My Easter weekend was heavy; with three consecutive one day classics totally 550km of racing.
The conditions, especially Saturday and Sunday, were oppressively hot with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. Such heat makes classics like these very difficult. To be involved in the race you have to fight for a spot in the front and constantly be “switched on” to maintain your place. Bigger teams have helpers peppered all over the course providing their racers opportunities to grab bottles from the sidelines quickly and remain in the midst of the action. Without such support you have to go back to the cars which is always a risk; the race can split at anytime and if you are at the back getting water you lose out. The roads are small and always changing direction making it difficult for a team car to get to the front and provide service and making the wait at the back agonizingly long; then once you finally have bottles it takes a big effort to get back up to the front. You can only imagine how important domestiques are to the big riders in the biggest classics.
Saturday was the Arno Wallard Memorial, a UCI 1.2 in the neighbourhood of Utrecht. I rode well, bridging up in a group of 15 to the remains of the breakaway with 50km to go. Things were looking very promising, though upon reaching the early attackers we lost our momentum as the Rabo and Qin riders started watching each other. The peloton came back and almost immediately a large counter attack went and the race was lost to me. Knowing what was ahead, I stayed calm in the peloton and didn’t join the attacks for 50th place.
Sunday, I started well but hitting the 130km mark really started to suffer. I was low on fuel and cooking in the heat. It was a strange feeling; like my lungs had in an instant turned to little pint bottles instead of the gallon jugs they usually are. I hung in there and ended up in 50th place or something.
That evening I really focused on recovering; ate a lot, got a good sleep and woke up feeling a lot fresher.
Monday was Biesbosch and the Dutch wind was back. The race started fast and nervous and soon split. It broke just in front of me as the peloton came out of a corner I’d been stuck in traffic in and accelerated off into a crosswind. I was in the second waaier and could see the race happening 200 meters ahead, a full on critical moment, then Alex gave me a lead out and I jumped. It was a wicked intense effort, 55km/hr into the side wind but somehow I made it and was in the front group for the day. At about the 100km point, attacks started to go. I got involved knowing I needed to try to force a break as coming to the finish with a big group is not good for me. After several tries with different combinations I did get away; however I was alone this time. I decided to forge ahead gaining a minute’s advantage and hoping that others behind might to try and force different scenario then a bunch sprint and attack across to join me. It didn’t happen; I got caught 40km later and 1km before we first returned to town for the finishing circuits (missing out on a hell of a watch that was being given as prize for the first across the line that time ‘round). In the finale I tried to place Martin for an attack but he timed it wrong and we ended up with nothing. At least we gave it a shot.
So three heavy days and since I’ve been taking it pretty easy. Next up is the Omloop van de Schermer this Sunday.
On Sunday I raced to one of, if not, the best results of my life at the Friesche Wouden Klassiker; placing fifth and winning the points competition after a 100km breakaway. The first hour and a half were super nervous but I stayed calm riding in the front third but not fighting too hard; the wind was not quite strong enough to break things apart and I was far forward enough to react to something going off the front. Coming into the finish of the first of two 60km big laps, I jumped into a 20 man breakaway that was splitting away in the fight for the first intermediate sprint. This move was good for 20km but the dynamic was not quite right and we were getting reeled in in the approach to the feed zone. Here I went on the attack knowing there would be a bit of hesitation as teams got their feeds sorted. I also figured that the two strongest teams Jo Piels and Koga would want to start sending riders away; everyone was looking at them to make the race and they would not be keen to ride the front all day. I was solo for a few km and then sure enough I looked back and saw a pair coming across, one from Jo Piels and the other from Koga. They made the junction and we rolled smoothly, out to gap of four and a half minutes at maximum. With 30km to go the Koga guy started to crack and stopped doing his share. I spoke with the guy from Piels and we decided we had to get rid of him; taking turns attacking. He went first, then I, getting ahead for a bit by myself then looking back to see the Piels rider (Jan Bos by the way) coming across alone. Then we were two, with a minute and half or so advantage and more than 20km to go. It was going to be tight and we went all in and soon I started to really suffer. Bos thought I was messing around at first and he started to hesitate. We were losing our momentum; he was stronger than me and if he attacked I was done so I told him I wouldn’t sprint if we made it to the line. I rode the last 15km on will alone, pulling through when I could but absolutely in the coffin. At 500m to go I looked back, one rider was just joining us, with two others 50m back and the peloton storming behind. I gave it a dig, hoping the other two wouldn’t catch and I’d at least get a podium spot. It didn’t work and they sprinted past, I rounded out the group and the peloton followed a couple seconds later. Crossing the finish line I was absolutely shattered. 5th is still good, its a big race, but getting caught so close is bitter. I did win the sprint competition by being in the breakaway which is a nice prize to take home.
