I have just returned from the Tour of West Flanders stage race, it was amazing and a really great experience. I was part of a team of six representing the South East region, our manager for the race was John Barlcay, who has been going to Belgium for over 20 years with teams and has taken me about 10 times this season. The format of the race was a Team Time Trail on day one, followed by a 70km road race later that afternoon that afternoon, we then had another three stages over the next three days.
We arrived mid afternoon to the Boarding school where we would be staying, two french teams, two dutch and also the Israeli national team where also staying in the school. After unpacking and quickly settling in we all kitted up and jumped on the bikes to ride the TTT (team time trial) course for the following morning. After two 'rondes' the light had all but gone. We felt ready but also very nervous as the team had never ridden together before. We where fully aware that we would be racing against belgian outfits who had been training together for months, however we had already bonded very well as a team and I was really looking forward to the racing.
Our accommodation for the race was great, a boarding school in the start village for the first day. We shared with the teams from france, holland and israel. All in one big dorm, partitioned off for each team with bunk beds and sinks. At first we found it hard to adjust, the room was very hot and noisy at times but it was also great for the team to really bond before the hard racing ahead.
The TTT went very well, we rode fast together in very hot conditions, one sharp corner right at the end shed one of our riders but the rest of us all stayed together and crossed the line 6th fastest out of 25. Not bad considering all the other teams would have been training together for weeks leading up, notabaly we beat the USA national team and many top Belgian youth outfits. It was also a great start, we had conceded very little time to any other teams, ensuring our hopes for the General Classification stayed within reach.
That afternoon was the first road stage, 64 km in length. With one narrow road and two tight corners on the whole it was a fast flowing circuit. There was a small attack half way through and a group got up the road, slowly a few more riders got away and a noticably larger group had formed, our team had made a big mistake in not getting a rider in, at only 15seconds back from the Yellow Jersey we should have been represented. After some hard km chasing the peleton managed to get back on terms. With a lap to go I knew it would be a bunch sprint so kept myself in the top 20, with 5 km to go I looked up over the peleton and saw what I thought was my teammate up the road with two other guys, I was unsure but hoped it was. Then one of the strongest teams in the race, DJ Matic, started blocking on the front and slowed the pace all the way down through some narrow roads. Bertie ended up winning his first ever race in Belgium! Outsprinting my friend belgian Miels Pyferroen, and missing out on the yellow jersey by 6 seconds. He did however land the Green points jersey to wear for the next day, his birthday!