Following the last stint in Belgium I had a few weeks at home. During the time I rested up for a couple of days, then got a local race in. I knuckled down to a week of really hard training, that would give me form for the Tour of Britain, that I was aiming to get selected for, or failing that, for another block of racing out in Belgium.
Unfortunately and to my huge disappointment, I didn't gain selection for the TOB. Luckily, I had another goal to aim for, I put my head down and worked hard to make the last bit of the season count and to get as much as I could out of it. The races I would be doing out in Belgium were the Pro Kermesses. I planned to race five times over the fourteen day's that I would be out there. The races were Viane, Stekene, Vichte, Lede, and Berlare.
The First challenge was to get out there, a 6hr drive to stay with a relative in Gillingham, not helped by the A303, which seems to be one of the worst roads to travel on, and you are guaranteed to be at a standstill for at least some part of your journey. Then I made my way over to Oudenaarde, where I would be staying. I settled in, stocked up the shelves and fridge with a bit of food, then headed out for a pre race ride to get the travelling out of the legs and get ready for the race efforts that I'd be making tomorrow.
Viane-Gerrardsbergen would be the first. I managed to meet up with Tobyn Horton, Nicolas Gustavsson and Tom Stewart from the Uk just before the start which was nice. I got a good position at the front, and then what preceded was the most relaxed start to a Pro Kermesse that I had experienced. Thats not to say it didn't get very fast and grippy within a short amount of time, with riders and groups all over the place, because it did. I managed to make some good attacks, and just missed out on the winning move. I did manage to get into a good chase group of 15 riders and we tried to make it across but it came to nothing in the end. I finished in 38th position. The course was one of my favourites with a couple of climbs, one cobbled, and also two sectors of clinkers (small cobbles).
Race Number two was Stekene, the weather had taken a bit of a turn from the 20 degrees and had dropped by about 10, so it was a bit of a chilly start and with a forecasted downpour at midway thorough the race it looked like it may take its toll on the riders. 250 starters, a big bunch and it was fast, very fast, and quite a technical course too, with a narrow section where only one rider could fit. So each lap was a fight for that corner and then if you were near the back of 250 riders in a line you were in trouble. I didn't have my greatest of races and found myself in this position too many times, meaning I burt a lot of energy even trying to stay in the race. Inevitably after 2hrs my legs gave in and I found myself last wheel and then behind the cars, then out of the race.
I then had one day before my next race, so I went out for a short ride from Oudenaarde to the Kluisberg and did a little loop back. The Vichte Pro Kermis was one that I had ridden last year and was quite an open flat course with not too many technical sections. It did have one strait tailwind section to the finish which we hit 60km/h each time. I feel I raced fairly well, following some good moves but just missing that all important one again. I managed a strong finish in the main bunch which I was happy with.
Lede was a race I didn't do this time last year, it was a bit longer than the others at 170km and had some really good corners, some small hills and fast descents. All in all making for exciting racing from the off. My legs felt good today and I tried to make it count, making the split for the second group on the road, after the race blew to pieces due to the pace. That would be the set positions then for the rest of the day. Our group of about 12 worked well until the end where the attacks came in for the final placings. I had a great time during the race enjoying every minute of the suffering and speed. The corners where really quick and getting them right was the fine line between staying with the group or going out the back. I luckily had some help with bottles and road side encouragement from Ronny and Marcel, two Belgian's who had been helping Tobyn whilst he was in Belgium. They offered to give me a bit of help too when he went home. I got a good finish position in the end in 40th.
I had three days between Lede and Berlare, so I rested up the first day and then did a couple of training rides in the Waloonie region on the other two. Ronny had me over for supper one evening in Knesselare, at their cafe, which was really kind.
The last race of my Belgium trip and the season was Berlare. The race went so quick it was unbelievable, 162km in 3hrs20. I soaked in all of it and enjoyed my last race which came down to a bunch sprint in the end. I finished 103rd out of 200 starters. It was a great way to finish off the year and I felt I had achieved what I set out to do in the races, which was great. I said my goodbyes to Ronny and Marcel who had helped me out again, grabbed a quick shower and the drove full gas to catch my Eurotunnel.