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Tour de L’Orne

This was my first race for my month in France, and I was incredibly excited to get going with it, as I had heard a lot of good things about it beforehand, and it seemed like a very good race to find where my form is.

Day 1: 130km road race

I was really looking forward to this, as it’s definitely my style of racing. Rolling terrain, with a series of short punchy climbs, as long as some nice false flat drags, and a bit of technicality added. From the course profile, it looked likely the decisive break would be formed by the 80km mark, as that was the end of the hills, and it was mostly flat/ downhill from there. The team aims were to get someone in a move, or multiple moves depending on how much it split up.

As we started, I didn’t quite position myself well enough, and I was constantly fighting for positions in the first 10-15km, finding it really hard to work my way up the field, however after about 15km, I was able to finally see the road ahead of me, and settled at the front of the bunch. I also became aware that by 20km, the foot of the first climb, there were about 2 groups of 10 riders each with about 2 mins of a gap, which I was surprised by, considering we had only been racing for 20kms! Going up the climb, myself and Harry Johnson (team mate) were keeping in the top 10 riders, watching out for any attacks to join. Throughout the majority of the race I was spending time in the front 15, but then occasionally dropped back, one time to get a bottle from the car. As we reached the 80km mark I tried to get back up to the front and stay there, as it was going to get more technical and faster, so I didn’t want to get caught out, however I got stuck and couldn’t move up as the road narrowed and we were going through an area of forest, which meant rougher roads. After the 100km mark we reached the finishing circuit, and I was back on the front. By this time we had brought back the breakaways, except for 1 lone rider, so all was to play for. The circuit was about 7km, with a punchy climb just before the finish line, and rolling roads for the rest of it. Coming over the climb with 2 laps to go, I found myself off the front with Guy Tucker (team mate) and another rider, we had a small gap and Guy was drilling it on the front. annoyingly my chain jumped into the little ring so I lost a few metres on the other 2, but by the time I joined them again, the peloton had basically chased us down anyway, so we just retreated back. At this moment, I knew I would have to stay in the front 20 riders at least, to have any chance of a good finish. I slipped back in the group to recover, but going over the climb approaching 1 lap to go, I was in an ideal position and I just had to make sure I hold the position, about 5th rider. For the majority of that last lap, there was a team making a small effort to stay on the front, and I was just riding behind them, I found myself in the front 5 at the foot of the climb to the finish, which I thought was perfect, and was hoping for a podium finish, but unfortunately I just got swamped, not thinking about the rest of the peloton bringing a lot of momentum to the climb, and I just had to settle for a mid-bunch finish at the end. A strong lesson learnt, that being on the front isn’t always the place to be at the foot of the climb, and things may have been different if I was a bit further back and just followed the wheels on the climb. However I was happy enough with how I performed, I felt strong and at least I hadn’t lost any time, as there were only 2 people with a time ahead of the bunch, no more than 15 seconds.

Day 2: Individual Time Trial

After an early start, it was time for the time trial. This is probably my biggest weakness, simply as I never usually practise time-trialling, and I don’t have the equipment, but the course was hilly and had some technical aspects to it, which was better for me, as I am good up hills anyway, and the course seemed to make it more forgivable for road bikes anyway. I was fortunate enough to borrow a rear disk wheel and aero helmet from the team, which was definitely helpful in making me go faster, and I also had a team radio which was great as this meant the team car would be able to advise me for turns etc.

The effort I put out was less than what it should’ve been, but it was a massive improvement on previous attempts, and I was happy enough with it, moving in the right direction. I did 20.40, which was respectable, but lost around 2 minutes to the winner, which was expected, and I was really looking forward to the road race in the afternoon.

Day 2: 110km Road Race

Similar sort of profile to stage 1, rolling terrain, however there was one noticeably big climb about halfway through, so marked that as a point for attacks and big moves going. Had another 7km finishing circuit to complete 3 times just like last time, so all in all a very similar day, just a bit shorter, and with pre-fatigued legs!

I was feeling a bit more relaxed than normal for this race, probably as I had done 2 stages beforehand and was looking forward to it, knowing what to expect more in terms of riders. I was thinking it would be a pretty relaxed start, so I was taking it easy which turned out to be a big mistake! I got pushed into the back half of the bunch which was annoying, and once we got out of the neutralised start everyone was trying to get in the break, so it became very hard to move up, and I just thought it’d be smarter to stay in and relax. About 5km in, I noticed Guy had a puncture, and as he was best positioned in our team (top 20 GC), I knew what to do, so I dropped back and waited for him. I hadn’t actually done this before properly, but I knew it would be simple enough. I started getting worried after I had basically dropped out of the race car convoy, and just at that point I saw Guy with the team car, sprinting to chase on. I then started getting into a tempo zone, and once he joined me, we began working our way back to the group. It was actually quite a cool experience I found, zig-zagging your way through the convoy and getting help with drafting team cars, and after about 10 minutes of chasing, I finally got Harry back in the group. At this point, I just decided to hang around the back of the group, and just recover properly before getting back to the front. After a while I was back at the front, and things were much calmer. We had a break up the road with a reasonable gap, and one team were doing the majority of the work on the front, setting a good pace. About halfway in, we got to that ‘big’ climb, and we could see the breakaway just in front of us, but no one wanted to do the last little effort to catch them, and everyone was feeling a bit too cagey, so they somehow slipped away a bit, which was strange because I assumed everyone would be wanting to counter attack or at least bring the break in one way or another. About 70km in, the bunch eased up a lot and I decided to attack, which was not the smartest move, but I just got bored of riding easy, and wanted to get some fireworks going. It was on a false flat, and I wasn’t going full pelt, as I was expecting some moves to come and chase me down soon enough, so I just kept out front for about 10-15 mins, before the bunch started attacking a lot. I just hung around the front 15 riders, following any surges, and making sure I would be in any moves, but nothing came to it, and as we entered the final circuit, everyone was back together, and we had reigned the breakaway in. Everyone was jostling for positions as soon as we got on the final circuit, and I let myself slip back too much, which wasn’t good as it was inevitable an attack was going to get away at some point, and I should’ve been in them. Guy managed to get in a break with 2 laps to go, but the bunch caught them by 1 lap to go, which was when another group went up and managed to find a big gap. The final half lap was absolute carnage, as a lot of it was downhill followed by a sharp ascent. I was fighting for positions for the final 5 minutes, and managed to get myself in the front 15 at one point, but I just got pushed back down in the final few hundred metres, and was out of contention for any reasonable finishing position. Was a bit of a bitter feeling, as I just wasn’t able to use my legs in the right moves, and missed the move that got away, but I was able to learn a lot about myself from this race, and I was feeling really strong, which was good. As soon as this race finished, I was eager to get started with another one, it was a great feeling finishing safe, and the experience was very valuable, with many thanks to CC Plancoët for taking me this weekend!

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