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Tour de Flers- first win!

This was the last race in France for me this year, and I had really high hopes for it, as it was fairly well suited towards myself, and I have consistently improved my form since my time here. I was fortunate enough to attend a training session with the selected team a few days before the event, to practise our TTT, with the Cotes D’Armor coach. The 2 day race consisted of a road race on the Saturday, followed by a TTT on Sunday morning, then a final road stage in the afternoon.

Arriving at the event on Saturday was really exciting, however one thing I hadn’t considered too much was the weather, and it was atrocious! Constant rain, mixed with some nasty gusts of wind made it a stage to finish safely, and just do what I could, as I haven’t had much experience of riding in conditions like this for a long time. I knew how important it would be to stay in the front, and from the course profile, it looked like km25-60 would be the main spot where moves and attacks would stick. I was primarily going for GC, and I knew how important it was to get a good position and time on the first stage, as this can give you the upper hand for the rest of the weekend.

I managed to sneak into the front for the start, and stayed in front for the neutral start. Once the flag dropped and we started racing, it was very cagey, everyone wanted to get in a move, but no one wanted to initiate the move. Eventually one group got away, and built a steady gap, we also had a team mate in the move so we were in a good position as a team. About 20km into the race I then attacked, and made sure no one came with me to avoid dragging the peloton with me, and I solo’d to the breakaway, which had about 1min15s advantage by the time I joined onto them. I then just sat on the back, resting up, because the team mate who was in the breakaway happened to attack the breakaway so he was up the road anyway, and the rest of the break (4 other riders) were just slowly bringing my team mate back. Once he got caught, we started to work together to make sure we maintained the gap, however I wasn’t satisfied with how the group was working, it was just not hard enough, so I then attacked the breakaway and got a gap (about 35km in). I created quite a good gap, and I was feeling really strong, getting a gap of about 45s. However my luck turned. Unfortunately the race convoy went the wrong direction, and subsequently led me in the wrong direction for about 3km, so we then all had to stop, and restart the race at the right place. This wasn’t too bad in itself, as it gave me a chance to sort out my jersey and gilet, and get some food and drink in. Once we restarted, I set off with a 38s gap to the breakaway, and the break then had about 1m15 on the peloton. As I started again, I was feeling great, flying through the roads and taking corners perfectly, however I was led in the wrong direction again, and this time it was to my disadvantage, as it was only me who was led the wrong way, and I then had to take a shortcut to get back onto the route. By then I joined back onto the back of the breakaway, which was really disappointing, as the gap between me and the breakaway was about 1m20, and it just disappeared due to lack of direction. However I didn’t let this get to me too much, and I just had to ride as though I hadn’t lost all that time. By now a small group had bridged from the peloton to the breakaway and we now had a larger breakaway of about 15 riders. I decided to ride an attacking race, and use the bad weather to my advantage, and push hard when I had the confidence, but perhaps the others didn’t. Eventually I get away with a good gap, with another rider, and we begin to work well together, with about 10km to go. Unfortunately by now I realised my Wahoo couldn’t hack the weather and it stopped working, so I had no idea how long I had left, and that made it hard to know how hard to ride. The rider I got away with, happened to be a local so he knew exactly how long we had left, and he also happened to know that we were about to conquer a 1.5km steep climb to the finish, which caught me out. He attacked me at the bottom of the climb, and my legs just felt too heavy to follow him, so I just spun away at a moderate pace and ended up 4th, after 2 other riders rolling me on the line. This was a slightly annoying race, after everything going wrong, and I lost 49s to the leader, which I wasn’t best pleased with, however I realised things could’ve gone worse, and at least I was still in contention for my GC hopes. On the bright side I managed to pick up the sprinters jersey, and the km61 jersey. All eyes were on tomorrow.
Sunday morning was the TTT, and we were one of the last teams to set off. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of results so it was simply just a case of riding as hard as possible for the TTT to limit time losses, while leaving plenty of energy left for the road stage later on.As we get started with our TTT, it was feeling good, we were maintaining a good pace, riding smoothly, and I wasn’t having to expend too much energy. I also had the team radio to listen to which was very helpful for warning of corners etc, even though we did a recon its always useful, for encouragement too! We started to pick up the pace after 10km and we dropped 2 riders by the end of it (length was 16km), I led the rest of the team up the final drag to the finish, and after finishing we were notified we were in the lead! This was a great surprise to me, and it was great for the team also, as it put us 1st in the team GC. What I didn’t realise until later on was that this performance also put me in the yellow jersey, as i was 1min quicker than the leader. This put me in 1st position for the final stage, which completely changed my mentality and tactics for the final stage- but this was such an amazing feeling, and I was honoured to be able to wear the jersey.

