I finished tenth today in the first stage of the Ardennes Challenge. Racing here in Wallonie is merciless; there is not a flat piece of road in the entire region and the courses are marked by climb after climb with tight little roads winding up through the woods; the asphalt patched over so many times that the orginial paving is no longer visible.
I sensed that the race would be made early on and it was; the peloton racing out of the gate at full clip. The first selections were made on the earliest climbs; just a handful of kilometres into the race. On the initial uphill, I made a group of ten and had two team mates; a perfect situation. We rolled over the first mountain sprint twenty five kilometres into the race but it then came back together and the race reshuffled. When it next split I was again in the front; this time in a group of eight but before long a few more bridged across including my Aussie team mate Brodie and we were away again.
At about the seventy k mark yet another group made the junction though the now larger pack broke again almost immediately. Here I put myself in a difficult situation; watching the leaders go away up the climb as I was getting water from the cars and trying not to panic. I knew that it was the critical move; so grabbed Brodie and together went across on the climb; a hard turn for both of us.
Once together and again with twelve, the race settled in and we rolled towards the finishing circuits with the speed very high on the mostly downhill section. We were in for three, ten kilometer circuits each marked by a categorized climb.
I was feeling good and stayed in the front; marking moves but in a relatively relaxed state.
The last time up the climb; I accelerated at the bottom but overestimated my powers and couldn’t make a difference. Soon after there was a counter attack; I got on the wheels but was really suffering, already gassed from the earlier effort. About a kilometer from the top I was dropped and watched the others ride away, completely pissed at myself. Riding alone I lost about a minute in those last 5km but came in tenth; well clear of the second group.
Tomorrow is another day and I am aiming for more of the same save for the botched finale. I bloody well love this kind of racing.