The third stage of the Tour was a very intereting one, it started and finished in 'Paradise' with a wicked 250metre uphill sprint. The course suited me better than the day before, it had the finishing climb followed by a short downhill and then another decent climb. Again after about 30km a group got away, I did not follow as none of the leaders had gone, but 15km later I found myself crossing no mans land with my team mate Germain Burton (son of the legendary track rider Maurice Burton) and the yellow jersey. We exited a corner and the Yellow Jersey suddenly went backwards screaming and shouting in flemish, at the time I thought he must have punctured but later found out his bars had slipped, sending him all the way to his teamcar, at the rear end of the peleton some minute and a half behind. Germain and I made it to the group just as the eventual winner of the race Pitor Havik made his attack. I crossed the line 5th on the stage, moving up to 10th overall and and 2nd in the white jersey, 1 second down. I was very happy when I crossed the line but that soon turned to worry. Germain had crashed with 800m to go, he crossed the line bruised and battered but luckily was placed with the same time as the rest of the group as it was within 1km to go. Dante had not been so lucky, he has crashed and smashed his top tube with his knee, he was wizzed off to hospital with fears of the worst.
We went straight from Paradise to the hospital in Menen, all very tired but hoping that Dante was ok. Whilst John went into the hospital to try and find Dante, the rest of the team headed to a local cafe. Still in all our cycling kit we bundled into a cafe and ordered some coke's. We where soon back at the school, Dante had come of lightly with a very bruised knee and some road rash. However his bike was not so lucky, he had managed to crack his top tube with his knee cap and unfortunately would be spending the rest of the race watching from the side lines.
Stage four was a flat tight cornered course, twisting through another of the local towns. The british rider Daniel Pattern, racing for the Asfra Flanders team, based in Oudenarde came to watch the race and chat to Dante. I knew I only kneeded one second for the white jersey and got away with 3km to go with another guy. However we where closed down and I rolled in for a top 30 in the bunch sprint. All my team mates finished in similar positions, Germain was 11th and I 10th on the GC and we where constantly on the look out for to try and gain any time. Both just a second off the white jersey, we where eager to gain time and secure the jersey and with it some great exposure for the team. We sat together on the final night looking at the race profile, both hoping we could repeat our stage 3 feat and escape together, only time would tell.
The final day was an awesome course with a nice drag and some very narrow village roads with strong crosswinds to blow the bunch to bits. I stayed highly placed, awaiting a split from the nervous field on the narrow roads and fast climbs. With a lap to go I saw the white jersey hit the deck, and although not the nicest way to take the jersey, he had made a mistake and I was going to take advantage of it. Germain and I hit the front of the peleton and drove hard for half about 2 km's to the top of the drag. We rocketed down the far side with strong sidewinds and kept up 50km plus until the final 4km. We then hit a mad headwind and rolled all the way to the flamme rouge (1km to go). I crossed the line in the top 25 and immediately stopped to look around and see if the white jersey had got back on. I say him right on the back of the group celebrating and although suprised I respected how hard he must have pushed to get back on. Two Minutes later my team manager came alongside me in the car and let me know the white jersey had held onto his car at 60km/h for the whole lap to get back on!
I had finished 10th in GC, top 10 in an Interclub International race with National teams and very high level belgian teams, a good way to end the season. I was very pleased, and you could tell I was not the only one pleased as the 200 or so other riders in the peloton mingled after the line with friends and family. We soon headed back to a local sports hall to change and then it was into the cars for the long journey home.
After five days as a unit we had all become very close and it was strange saying bye to the lads. However we knew it wouldnt be long before we raced eachother again soon on our side of the channel. We had raced hard and laughed even harder over the 5 days. Over the drive home Germain and I sat discussing the future and also his dads experiences in belgium, both dreaming of races (and wins) to come, and most importantly of returning to the heartland, Flanders again next season with John! A massive thanks must go to John as ever for making these opportunities possible.