On Saturday, I took the start line at the Omloop Hoeksche Waard with a bolstered sense of confidence. Over the past few weeks, I have finally started to find some good form and have been riding well. With warm temperatures, sunshine, and blustery winds shaping the day, I was really looking forward to having a good crack in the finale at Hoeksche Waard.
The start was very hectic as we sped through a series of small towns, dodging left and right on a route that hardly went straight for five hundred metres in the entire first hour of racing.
Finally, we reached a dike and the race split apart in the wind. I was well positioned when the hammer dropped and sat comfortably in the first waaier as the damage was done.
Gradually, a couple of groups made it back up to us at the front and we formed a leading group of fifty for the remainder of the race.
As the proceedings settled down, I turned my focus to conservation and saving my strength for the forthcoming fight.
We had five riders from the team in the front group, putting us in very good stead for the finale.
Derrick Ivey, a fellow Canadian riding on our team, was the first to attack as we headed into the climax of the race. He escaped alone and settled into a time trial; holding a small advantage as the peloton lolly gagged and neglected to organize a chase. For me, this was perfect; I could sit in and if Derrick was caught, I was ready to attack.
However, he didn’t get caught. The peloton dawdled some more then a group of five went across, (unfortunately, I was boxed in and couldn’t cover this move), and that was the race.
Derrick finished fifth, the peloton sprinted and I finished twenty fifth.
Personally, the race was a missed opportunity but I am happy for Derrick. I finish with another boost to my confidence and an even greater hunger for the upcoming classics.
Over the past few weeks, I have been racing better and better; this past weekend, I took another step forward.
On Saturday, I rode the Zuid Hollandse Eiland tour in the area just south of Rotterdam. I had good legs and was glad to be racing in hot and sunny conditions. The peloton stayed together for a long time, despite continuous attempts by many to break the race apart. In the heat, drinking enough water is critical but in an aggressive race it is always a risk to go back to the cars. Finally, after one hundred kilometres, I decided to take the chance, and went back. I picked the wrong moment however as a fifteen man break got away while I was fetching my bottles.
From then on, it was pretty well single file for the rest of the race. Getting back to the fore took me nearly half an hour as I managed to make up places by ones and twos in a peloton strung out op de kant. Within the last twenty kilometres, I made several tries and finally broke away ahead of the peloton with a six man group . We worked well together but were caught as we entered the final finishing circuit. The peloton resigned itself to a bunch sprint and I finished in the middle of the pack.
Sunday’s race was the Ronde van Zuid-Oost Friesland which was held on a beautiful lap through the forests and farmland of the region. The weather was perfect again. It was windier this time and right from the start a group split away in the lead. I hadn’t time to get to the front of the race before the move went. Finally, I forced my up there and from then on I was very attentive, watching for a group to go across. I made sure I was at the head of affairs as we sped through the landscape and shed riders off of the back in groups. In the diminished peloton, we had the gap to the kopgroep pegged at about a minute for the whole first half of the race but then we began to lose momentum as fewer and fewer riders participated in the chase.
Finally, about one hundred kilometres in, I decided that I was going to have to attack and try and make it across to the leaders. I went for it and brought five with me. Once we had attained an advantage, we settled into a hard, even effort and began to reel in the riders ahead.
As we arrived, it became clear that I was joining some stiff competition as riders from Metec and Koga made up half of the break’s numbers. From here on, my task was to sit in, wait, and try and go with the right move when the race heated up in the finale. As we entered the last hour of the race, the attacks began to fly. I was still going well and covered the most dangerous attempts, always letting the riders from the bigger teams force the pace.
I had been in a move that was brought back into the fold, when Schep and Wiersma countered and got away. Immediately it became clear that they had formed the winning break as Koga and Metec sat up; both teams satisfied with the situation as they each had good riders up the road. I had a few seconds to catch my breath, then went for it, not content to watch the win ride away. The others let me go and I was away, solo, putting everything on the line. I clawed my way forward and had them within a couple hundred metres for several kilometres but try as I might I could not make up any more ground. It was a bloody agonizing effort and finally I blew. I had been close but they were still too far away. Back in the group, I sat in and tried to recover, shaking the cramps out of my legs every chance that I could. I had one more go with ten kilometres left in the race, hoping that a few would come with me so I could sprint against a smaller group. Nobody followed however; my attack was for nought and I was shortly caught. I tried to position myself well for the sprint, but was absolutely blown away by the leadouts of Metec and Koga and finished a couple riders from the rear of the group in twenty first place.
