Last week I rode the Tour De La Manche in Normandy. As there was no way I could fit a report into my normal blog article I’m writing a separate report and a blog article in the next couple of days. Don’t worry I’ll tweet as soon as the usual article is published!
As a full-time cyclist little is done outside riding, eating and sleeping. At a stage race there is literally nothing else, even travelling to the stages is combined with eating and sleeping. The race organisation provided accommodation for the duration of the tour so all teams were staying together on a beach-side holiday site and the kitchen staff there switched to producing huge amounts of pasta. I am sick of pasta. During a stage race eating becomes part of the job. Forcing two huge meals down at 8am and 10am simply to fuel you for the stage kind of takes the pleasure out of it.
The first stage was in beautiful sunshine and 20 degrees. That gave us the false impression that we would be spending a few days getting a tan. It rained every other day. Just 35km into the race the rider in front of me came down and bounced to the left. This allowed me to sneak by on the gravel to the right but meant he took the rest of the peloton down with him. Only 25 riders escaped the pile-up. Our mechanic jumped out of the car with spare wheels and ran through the mass of bodies and bikes only to find both Doug and Josh holding their bikes in the air, with snapped forks and bars respectively. So back he ran to get spare bikes. However, the commissaires neutralised the race so everything came back together. Attacking then resumed. Bjorn and I got into a split of 25 over the KOM climb and this stayed clear to the finish. I unfortunately punctured with 20km to go. Neutral service took over a minute to change my wheel and the whole convoy behind the break had passed by the time I got going. Then my team car wasn’t allowed to pace me back on. It helps to be French in France. I rode solo for 10km then in a group of 4 for another 10km, all to stay ahead of the peloton by just 6 seconds. However, I crossed the line to find that Bjorn had won the stage and would be in the leader’s yellow jersey for the start of tomorrow!
Stage two was an interesting start. Someone thought it was a good idea to deneutralise the race at the top of a steep, narrow, technical descent. Therefore, the lead cars couldn’t get away from the bunch and we ended up flying down the decent at over 60kph with cars and motorbikes in the middle of the bunch. I didn’t keep imagining smashing into the back of a car, honest. However, nobody crashed and the team covered attacks until I got into a break of 8 over the KOM climb at 60km to go. This group split over a climb with 15km to go and Paavo Paajanen, of Geox-Fuji, got away on his own. He stayed away to win and I took 3rd on the stage. This time just 8 seconds ahead of the peloton, after another day in the break.
Stage three was a 12.5km time trial consisting of 200m of flat before going up one climb, descending, up a bigger climb, descending and then up a third climb before descending to the finish. Not an ideal course for me and I finished 23rd. The more vertically challenged rider starting after me obviously liked the course though; he overtook me just before the finish. It wasn’t an ideal course for Doug either but he did a great ride to take 12th. Bjorn started the stage second on GC and gave it his all, as shown by a quick bit of fainting after the finish, to stay 7th overall.
Stage four was 105km in the afternoon after the time trial. You might think it would start sedately given everyone had ridden a time trial in the morning. It did not. We averaged over 44kph. I got into a break of 20 early on and, despite the efforts of a couple of teams on the front of the peloton, we moved away to have over a 5 minute gap at one point. With 15km to go attacking in the group started. I followed moves and then attacked up a slight climb, taking Thomas Vanhaecke of Geox Fuji with me. We worked well together to stay ahead of the riders chasing behind and I won the sprint to take victory! My first win this season. I also moved into second on GC, 23 seconds behind yellow and only 1 second ahead of third.
The final stage was billed as the hilliest one with two KOM climbs around 40km, one known as the ‘Petit Tourmalet’, and then another at 88km before 6 laps of the rolling finishing circuit. I got in a split with Bjorn over the Petit Tourmalet but it was brought back a few km later. As there was a break up the road with a few top 20 riders in it Bjorn, Gus, Josh , Kevin and Doug got on the front and with the help of CN Vaubervilliers 93–Big Mat the break’s two minute lead was gone within 30km. Just as we were bridging the gap a spoke in my front wheel broke. However, I’ve never had an easier wheel change. Gus stopped and gave me his front wheel, then Kevin was waiting to pace me to the back of the peloton and Josh took me from there to the front. Easy. Well, for me at least! The finishing circuit was a technical 5km lap with two short climbs in it. We raced absolutely flat out for all six laps, with me and the other GC contenders attacking each other continuously. It was seriously hard. By the end there were only about 30 people left in the peloton as riders were always getting dropped off the back. I finished 8th on the stage but unfortunately Kevin Labeque, who was only 1 second behind me at the start of the stage, took 3rd. The 4 second time bonus meant he moved past me and I finished 3rd overall on GC.
It was a great race and we got great results for the team including two stage wins, a podium and podium on the overall. However, I will not be eating any pasta between now and Tour De Loiret, which starts on Friday. For incredibly interesting and witty tweets follow me @LlewellynKinch.