Last weekend I was lucky enough to ride the UCI 2.1 two day stage race Keizer De Juniors as part of my final build up to the World Championships in Florence. The weekend would be my last race with John Barclay, as I leave the Junior ranks at the end of this season, so I was hoping for a half decent result to thank him for all the hard work he has put in for me. John has been taking me to races for four years now and I have a ton of brilliant memories of racing in Belgium with him. He has been a real mentor and never fails to inspire me with all his stories ranging right back to the British Pro's such as David Millar, Jeremy Hunt and Roger Hammond.
The first stage proved wet and windy - very wet and with the narrow lanes and muddy corners on the agenda I was expecting some big crashes. I spent a lot of energy in the first few laps of the ten kilometer course trying to be right at the front, however thankfully the big pileups I have become accustomed too were avoided, the race settling down despite the driving rain with more or less everyone keeping it upright.
I managed to miss the early break that went, having a realisation of how 'lazy' my last race was in Italy. Not physically, simply in that all you had to do was go full gas up the climbs whereas here in Belgium it is much more a game of chess, picking and choosing the moves you follow. Despite getting in a few very promising looking counter attacks I never saw the front of the race again and after driving the chase group to bring the gap down, limiting my losses for the GC, I rolled in toward the back. What was essentially the remains of a once two hundred strong bunch now no more than thirty guys, a good sign of the toil some riders had faced on the short bergs and narrow soaking lanes. The aim of not contesting the sprint for tenth or so place being to give myself a slightly earlier TT start time on the Sunday morning 6km individual test and therefor a little more rest before the afternoon stage.
Sunday saw a split day - lots of good training. A fast six kilometer individual time trial in the morning, followed by another good road stage in the afternoon.
Yesterdays stage, in Reningalst, was a very similar course to my very first ever race in Belgium and today's parcour had an 'historic' link too. The afternoon race was a fast technical circuit with a loop through the sand dunes of Koksigde, made famous by the cyclo-cross race held in the every winter, and crucially, yet another town I had raced in with John in my first year as an under sixteen! I love it how these circles and points in life seem to become complete, riding essentially my last race with John in the same town as I did my first.
Back to the race and for the second day in a row I managed to miss the move that slipped away with about thirty kilometers to go. This was much to my disappointment and despite being pretty aggressive early on. On the bright side I had reason to be a little more cheery, my good friend Nathan (who was sitting second on the GC after the TT) had managed to sneak into the attack, escaping the clutches of the Dutch race leader and riding on to take the overall win! I attacked a lap later, firstly with a group of twenty or so, before I decided to give it a nudge solo with three kilometers to go. I emptied the tank over the last couple of clicks, a really good feeling, and crossed the line looking for Nathan, super excited that he had taken the overall win!
In the end I took a top ten on the stage and GC, nothing to light the world on fire but a nice little bit of racing before the World Championships, brushing up on some race fitness and generally getting stuck in. Good fun! Now onto the big one...
A huge thanks to John and Dave for the trip, it has been a great four years racing with you both - I have learnt so much. I hope to do what you have done for me justice in the future.
Secondly a quick thankyou to Condor for the new bike I can be seen riding on above! These guys look after me amazingly and this new frame is SUPER fast! To all at Condor, you guys are the best.