Zaterdag saw Matt Hargroves, Ross King and myself make the trip over to ‛The Motherland™‘ with John Barclay. John was the the first person to take me across to Belgium last year and I would credit that experience of learning to swim in the deep end as one of my biggest lessons to date.
We arrived in Vosselag to sunshine and some gusty winds, the towns position on the coast means it is almost always windy and today was no exception with a section of crosswind and also some strong headwind sections. The race was to be contested over 67.5kms with a fifteen euro sprint at the end of each of the nine laps (known as a Prime) also on offer.
I put a small dig in during the first lap, pulling away with a rider from the Zinko team, we had a nice gap and worked together for a couple of minutes, however the Peloton was awake and sprightly so early on in the race and we were soon caught. After a couple more big sprints for the line, with about seven laps to go, a rider broke away on his own. He gained a large gap and I started to think about joining him up the road. I waited patiently untill just after the next sprint, riding away through a technical section just after the line. This lead onto a long straight relatively wide road, I kept the pressure on, hoping if I kept my lead into the smaller more windy lanes the group might pull up behind. I was kept on a relatively short leash for three or four kilometers, as I entered the headwind section a Dutch rider joined me of the front of the main field and we started to pull away.
We set about working to catch the lone rider, not giving to much but ensuring our gap on the bunch stayed at a healthy lead. With three laps to go we had come together with the lone escapee and a rider from the Kortrijk based team, DJ Matic, joined us of the front. I think his team must have slowed the Peloton considerably as our lead then grew to over two minutes in the next lap. I tried to get away from the others with a couple of kms to go, hoping a stalemate situation would ensue, however I was tightly marked. Coming into the sprint three riders where spread across the road, I got the inside line, but with no victory salutes as we crossed the line it was down to the photo finish. After a couple of minutes I heard my name on the announcer and started to celebrate!
Zondag and we where racing in West Flanders, near to the french border, on a course on the outskirts of Woesten. One that I knew well from my Second place there last year. It was extremely open and with the wind blowing a gale I knew placing on the narrow lanes would be vital. Coming into the second of twelve laps the bunch split and a group of fifteen was formed, I was placed pretty perfectly, dragged through the raging winds by those driving the group, conserving my energy for later in the race.
After a few laps of through and off, extending our lead over the rest of the now distant peloton, two riders slipped of the front of the group slightly, they maintained a small gap but I kept myself hidden, hoping to conserve my energy. Another rider joined them and as our group slowed they started too pull a sizeable lead, especially in the wind where one missed turn can fracture a large groups momentum. I tried to bridge across whilst the gap stayed small but a rider I had raced against two weeks previously marked me pretty tightly. I sat it the group, getting smashed by the wind, watching the race ride away from me.
A few kilometers later and riders where starting to get agitated in our group, the lead had grown considerably and tempers where fraying as more and more riders missed turns. I waited untill a sharp ninety degree turn, leading into a stupidly strong crosswind. Attacking up the left handside to offer as little cover for those behind as possible I put the race in the gutter and my head down. I managed to pull a gap on the group and it soon started to falter into the wind, now I just had to get across to those infront.
After a four kilometer solo chase I joined the break and we set about trying to preserve the lead. With a few laps to go a group got very close to joining from behind, however a few big turns ensured they where soon out of sight again.
Coming into the last few kms I was confident I could win the race, however a moment of misjudgement and hesitation lead to a rider drifting of the front. I set about catching him in the last kilometers, however the tailwind finish meant I just ran out of road. Second again in Woesten, I was pleased with another decent result but disappointed not to get my hands in the air!