This time no one played around. We all knew much like nuclear warfare we all had mutually assured destruction. if one of had attacked we all would have been foddered. As we got to the last 250m a guy from AG2R got the jump on us I took his wheel then I looked right and a guy from Lampre had come on my right so I was boxed. I thought ‘Shit, I’ve fuked this’ as there was a wall of riders 3 guys wide infant of me then at 50m from the line the AG2R guy began to fade and it opened a gap on the left. I squeezed everything I could out of my body and lunged as hard as I could for the line but alas it wasn’t enough. I’d finished second by less than a front wheel.
This one really hurt. So close and yet so far but they say we learn more from our failures than our successes, so safe to say i learnt a lot from my first Eneco Tour. The last day I tried again for the break but my luck was up it was the Queen Stage, and the weather turned. The last stage became a day of survival as at the front it turned into a war of attrition with four laps of the infamous Muur van Gerrardsbertgen - and I survived it.
In summary cycling is a hard old game and rest is just as important as battering yourself if you want to go fast. Never look back in the last km and never try and go through a gap that can be closed against a barrier. But more than anything make sure you take the positive from every situation because negativity is nothing but toxic to your physical and mental performance.