France and Belgium
The last few months have been pretty busy, full of racing. I did my last British race of the season at the Victor Berlemont Trophy, near Reading. I didn’t manage to get a great result there but used it in preparation for the stage race in France the following week.
I took the ferry across to Cherbourg on the Thursday, and then drove down to Vire in Normandy. The car was rammed full of everything I’d need for a months racing. I met up with the Mid Devon Cycling Club team (Ashley, Matt, Ian, Andrew, Tim) and support crew (Simon, and Andy) on Friday, after a couple of hours ride in the morning. Vire is two hours drive inland from the coast and features rolling countryside surrounding the small town. I’d be racing as part of the MDCC six-man team for the weekend’s 2-day stage race. The race format was 130km road stage Saturday, 80km road race Sunday morning and an 80km road race Sunday afternoon. As per tradition we each stayed with families who were part of or members of the French club that organized the race. It was great to see everyone again as I’d raced here many years ago as a junior, my French was a little better this time but still needs some work.
Saturdays race started mid afternoon and went petty hard from the gun. Everyone from Mid Devon got stuck into the racing; Matt and I made it into a big split of around 30 riders that went clear with around 60km to go. I had a few attempts at getting away and finally rode off the front with three laps to go on the finishing circuit. Two riders were up the road with 90seconds advantage on me. I closed it down to 18seconds before completely blowing up; even with Simon and Andy’s shouts of encouragement from the car I couldn’t dig any deeper. The group caught me and I finished 21st on the stage, just about hanging on the climb through the town center to the finish.
Stage 2 set off in the rain and pretty soon after the flag had dropped a group went up the road, I didn’t panic and it came back together after around 10km. As we got close to the finishing circuit, which was to be the hardest of the three stages, I followed a move off the front of the peloton and it stuck. 8 of us rode away getting a gap of 2mins30 on the chasers. We worked well together up until the last 10km when we all began to think about the stage win and started attacking each other. I kept following and made my hardest effort on the climb to the finish. I placed 5th on the stage and had moved up to equal 4th on GC.
After lunch back at the HQ we chilled out for an hour or so before rolling out for stage 3. The final stage would be held over a hilly circuit coming back though the town on each lap. It turned into a pretty stressful stage with all eyes on the GC contenders. Matt sneaked away into an early move and stayed away to the finish. Ian, Ashley and Andrew helped monitor the attacks from the riders highest on GC and worked away at tiring out the yellow Jersey. This worked really well as I made an attack with 15km to go and the leader couldn’t respond I got away with riders placed in 2nd and 3rd and joint 4th. After another attack I managed to get rid of guys in 2nd and 3rd just leaving the rider on the same time as me. I hammered it to the finish with the rest of the group taking pretty soft turns. I knew every second would count now so just had to go as hard as I could no matter what everyone else did. I paid for it at the finish when three guys accelerated past me on the line including the Torigni rider on the same time as me. We finished on the same time but he was positioned ahead of me for stage placing’s on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Matt finished 3rd after a good day out up the road and 9th on GC. I was really happy with my performance and glad that the results where starting to come.
After a great after party I headed off the Belgium the following morning to finish off the season with 3 weeks racing kermises.
I was going to stay with a family who run a Café in Knesslare. Id got to know them a few years ago when I came out to race the Pro Kermises to finish off my 2012 and 2013 seasons.
My first race was In Smetlede. It was pretty scorching at 29 degrees in the mid afternoon for the race. The course was 20 laps over 120km with a small hill up to the finish. I got away in a group of 20 after a pretty intense hour of racing and we had a gap of 4mins after another hour of racing. On the last lap the break exploded and I managed to hang onto a group of three riders so would be sprinting for 10th place. I managed to hold on for 13th after misjudging my last effort a little. But I was pretty pleased that the form was there.
Kermises are the heart of Belgium racing, held on nearly every weekday all over the country. They are held on circuits around the small towns of anything from 5 to 15km. The racing is explosive and aggressive. The races range from 110km to 165km in length with most amateur races being around 120km. You just have to race them flat out and hold a good position in the peloton to try and make it into the days break.
I’m going to be racing 3-4 Kermises a week until the end of September when I’ll head home for a bit of a break before winter training starts.