Another three-day tour. Four stages over 3 days. Queen’s birthday weekend.
Stage 1: 90km Stage 2: 87km Stage 3: 6km ITT Stage 4: 85km
This year, this was a main objective for me. Last year, I had an absolute flop. To be honest though, I wasn’t in peak form. After the last couple of crappy races I had to drop out from, or went the wrong way, I was a little demotivated and my training dropped off. As did my form. Shocking, I know.
A few weeks before the race, I tried to get as much form back as possible, but you are kind of a bit late if you are expecting to see any form return in 2 weeks. So I went in with the hope of winning a stage or sprinters points or something. I have never time trialled well, it’s just you against the clock. No external stimuli to spur you on, it’s all on your own. I much prefer chasing people down or putting the pressure on to hurt others. It makes the pain less painful. Time trialling is definitely something I need to work on, especially if I want to place well in tours, but currently, with the mental block and the fact I don’t have a TT bike, I’m at a major disadvantage. The bike makes a massive difference, and the mental game also need some training. I can still hurt myself in a TT, but not quite as bad as I can when other people are around.
Stage 1 was the stage I recently won B grade on. The Newham circuit. Pretty flat and a gentle rise at the end. There were KOM points (King of the Mountain) at the top of the only hill, for the first 2 laps. It’s a pretty easy hill, but can hurt at a high race pace. And there was also sprint points at the finish line after the first lap. Each had time bonuses too.
The KOM points I considered having a go for, but the first time up I got caught behind a few people and then tried my hardest to bridge the gap before blowing up near the finish line. Waste of an effort there.
The whole race, apart from the KOM and intermediate sprint point was really slow, really easy. No one wanted to put it all out there on the first stage. A few breaks went clear, I managed to get in one of them, but it was with two average riders so I didn’t work as I knew it would be a lost cause. At least I wouldn’t have to work to reel it back in. The second break, I accidentally went away on my own. I didn’t want to give it my all because it was still about 45km from the end. I’d have definitely been caught, and would’ve probably blew a lung trying to stay away. No. I just went about tempo pace. I was caught half way up the KOM.
Before that, however, was the first sprint point. I got into a pretty good position. No one seemed to be really going for it, so I went fairly hard, but didn’t want to go too deep. In the end A guy called Dan Peck overtook me. He already had all the KOM points, so was clearly looking for as much time as possible.
The final sprint did not go well. At about 2km to go the pace went mental. A mate, Rob Vincent, took it upon himself to drive hard on the front. This caused everyone else to chase. Coming round the last corner I was in an okay position but just as the time came to go hard, I was trapped. I hard to decelerate, move and then go again. I ended up 4th on the stage.
The dreaded Pistoria stage. I remember this well from the previous year. There is a 1-2km steep climb near the finish line. Last year at the top of the climb each lap, I felt like I was being asphyxiated. I was wheezing and panting like an obese smoker after being chased by wild dogs.
This year, the hill didn’t seem so bad. I mean it still hurt, but not nearly as bad, and I was well within myself to stick with the bunch. Although, the first time up, I had a good head start. The race started pretty easy. James had a shot at GC, but needed some KOM points to jump up the leader board. Dan Peck had a good 8 or so second lead, so I decided to go on a break. As the leader, it would be up to Dan to chase me.
The breakaway was pretty easy to begin. No one chased me and I quickly built a decent gap. Hell, I thought, I already had about 4 seconds in bonuses from my sprints, I reckon if I take these JKOM points, and the sprint points shortly after, I can build my own lead. And Dan will get less which will help James in the long run. I decided to go harder than I might normally go in a breakaway that was doomed. Because this was the first lap. Of course it was doomed.
I hadn’t really researched the route, and couldn’t remember it very well. The end was surely around here. Where’s this damn climb. Once I’m over that I can relax. It still didn’t show its face.