Going into the final stage, I made a list of rider numbers I should keep an eye on, eg who was close to me on GC, and I knew I’d have to ride defensive, but with the team supporting me I was hopeful. Having the yellow jersey meant that I wouldn’t be able to make my own moves without being followed by everyone else, and if I wanted to do anything myself, I would have to play it very tactically. As we get going, my legs felt good, so I was just sitting in, and letting moves go away, while trying to make sure none of them were a threat to me, which is much easier said than done! This group ended up getting away, with Mattis, my team mate in, however I also realised one of the riders who was close to me on GC was in the group, so this set off alarm bells, but I just decided to let the group go, and see what would happen. Throughout the first 60km, I was just taking it easy, making a few bluff attacks to see if this would provoke anything from the peloton, but nothing happened and the gap to the breakaway kept growing. at around 70km I knew I would have to start doing something if I wanted to save my GC hopes, but it seemed far too unrealistic, and I had practically accepted defeat, after being notified the break had 2m45s on me, and the rider who was in there was only 36s behind me at the beginning of the day. I didn’t necessarily want to chase the break down by myself, fortunately a couple of my team mates were able to lead the peloton and set a good pace. After about 80km I decided to pick the pace up, and start riding hard myself as I had nothing to lose by now, as I was confident there was no chance of catching the break by now, with under 25km to go. I knew we were going to enter the finishing circuit with 90km to go, and we would do 4 laps of about 4km, which included a punchy climb, and a twisty downhill followed by a 1.5km long straight stretch to the finish. Just before we entered the circuit, the pace started picking up, as we kept attacking each other, with myself just riding hard whenever possible, but no one wanted to ride through and off, which made it inconsistent. By the time we had reached the finishing circuit, the front 10-15 of us began to work together in a way, and we had a strong pace going. With about 2 laps to go my group whittled down to 15 riders approximately, and I just continued riding as hard as possible, not worrying about being attacked on, but just wanting to limit my GC losses as much as possible. Heading into the final lap I’m just going full pelt, dragging along a group of 6-8 of us, all of which were very close to me on GC, but by now they were not going to attack me as I was setting a hard pace, and it wouldn’t affect GC positions enough, as they weren’t going to make up 1min in 4km. Going over the top of the climb one last time, I saw my team car distantly ahead of me, which made me think I could be getting close to the breakaway by now! This just helped me persevere even more, with just a shade of hope that I could protect my jersey. after the climb, I was just leading out the rest of my group down to the finish line, and by now there were only 5 others behind me. Once we get onto the finishing straight, I can see the car convoy and breakaway in front of me, and I was just going for it full gassss! i got rolled on the line but that didn’t matter. I was pretty annoyed initially after finishing, as I assumed I had lost the jersey, but after riders coming up to me and congratulating me, including my GC threat from the breakaway, the realisation hit me and I was just filled with so much happiness, I was beaming from ear to ear! It was such a special feeling and I was so relieved that I pulled it off, somehow! From the gap to the break being 2.5mins going into the finishing circuit, to chasing it down to 50s in such a short time, was such an intense effort, but I was absolutely over the moon for it to have worked.

This is a feeling I am now going to be chasing for the remainder of my races in England, and carry with me through winter training, giving me that extra motivation whenever I may need it. This was the perfect end to my month in France, and I couldn’t have asked for much more.
As always, this achievement and experience wouldn’t have happened without all the important support from Fulcycle, KTM, and Torq, as well as the amazing opportunity with CC Plancoët, and to everyone who was there to help me for my time out in France.
The first of many.

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