On Sunday, I rode the best race of my season thus far as I finished fifth at the Ronde van de Ronostrand in Drenthe, the third of three consecutive klassikers that I raced over the weekend.
I began in Limburg on Friday with the FLM classic; a very hard race held on a hilly, technical course. I didn’t start very well and was just hanging on for the first two hours; I was comfortable on the climbs but I was really getting gassed as the race strung out on the flatter sections and ripped left and right through the little towns marking the course. After a couple of hours, I started to find my legs and ride aggressively but I ended up missing the breakaway. We did have two guys from our team ahead in the attack which left me to see how things progressed in the peloton. While I waited and covered any moves that might go across, my team mate Derrick Ivey, who was ahead in the breakaway, attacked and rode solo to the finish line to win the race. I rolled in with the peloton and was stoked to hear the news when I arrived over the line.
On Saturday, I suffered. I had not recovered well from the previous day’s efforts and was grovelling for the entire hundred and ninety kilometres. A combination of too little sleep and not enough to eat left me with no power in my legs. It was very windy out which split the race into waaiers and put me in the gutter for most of the day. As I fought to stay on the wheels, I wanted to quit many, many times but stubbornly persisted and made it home to the finish line.
Sunday was much, much better. I was home earlier and had time to have a solid meal and a long sleep to get ready for the final race of the weekend. The Ronostrand is raced in the north of the country on a wooded circuit with several long sections of klinkers, little red bricks that form many of the roads in the rural Netherlands.
We rode five, thirty kilometer circuits then moved onto a smaller, eleven kilometre, lap for three finishing rounds. It was damp out and a little bit breezy but not selective enough to break things apart in the early part of the race. For the first four circuits things stayed largely together, various groups tried to forge ahead but never made it very far. Going into the last lap, I knew that it was the last chance to try and make something happen; the finishing circuits were mostly sheltered and if the entire peloton arrived there together it would almost certainly result in a bunch sprint. Thankfully, the team from Gronigen had the same idea and drilled it on the final windy section to split the race into pieces. I managed to fight my way to the front and hold my spot well enough to come out in the leading group of sixteen. Behind, the peloton sat up as nearly all of the teams in the race were represented and we quickly worked up a three minute advantage.
With twenty kilometres to go, the group started to dawdle; three quarters of the guys were sitting on and doing nothing so I decided to attack. I hoped to bring three of four strong riders with me and go to the line with a smaller group. However, when I first looked back after making my break, I realized I was alone and already had several hundred metres on the group. In the moment, I decided to go for it and settled into a time trial. I gambled that those behind would continue to shirk responsibility and leave the chasing up to the few who were actually willing to ride. In the best case scenario, I could hold them off and otherwise a few would get fed up and bridge across to me and we could work together.
After ten kilometres of solo effort, the latter happened and two others joined me. However, this lit a fire in the group behind and they reeled us in a couple of kilometres later. Then, immediately, two others went clear, the group hesitated, and by the time we got organized their advantage had grown to fifteen or twenty seconds.
With three kilometres to go, I attacked again with one other. It was a desperate move but I thought that maybe there was still a chance that we could make it across. However, we didn’t get very far before the others were back on our wheels and I resigned myself to a sprint for third place with the remainder of the group.
Going into the last corner, I positioned myself in third wheel and dug deep as we came out of the bend. I stayed behind the rider in front of me, we came past one guy, one came past us, I tried to jump but couldn’t come around and then we came across the line. I was third in the group and fifth overall.
I’ve got to be happy, I took my chances and tried to make the race, then rode the best finishing sprint that I’ve ever done and came across with a good result.
Racing three classics in a row is a big task, in a stage race the peloton usually settles into a steady tempo for a great portion of the race, but in a single day race the peloton, here at least, races for every kilometre and every place. Doing that back to back to back has taken a lot out of me but, with a couple days of relaxation, I hope to come back flying.