Finally, the 2km to go mark appeared. Well, it’s not quite the KOM sign I was hoping for, but if the finish was only 2km, the climb must be now. Yep, there it was. I look behind me and… Damn, they’re bloody closer than I’d hoped. I had a decision to make. I could go all out in hope to take the KOM bonus, and inevitably get spat out the back and have to spend the next 66km by myself. Or I could just go at a sustainable pace and hope they don’t catch me. I went for the latter. Was caught just before the line and got no points.
And to make things worse, I found out they all helped reel me back in. Besides James. He had an excuse not to try and drag me back. Probably.
After a little bit another breakaway went. I wasn’t that bothered by it, I wasn’t really in the GC game on account of my TT ability, or lack thereof. Unfortunately for the rest of them, this break managed to stick and gained a good couple of minutes. Enough, I’m sure, to take the overall.
Stage 3 was the ITT, Individual Time Trial. You against the clock. The race of truth. No tactics, well, there are, but essentially it’s go as hard as you can muster for the time required.
The only tactics I’m aware of is to go harder up hills, and use downhill as a bit of recovery. This is purely due to air resistance. Using extra power uphill isn’t hindered by increased drag, in fact if you can maintain the speed you manage on the flat going up an incline, the drag would be the same, whereas if you increase the power on a downhill, the drag increases, so you lose efficiency.
Anyway, I wasn’t even on a TT bike, no aero helmet, not even aero handlebars. I did have a skinsuit on and some velotoze, which make your shoes and socks more aero. That was it.
I came second last. And lost over a minute to the winners on a 6.7km course. Terrible effort.
Final stage. The legs were already feeling pretty tired, but the racing hadn’t been too difficult. I was clearly a lot stronger and in a much better place than I was last year. It was this stage last year that I was eventually dropped on.
I decided to just have fun this stage. Try to add some pressure where I could and help out James if I could.
A breakaway always seems to go quite early on this course, and this day was no different. 3 guys jumped and got a quick lead. The peloton rested on its laurels for quite a while. There were moments people got nervous and started trying to get a nice train going. But a few of the GC contenders weren’t participating, and so nobody wants to work if they aren’t going to help. No one wants to drag a leader to the finish line.
Instead of working together, the race became a series of attacks. I guess the GC guys were more concerned about dropping each other than catching the break. Perhaps that was the bigger goal. Gain time on their rivals and then catch the break and use them to go to the line for some time bonuses. Pretty smart in hindsight.
None were successful though. And the break probably only needed a 2-minute lead and they’d have the overall anyway. It got to about 60km, of the 85km stage, and we still didn’t have the break in sight. We had to start chasing them down. I wanted a stage win, so I had that to work for. I also knew James could finish high if we caught them, so I also had that as motivation.
In the end, Will and I, along with some others, started working really hard to pull back the break. I don’t know where it came from, but I felt pretty strong. I had already attacked a few times, covered a few attacks and now I was working hard.
We managed to reel in the break at about 65/70km, I can’t remember, and then it was on. We came into the last real testing climb, a tough 3-minute effort, and I somehow still managed to stick with the front guys. I was really under pressure though. At my limit. On the flat, I was able to recover and move back to the front.
The lead in Will and I sat 1 and 2, respectively. I didn’t sit on the front at all. Will worked extremely hard into a block headwind until about 1km to, when he turned and eased up. I was not in a great position. I would either have to take up the effort, ease back into the bunch and risk someone attacking, or go for it.
I turned to will and said “There’s no way I can make it all the way”, and on that note I jumped into a sprint. 500m to go, into a block headwind. Why wouldn’t that work?
I managed to get a sizeable gap. But I was only 250m into the sprint when my vision was already getting blurry. I was well into the red and only half way. I don’t remember much, but I continued as hard as I could. Barely able to breathe or see when I finally had to sit down. I think there was a good 100m left. The bunch then came flying past me. I tried to go again, but had nothing. I rolled across the line almost last.
Good weekend. Next week would be an indulgent week of rest and eating whatever I want!