Another big race this weekend, category 1,2,3 which had an impressive line up with various DN1 teams. This is also the longest race I’ve done, totalling out at 140km. The run up to the start was stressful, and the start itself was also very stressful, losing ground in the peloton and being shoved backwards too much. The first hour of the race was simply a battle to get to the front, doing micro sprints just to gain a wheel or two, and then also sprinting to get back up after any corners. I spent more energy than I would’ve liked to in the first hour, but once I got up to the front I was able to control the pace with a couple other CC Plancoët guys as well as Côte d’Amor riders, as we had team mates up the road in the breakaway. By the time I was at the front, I was then able to speak to my team mates and established what has happened, so I found out there was a breakaway of 15 riders up the road, with 1 CC Plancoët rider, and 1 Côte d’Amor rider, which meant we were able to relax and not have to worry about chasing, but also to be aware of other moves which may attempt to join the breakaway. I was feeling much better once I was on the front, as I wasn’t having to do efforts to stay up front, and I was able to take my own lines through the technical bits, which was far more safe. I was following moves which tried going up the road, but not putting in unnecessary efforts or taking any risks, as it was still very early on, and I didn’t want to burn myself out before the end. However there were some riders still not satisfied with how the race had panned out, and there were attempts of groups going off and chasing the breakaway. Eventually, I was part of a 10 man group which broke off the peloton going up one of the climbs, and we began to work quite well, soon getting a reasonable gap from the peloton, and once we realised we had potential to stay away, we got a very nice pace going, making consistent progress in catching the breakaway.
The gap to the breakaway was 1 min 30 seconds when we first split off the peloton, but we rode very smoothly for a 10 man group, with good cohesion and not many people playing cat and mouse by skipping turns. I took this time as a chance to fuel up, and others seemed to follow my idea. At first I was really quite pessimistic about being in this chasing group, considering last week I was in the breakaway only to be caught just before the final circuits. This race was also longer, which meant it should be much harder to stay out to the end, and also the racing conditions were tougher, as we were exposed to the wind much more. But still, I did my fair share of work in the chase, probably more than most, but that’s just how I race, I race to win and I am not scared of putting in the effort now.
To give a bit more context to this race, my chasing group was first made around 45-50km into the race, which made me think it was way too early, as that’s nearly 100km to the finish. Our chasing group then worked consistently at catching the lead group and caught them at about 90km if I remember correctly. By this time the weather had taken a bad turn, going from nice sun in the first hour, to dark clouds and hard rain, mixed with aggressive winds since we were near the coast, and on high exposed roads, this made it a much more demanding race, both in physical and mental terms. I’ve found I always love racing in the rain, and that showed in this race. I was doing more than most riders in chasing the front group, and when we finally caught the front group, I rode straight to the front, because my instincts were telling me that there would be a split in this group, since it was now 25 riders which is too big to work properly. I quickly talk to my team mate who was in the break since early on, and ask him how he’s doing, he quickly responded to say he was too cold, which I felt too.
My instincts turned out to be correct, as within 5km of us catching the front group, it then split up again. I was just making sure I was staying near the front as much as possible, as it was so easy for riders to go off the front and get a gap in the horrible rain and wind, and I was determined not to miss a decisive move. at about 100km into the race, I was in the lead group of about 9-10 riders, and the rest of the split was behind us, with an ever-increasing gap, I tried looking behind to see the gap to the split behind, but my vision was sub-par as my glasses were caked in mud and rain, so all I saw were some blurry car headlights and motorbikes. However seeing the cars behind me and motorbikes was good, as this meant the gap was over a minute.
Soon after our front group was established, we then entered the finishing circuit. This was a 4km loop done 8 times which looks quite simple on a map, but testing in reality, particularly with the weather conditions to battle with too. I was getting really excited at this point, as I was on the finishing circuit with a guaranteed top 10 finish, and it was the ideal sort of situation for me to be in. I felt so excited for the finish, with such high hopes.
After doing a few of these laps, I quickly begin to lose my legs and power, and had a very sudden downwards spiral around 5 laps remaining. I quickly lose the wheel in front of me and lose contact with my group. Everything around me was becoming a blur, I wasn’t able to focus my vision and I just felt cold, shivering uncontrollably. I cross the line with 4 laps to go, thinking how on earth am I even going to do another 4 laps, that’s 16km. I went into some sort of trance, where I was able to see far enough ahead to stay safe, but not much else. My legs completely blew up, my heart rate dropped significantly, and I was riding like a zombie. My team car pull up alongside me to shout encouragement, but I was barely able to even turn my head to look and acknowledge their existence. They were telling me I still have a guaranteed top 10 finish, and first category 3 rider, which I would still be very happy with. however with 1 lap to go, I was barely able to push the pedals and the cold had really got to me. I couldn’t even look at anything else other than what’s ahead of me, and a group of 15 riders stormed past me. I couldn’t do anything to catch onto them, I couldn’t even get out of my saddle as I feel as though I’d topple over. I just kept riding, praying that I can just cross the line and forget the amount of pain I’m enduring. I didn’t even feel that sense of relief when I was approaching the finish line for the last time, just the sheer coldness and numbness all around my body. My head was spinning too, it was just like my head was riding up in the clouds for the last 15km really. I crawl over the line, incredibly thankful to have my team staff around me so I can just fall into their arms, and my body switched off. This is the worst feeling, pain I have ever experienced. It was just like riding a bike subconsciously, and I couldn’t even feel my legs, or arms, I was almost just hoping that my hands would be able to do the right thing and press the brakes round the corners. I’m quite baffled as to how I made it to the end, it definitely put me in an unusual place mentally, and one that I hope not to explore again.
Next thing I know I’m in the back of an ambulance, lying down, shivering uncontrollably. It was horrible. The cold had really got to me, and I was just laid there for about 45 minutes, with many layers over me to try and get my body back to a normal temperature. I tried moving my legs to a more comfortable position but just remember the pain of them cramping up, so I just laid there, keeping cool 😉 (pun intended) until I finally stopped shivering, and managed to put some more layers on before heading out to get back to the team.
On reflection, it has to be amongst the most interesting races I’ve been in. I realised how little I ate (1 bar, 2 gels) and not even 2 bottles of water which had energy powder. It’s no wonder my body failed in the final part, more surprising was how I was able to ride so powerfully for the first 3 hours! But it has given me incredibly valuable lessons, which I feel grateful for now. I rolled in 25th which I can accept, considering there were over 170 starters, and only 40 finishers. I am also incredibly excited to see how well my form is coming along, since it’s just been a week since arriving here, and I am on an upwards spiral. I also rode a much better race than last weekends, where I made the right moves at the right time, and put myself in the right position when it really mattered. The only disappointment was not being able to finish it off.
I now have a few weeks of slightly smaller races, which will give me the opportunity to get fully immersed in the French racing scene, before heading into April with a block of exciting races I’m looking forward to!