Last weekend I rode the Twee Dagse van Gaverstreek, an incredible race in the Vlaamse Ardennes peppered with bergs and kasseien. I had high hopes going in but lady luck was not on my side. On Saturday, after going over all of the earlier climbs at the front and feeling excellent, I punctured a few kilometres before the Oude Kwaremount. The race was already in pieces and a barrage had been formed, Mavic drove right past me as did two following groups before finally the team car came up behind and I got a wheel change. We motorpaced back at 80+ km/hr but once we hit the Kwaremount the officials put their foot down and I was on my own, I went right past the last group uphill on the cobbles then went alone to Le Trieu where I caught the second group. Here I made a rash decision; I had no idea how far ahead the first selection was at that point but I was pissed and I was going to try and get back there. It was an outrageous idea really, trying to catch the front of the race solo after being so far behind but I nearly pulled it off reaching the back of the caravan after a massive effort but they accelerated away and now I was in no mans land, several minutes ahead of the back peloton with the front no longer in reach. I kept going and made it to the line by myself. When all was said and done I’d been solo for nearly 80km; a huge effort for nothing. Pretty foolish.
Thankfully, I recovered well. Sunday had even more climbs and I was riding strongly again, going over the tops comfortably at the front. I made a mistake before the Oude Kwaremount, falling to the back to get water and not giving myself enough kilometers to fight back to the front before the climb started, so had to go past a ton of riders on the hill to go over the top in good position. Everything was A-ok at the top but I relaxed when I shouldn’t have and got caught behind a split forcing a hard 10km chase to merge back into the front group. The finishing circuits were fast and I did some work to help get Stefan into position for the sprint. In the middle of the remaining front peloton (about 70 of the 180+ starters) I narrowly avoided one of the worst crashes I’ve ever seen as the whole right side of the bunch kick exploded in a mess of broken bikes and bodies. I think 3 riders left on neck boards.
Of course I wanted more from the race but I was riding well and can take some positives for what’s ahead. Racing in Belgium is fantastic, the cobbles and hellingen demand total concentration and forge some of the most exhilarating races you can imagine.
Yesterday I did a race in Schoten put on by the Flanders Classics organizer on a circuit based around the finish of the Scheldeprijs. It was a great atmosphere with all the thousands of fans there. The breakaway went on the first lap while I was still making my way past 280 other riders to get to the front and the rest of the day I spent looking for opportunities to go across with another group. The dynamic was never right; the breakaway stayed away and I was somewhere in the middle of the bunch sprint. It was a good effort though, I seem to be in good stead for this weekends Twee Dagse van Gaverstreek which I’m looking forward to. We caught the end of the Scheldeprijs and enjoyed a bit of the festival along with the sunshine (it was 26 degrees out). It is so awesome to see the enthusiasm that the Belgians have for cycle racing; yesterday there were tens of thousands out for the day, all enthralled by the sport and there to support the racers. As a rider this is reaffirming; it shows that the sport is really something special to a lot of people and something worthwhile having a real go at.
This Saturday I finished 13th at the Omloop van de Braakman; it was an awesome race, in the truest sense of the word, with 19 sectors of cobbles; 30km of the 170km total. I started on the wrong foot; positioned well, there was a big crash that I dodged around but had someone run into my wheel from behind jamming the rim against the brake. I had to get off and adjust things before getting going and was way, way back in the 200 rider field. Things had split in the cross winds and I was in the fifth group, shit, shit, shit. There was nothing to do but ride bloody hard as I wasn’t ready to give up. The race was shattered with riders all over the road; at one point I was more than 3 minutes back from the front, but I just drilled it all day, moving forward group to group and with 40km left I had made it to the first chase. Here it got frustrating; we were just behind the breakaway, 15 seconds at one point, but everyone there was pretty cooked and wasn’t working properly. I tried going alone but they would just drag me back and sit on the wheel; finally on the last cobbled section I got away and dug really deep to finish ahead in 13th, just after the breakaway. Of course, I wonder what could have been had I been in the front from the start; but that is bike racing. It was a positive confirmation for me and gives me confidence.
Sunday was an entirely different race, the Omloop van de Glazen Stad in the Westland. Flat, and fast with little wind and a whole lot of traffic furniture. I stayed calm through the start, (well as calm as you can be at 60km/hr) made the front split on the dyke at 100km and waited ‘til the last 10km where I went on the attack, trying to force a breakaway. With Jo Piels, De Rijke, and Koga working for a sprint however chances were slim and it ended in a bunch kick for that first peloton and me in the middle of it.