Not something I have been so used to this year, thankfully, however its fair to say the Tour of Wales and to some extent the last couple of weeks haven't really gone to plan.
After crashing out of the Euros, I took some time to train and prepare for Wales, journeying down to Cornwall in search of some hills and quiet lanes. These I found in abundance, along with some pretty good legs, or so I felt anyway. Its always hard to no exactly how your going when not racing, so after a pretty sparse month, I wasn't exactly sure on the form.
Wales didn't start great, with a four hour drive turning into a ten hour bank holiday weekend epic. However the next morning I felt fresh and ready to attack the time trail. I was neither here nor there, finishing in eighth place. I was unsure how I felt, however knew that at the very least I would only get better once I had accumulated a few race days in the my legs. That afternoon I struggled to escape the bunch, marked pretty heavily, or so I felt, I ended up starting the final climb in the bunch about six or so minutes behind the break. Despite flying skyward with Alex Peters and Dan Pearson, we failed to make a significant impact upon the lead of the break. This left me with a pretty poor GC placing after a day of, on the whole, very frustrating racing.
I went into day two of three with an open mind and renewed feeling of aggression, ready to attack the race and get what I could out of it. The closed circuit for the Saturday morning was either up or down, suiting very aggressive racing. I felt really good for the first few laps, testing my legs however waiting until the second half of the hour long criterium to really light the burners. I attacked solo with six laps to go, later joined by Dante Carpenter (recently returned to racing after a lengthy illness) and then again in a small four man break. I felt like I was flying and in hindsight may have been doing a little to much work, however I was really enjoying actually racing, as apposed to sitting in a bunch with people shouting and marking every move I made. The morning was going perfectly until with four laps to go I hit the deck. Before I knew it Lawless was lay on top of me, amongst about five other guys, and I had bent my third rear mech hanger in as many weeks. I felt awful and for a while was pretty sure I had broken my elbow. I crawled around the last 8km on a spare bike, losing eleven minutes, with blood dripping down my left arm and hip, I was not happy.
Post race encompassed a trip direct to Hospital. Xrays and three hours later I was cleared of having a broken elbow, however told the cut was too deep to stitch. I was informed I could race the rest of the weekend, but must return to Hospital in 48 hours in order to have the cut cleaned out again. I was dejected at the news as I knew I did not have a bike to race on. However a few phone calls later and after a hell of a job from my brother Bede and Peter Hargroves, amongst many others, my bike was fixed! I think it shows something about the junior scene that some of my fiercest competitors were so eager and happy to help get me back in the race!
I got back too the race HQ about fifteen minutes before the start of the stage, still in a lot of pain. I was weary on my feet, however reasonably ready to ride, hoping I could recover and return to my morning form by the queen stage the following day. My brother had sorted everything out, so after changing in the car, I signed on and jumped almost straight on my bike, ready and eager to race. The stage went without much in the way of excitement. With a reasonably flat course on the cards it all ended in a bunch sprint, which Super Sam Lowe© duly took, for his second stage win of the day! I felt remarkably good at the end of the stage, a real boost for the next day.
The final morning of the race saw torrential downpoor and gale force winds. I started with lots of clothes on, eager to protect my heavily bandaged hip and elbow, whilst also keen to right my mistakes of previous cold and wet races such as the last stage of Croatia. I started the race and immediately was thinking about attacking. However I soon found that I would be doing far less than I would like to have been in determining the outcome of the race, my legs felt awful, as if I had the engine however no energy to fill the tank. I hung in grimly all day, trying to follow attacks in order to keep my spirits up if nothing else. However with five kilometers to go when we hit the final climb, one I had been looking forward to racing all year, I pretty much chucked the towel in. I reached the top minutes after the winner, feeling like death, with a fever and barely enough energy to stay awake in the car.
Next morning and I walked into Homerton Hospital thinking I would be in and out within twenty minutes, a change of dressing, quick check over and then into the car and off up to Track Nationals in Manchester. However the A&E nurse's face should have warned me of what was to follow. Two days and forty eight hours of IV antibiotics, lots of fun. In the end I was lucky to escape the knife in theatre however was still not a happy bunny with a week of enforced rest, missing Track Nationals and a severely interrupted build up to my last big road goal of the year - the Worlds RR. Only time will tell...
I should also take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to James, Susie, Ali and Oli who own the amazing Gliffaes hotel in the Brecon Beacons. We had a brilliant time staying there and I am only sorry I could bring in a few good results (rather than bandages!) to thank them.
Lastly I must also say a huge thank you to Rapha and Garmin UK for sorting out the Garmin 800 pictured below, don't no how I would survive without this thing anymore! And ofcourse thank you to Condor Cycles who provided the original one that I lost during my crash whilst racing at the European Championships.