So my first stage race of the season started off well with a 5 km time trial with an elevation gain of 35m so not exactly flat. Due to the importance of course reconnaissance I actually rode 3 times the distance of the race on the ‘recon.’ The ride was tough and always was going to be due to the short time period that you would be racing for. On the menu was a short maximal effort of around 6 minutes, depending on the wind direction. It was just that, I managed a 10th place with some time leaked on parts of the course. Usually 10th would mean I would be anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute behind, but this time I was only 9 seconds behind the American National Team, and become the first Brit a couple of seconds ahead of Ben Tulett.
Stage 1 was a peculiar one, with the longest neutralised section I have ever ridden ~6km. During that time some good quality conversations about the American’s 1x (single chain ring) were to be had and it was pretty relaxed as we rolled down the farm lanes of the Limburg region. Post-neutral, I attacked straight from the gun (stupid mistake) and was joined by the winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Quinn Simmons (USA) and Andreas Byskov-Sarbo from Denmark. After that move that I sat up from, the USA ended up riding on the front for the majority of the race. For the first hour we averaged 45kmh despite 3 big climbs in the way. I managed to jump away for 3rd on one of the climbs behind my teammate Bodi who I later helped get into the King of the Mountains Jersey. As a team we had a plan of helping Mathias get into a lead out for the sprint but the rolling roads took the energy out of me, as well as the soaring heat. To top the day I maintained my high placing on GC with 13th and got my name on the KOM and Sprint classification boards.
It was a good start to the beginning of stage 2, but that quickly changed about half way into the 100km stage. Mathias had got up the road in the day’s breakaway but unfortunately got a puncture, then 3 riders including myself came off within the space of 10 km (different crashes). My chase was pretty mad going one handed over the days cobbles which were laid in the shape of craters. I got on quickly and calmly. Shortly after, though, the pace quickly rose and led to an intense 10 minutes of racing. Because I managed to recapture the rear of the peloton I could maintain my 14th overall. I tried for the late attack but because of my earlier chase I couldn’t pull or refused to go too deep.
Bodi was ill and Bart and myself were banged up and Mathias was exhausted by his previous efforts from the day before. We had one plan to try and keep the KOM jersey. It was a nervous beginning to the stage and it didn’t help my knocked confidence, and on a long gradual descent into the first climb of the day the race was sketchy and nervous. A crash was most definitely waiting to happen – sure enough it did and I got freaked. A little chase later the bunch reached the climb and it shocked me how steep it was. On a good day and without any knocks and bangs I should have been able to maintain my position within the bunch. With tired legs, however, I could not put anywhere near the amount of power I needed to and so dropped off. 3 km later the next climb came and effectively ended my chances of even getting back onto the bunch.
I ended the race 50th in GC out of 150 starters and 90 finishers. Despite the disastrous ending to the race, I can be happy with the performance, because of the fact that this was my first major stage race competing at this level of competition. The key I have learned it energy conservation and is definitely different to riding a one day classic. I will have another go this coming weekend at a French race called Tour de l’eure.
Thanks to Pedal Potential for the continued support
Trainsharp for the continued, fantastic coaching. If you want to be coached by trainsharp contact them via the link and please mention my name within the link.
And of course Spiderking Soenens for the amazing opportunities this year. Looking forward to the next one.