After a week's 'mid-season' break I was more or less straight back on it last weekend, lining up at the three day Axel Junior Tour, UCI 2.1. Contrasting the last few races I had done it was a pan flat and windy affair, for the first two days atleast. The Sunday then saw a visit to the bergs of the Vlaamse Ardennen, with promise of carnage and big time gaps from the last few years!
I raced the first day hard, really hard. Going from inside the first ten kilometers, that included some muddy and wet cobbles, I was fueling myself mainly on excitement, using my legs much more than my head. It took a lot longer than expected but the narrow lanes did eventually take their tole on the peloton, with some big splits inside the last twenty kilometers, the weather also helping to make a pretty epic days racing.
In the end Germain and I crossed the line in the front group of twenty, with four riders escaping off the front in the dying stages. We endured tough conditions, questionable tactics and a lot of muck, however it wasn't a great performance on my part. I raced hard early and subsequently missed a good opportunity to go for the win at the end. Whilst it was a good learning experience, a reminder to race smart, and probably for the best that I got the excitement of getting back to racing out of the way, I was kicking myself a little for not using my experience to read the scenario better.
The second day of the race was a split stage - a fast and flat TT in the morning followed by another cobbled road stage in the afternoon. Although I should add these cobbles are Belgian/Dutch ones - nothing on those of Roubaix! I did an ok TT, recording a top twenty finish and keeping myself in the hunt for the GC but the main highlight of the day was a great leadout for Germain in the afternoon. A very well orchestrated ride by what was essentially a brand new team of guys working together. We went big and although it didn't come together in the last few hundred meters of the stage, we were very close. I really think coming into our next race we can put these lessons to use and repeat our success in Czech! Also enjoyed being told by a nameless but well respected American rider (speak this in a deep Texan twang) 'Tao mannn your so scary dude'. Love it.
The final day of the race delivered us to the bergs and ridges of the Vlaamse Ardennen. I was lying tenth on GC coming into the stage but hoped to make a big step up on the GC with a hard race over the hills. We planned to wait until the last of four laps before, between Germain and I, attempting to explode the race to bits. In the end it didnt pan out at all as planned, with a soft move going early in the race and never coming back. The bunch didnt seem too keen to race it out on what turned out to be a pretty hot day and so Germain and I took it up on the last lap as planned and tried to cause some carnage, with the hope of some time gaps emerging in the process.
In the end we did eventually snap the elastic, easier said than done on three climbs of less than 1000m in length, on the last classified berg of the race, but it was really too little too late. We pressed on and escaped the clutches of the bunch, however only took ten seconds or so on the line. In the end I moved up onto ninth on the overall, with Germain in tenth. It wasn't a great result but not the end of the world as my first race back, with some good experiences to take forward, as ever!
A huge thankyou to Matt, our mechanic Martyn, Luc De Wilde who was our carer for the weekend and the lads for keeping it fun!
Next on the agenda is Karlsberg - our last Nations Cup of the year. British Cycling's Axel report is here!