La Vuelta Pamplona in Spain was the greatest most fun race I have ever done, and I want to thank HMT cycling team for the opportunity. Safe to say I absolutely loved racing a different style of racing and a new challenge which I felt like I needed to show my worth, which, I feel I have done. So much so I was called back to race La Philippe Gilbert classic with them on Sunday 2nd September, and again a chance to show my worth as a team player and a strong rider… (if you want to see how that played out click here).
After we arrived after a full day of travelling, the team went out for a little spin, that was meant to be easy, long story short it was a d*** waving competition. A little while after setting off from the very nice race accommodation in Hotel Andia, Mark (Barry) called me back to the team car to practice the ‘sticky bottle’ (where you hold onto the bottle given by the directeur sportif for a little longer to give you a push to get back onto the group in front), where at first I must have looked like a proper amateur, but after a little guidance I got to grips with the skills needed to get through the week.
Anyway I am sure you want to hear about the racing. If you put the racing to what you did during the day the ratio would be about 1:3 as for the majority of the day we were just sitting on our arses waiting for lunch to come around. After we set off though it was very easy with the help provided by the staff of HMT Cycling Team. They gave me exactly what I asked in terms of food and drink. I didn’t have to sort out my bike as the team mechanic did a fantastic job of it.
Onto the first day’s racing and it was quite enjoyable because shortly after the stage started the clouds rolled in, but the heavens never opened, surprising considering the colour of the clouds. We had a team plan that was very basic but it worked in the end. two of our riders went up the road but and were placed 23 seconds behind the winner. I rolled in first from the bunch just under three minutes behind the winner after attacking on the descent, (I smiled for the camera but unfortunately I did not make the video cut). Very happy with the first performance with HMT.
We’ll skip the 2nd stage as I finished almost five minutes back on a brutal course, safe to say I got very excited after my performance on the first day but slacked a little on the second. However I bounced back strong getting over the 1st category climb the following day in touching distance of the bunch (of climbers) and I ragged the descent (getting pretty good at these) to get back onto the bunch to aid my teammate Dylan in whatever way I could. The finish to this stage was brutal with a 1 in 3 climb for one kilometre, for anyone who doesn’t know that is over 30% gradient. The climb did take over six minutes but I only lost one minute 30 seconds to the 2nd group on the road. We did also win the stage, with Jenson who also gained the leaders jersey. ONLY one stage to go … can we hold it?
Unfortunately the answer is no! 🙁 we did however try our best at maintaining the leaders jersey, which was put under pressure right from the first climb. I was in the uncomfortable position of attempting to hold the wheel of Josu (Spanish rider who was 2nd on GC and rode the world championships this year, also turning pro next year!), which I did quite well if I do say so myself. From then on it was myself, Jenson, Dylan, Josh and Alex who had to keep Josu in close check. Indeed so as I had the privilege, or is it pressure of following Josu’s wheel for a good 20 kilometres sticking to his back wheel like superglue. After all the major climbs of the day, AND, going back to the car to get Jenson some much needed water (it nearly killed me, literally) we made it to one final unclassified climb (my oh my was it brute). We let his wheel go!! [hand on forehead moment] after that we had some serious chasing to do, well I say we, I mean me because Alex had slipped off the back of the bunch and was unable to get back on and Josh was on his last legs so, the pressure was again on me to chase. I managed to get it down to 6 secs and within touching distance but after I pulled, no one chased.
However we did still manage to win the young rider classification for Jenson, and place 2nd in GC as well. We also finished 2nd in the team classification and I got my name on the bonus sprint board! Good innings if you ask me. La Philippe Gilbert to follow shortly!