Monday, 30 May 2016
May 2016: Le Tour (de la Manche
May has been an enjoyable month, I’ve competed in the GP Haute des France, five races in Belgium and a stage race in Normandy. I was 15th in a race in Harshies (Walloon region) the day after the Menen Classic, I made the break but the previous day’s efforts took their toll as the race progressed. I finished 19th in Overijse, a really tough race just 10 minutes from where I live. Each lap (11 in total) we went up the Hagaard, a 10% berg used in the finishing circuit of Brabantse Pijl. In Oosterzele I placed 21st, again I made the break but a moments lack of concentration cost me and before I knew it I was in a small group watching the break disappear wondering what the hell just happened. The GP Fietsen D’Hose was organised by my team manager, a race situated in Lierde that passes his front door. We had almost our whole team there and naturally there was a lot of pressure to perform. The weather was apocalyptic but made for a great race, in the closing laps we had 5 riders in a big move. Kevin Van Impe took the win so it was a great day for the team, I finished 17th. In hindsight I should have finished in the top 10 (at least) in all 4 of these races but for one reason or another I didn’t. It’s frustrating but that’s racing, all you can do is learn from it and move forward, op naar de volgende
There are many reasons to love cycling; the beautiful machines, the thrill of racing, the joy of winning, the people you meet, the feeling of well-being. For me though, one that really stands out is the accessibility. There are few sports, if any, where as an amateur you can experience so much that the pros you idolise experience on a daily basis. Compare it to football for example. If you want to train on roads like Alpe D’Huez or the Passo di Stelvio, you can. If you want to have a kick about at Old Trafford, you can’t. If you know the right people and want to train with a World Tour professional, you can. If you want to practice your free kicks at the park with Wayne Rooney, you can’t. If you want to race on climbs from Ronde Van Vlaanderen or pavé sections from Paris-Roubaix and your team does races that use these iconic stretches of road, you can. I don’t care how much you want to play a match with your mates at Camp Nou (Barcelona), you can’t. I was very fortunate this month to be able to race the Tour de la Manche, an elite stage race in the North of France
May 26th – Stage 1 – Saint Jean de Daye – Briquebec – 170km
We were told that this was the day that normally shapes the GC for the race, a fairly innocuous 115km followed by a tough 28km circuit that we would cover twice. It took a long time for the break to go and almost as soon as it got out of sight the big teams started to real it in. The race blew to pieces as we hit the 15-20% sections on the second climb on the finishing laps. I lost touch with the bunch and finished in a small group. It was a shock to the system to say the least.
May 27th – Stage 2 – CLM a Sottevast – 9km (TT)
A double day on the Friday made for a very early start, as my roommate Stephen said; “I didn’t know there were two 5 o’clocks in a day…”. The morning stage was a short but technical 9km TT with a climb in the middle. My performance was average at best but with 400km still to race I didn’t go too deep on the climb or take any risks on the descents. I jumped in the team car and watched as my teammate Guust did a stormer of a ride and moved from 23rd to 7th on GC.
May 27th – Stage 3 – Briquebec – Marigny – 105km
The pace on stage 3 was frenetic from the off, myself and my teammate Kevin followed a few moves but nothing stuck. Eventually a move did go and the team with the yellow jersey moved to the front of the peloton and shut everything down. I had good legs and it was extremely disappointing to watch the break sail off into the distance while we almost ground to a halt but I was badly positioned when it went and by the time I got to the front they were well beyond bridging distance. The finishing circuits were full gas as CC Etupes and a few other Div 1 French teams worked hard to reel in the break. With 10km to go they still had a minute, we caught them on the line and I finished 37th.
May 28th – Stage 4 – Marigny – Saint Hilaire du Harcouet – 160km
Before stage 4 I tweeted that it looked like a ‘lumpy’ stage, at least that’s what the handbook suggested. It wasn’t lumpy, it was bloody savage. 160km and 2,200m of climbing in the baking French sun made for one of the toughest days I’ve ever had on the bike. Team U Nantes Atlantique hit every climb like men possessed but I knew if made it to the finishing circuits in touch with the bunch I would be ok. Somehow I did and even though the final circuits were grippy I was able to finish with a depleted peloton.
May 29th – Stage 5 – Saint Hilaire du Harcouet – Granville – 145km
The final day, again on paper it didn’t look too difficult, I should have known from the previous day this meant nothing. I was active early on and got up the road a few times but as the breaks swelled they lost impetus. We hit the ‘petit Tourmalet’ and I got over it without any real difficulty but the worst was yet to come. Just after 80km we turned left off the main road and up a steep, narrow climb. I made it over the top in contact (just) but less than 3km later we went up a steeper, longer climb that well and truly killed me off. I was done. It was the strangest feeling, I wasn’t out of breath, my lungs weren’t burning and my heart didn’t feel like it was trying to jump out my chest, I was just empty and my legs felt like they were filled with lead. I arrived at the finishing circuits with my teammate Jan and we rode the last 25km together, in the end I finished 61st in the general classification.
For sure I’d have loved to be more prominent in the finals but given the nature of the course and the guys I was competing against I am in no way disappointed with my result. I’m happy to have completed the race and learnt an enormous amount and am proud of the whole team and the way we rode. I can’t thank the staff (Gerry, Bjorn and Chris) enough for all the work they put in and my teammates for everything they did.
Cycling really is a sport of extreme polar opposites. When it’s going bad it feels like everything is going against you and all you want to do is take a step away, but when it’s going well, it’s truly fantastic. I spent last week tearing across the French countryside at 60km under clear blue skies to the sound of gears shifting and chains whirling and it made me realise there really is nothing I’d rather be doing with my life right now,