I am happy with the way I rode, I was strong, I didn’t make any stupid errors and I had a good crack in the finale, despite being thoroughly outnumbered. Finally, I feel like I’m starting to get on a roll.
On Sunday, at the Dorpenomloop in Drenthe, I finally managed to ride well in a klassieker and, for the first time this year, take some satisfaction from my performance in an important race.
I had a point to prove, as Saturday’s A7 Classic had been a write off for me. There, things went terribly from the start for me, even though I had good legs. I was caught behind a series of mishaps in the early kilometres and was left near the rear of bunch without time to move forward in the wind before the pack detonated into waaiers, twenty kilometres into the race. The next hundred and twenty kilometres were spent trying to close a frustratingly small gap to the second echelon. Over time, help in the group dwindled as the others lost strength and gave up hope. Finally, the gap stretched out and the jury pulled us from the race. Riding back to the permanence after a DNF is one of the worst feelings in this sport.
Sunday was a different story however, the conditions were much better, warm and sunny, and I was motivated to ride an aggressive race. I attacked several times and finally broke away with nine others, fifty kilometres into the parcours. I was very comfortable in the break; we rolled in a smooth, co-operative effort and built up a two and a half minute lead. There were several long, nasty cobbled sections in the last sixty kilometres and I considered attacking on each one. For some reason my break mates were riding the stones very, very conservatively; killing our momentum and eating into our advantage. I opted to hold off and bank on the group’s cohesion but we were caught just before the last cobbled section, with twenty kilometres to go.
At this point, there were a flurry of attacks that resulted in a group of ten men breaking clear. I was boxed in when they went but saw right away that it was the right move.
With cards still to play, I got myself to the front and went all in, attacking into a cross wind on a long false flat. I dragged one rider with me and for the next several minutes we were on the absolute rivet, sending me up to my neck in lactic acid. We got agonizingly close, within fifty metres, but then we hit the stones and lost momentum. After a couple of kilometres the peloton caught us and set up for a bunch sprint for the minor placings. I stayed in the wheels to the line and finished forty something in the results.
Even though I left with nothing on paper, I was happy to have been back in the mix and racing aggressively in a classic. It was a big step forward and puts me in good stead for the weeks ahead.
I’m heading north to Friesland to race the A7 classic today.
Sometimes, it is important to take a step back and remember how much fun bike racing is. Cycling is demanding and it is easy to get lost in all of the stress and the pressure to perform. That pressure is necessary, it is the force that drives one to better performances; sometimes however, it is important to let it all go and just race for the joy of racing, to ride for the exhilaration of railing corners and going on the attack, even if there is only a prime here or there on the line. Racing has the power to bring about a special kind of elation that is rare in everyday life; by fostering that sense of fun in cycling, one can get so much more from the sport.
As a bike racer, times are most testing when one’s performances do not live up to the expectations one has set for one’s self. When things are going well, all of the work and the suffering and the sacrifices come easily; exploits on the road and achievements on the results-page make all the hardship worthwhile. However, when, for a period, one is not satisfied in competition, it becomes difficult to stay on track.
It is these times that are most challenging; it is tempting to quit earlier in the races and the sportsman’s regime of day to day life starts to seem daunting.
The truth however, is that these times can make or break a season. One needs to be patient and focus on the process; good times can be just around the corner.
I am in this position now, I’ve not been satisfied by my cycling so far this year.
This weekend, I was only in the race on Saturday for 160km after I relaxed at the wrong moment, fell too far back in the second waaier and was left behind a split in a section of crosswind. On Sunday, I crashed on the cobbles with 50km to go; the rider ahead of me lost traction with his front wheel on a muddy corner and slid out, leaving me with half a second to react; I flew over him then landed hard on the rocks with my hip. I got up and managed to bridge back to the group but from then on, I suffered; my whole right side was stiff and every movement was painful. Through the last hour of the race, I went back and forth,between the cars and the group, over and over; time and again, I made it back to the front, before being dropped and having to make my way forward again in the caravan. To make matters worse, I had a flat with 10km to, which set me up for a mad chase to be involved in the group’s sprint. I did make it into the mix and ended up in the middle of the group, finishing 41st, as a front selection of 15 men had made it away from our bunch.
With it all finished, I was battered and bruised and again had nothing to show for another weekend of hard racing in the rain.
I demand more from myself but I know I need to stay calm; all I can do is train hard, rest well, and take each race at a time.