Monday, 19 September 2011

Final chapter

There you have it. 8 months, 78 blog posts, 56 races, 60 individual stages. Lots of highs and thankfully not to many lows. Its been a once in a lifetime experience and in this, the final blog, I will try and dissect the 2011 French experience.

Rather than ramble on aimlessly I am going to condense it into a number of sections before giving my "Oscarlikespeach" conclusion.

The Accommodation

From living with an English family, in the sleepy village of Pont Augan for the first few months, to staying with team mate and family, slightly closer to civilization and a shop in Languidic for the month of May. To finally ending up here in Hennebont, renting a room from a French woman. Its been quite a journey.

The Food

Fully emersed myself this season in the Bretonne way of eating. From the amazing Far Breton cakes to mouth watering crepes, Ive had it all. The great meals prepared by The Jego family and the fresh, homegrown fruit and veg Ive sampled at the house in Hennebont. Its been a gastromic whirlwind. So many firsts, so many different cultural habits as well, and so much good fresh bread and cheese!

The lifestyle

It wouldnt suit everyone and yes it did take a bit of getting used to. But now settled in and looking back, have loved the more laidback, friendly way of life here. The pleasure before work attitude and the warmth and welcoming Breton way. Ive been to everything from fetes, musical concerts, barbeques and meals at some great restaurants. On rest days have visited picture postcard beaches and sat by the river Blavet winding away the hours reading. Of course it is worlds away from my life in London and is a much quieter existence but also a much less hectic one. Rest days can be slower here but at least means you do just!

The language

Other than the racing, probably the next most challenging element! A very enjoyable one all the same. Again lots of help from team mates, Sebastien and family and Marie Noel. Oh and also a very good dictionary. Watching French TV and reading magazines and newspapers in French have also brought my language skills on a lot. I am quite proud of myself and think its a good skill to have, just need to make sure I keep practising it and improving on it.

The training

A big thanks to Garmin at this point! With so many roads and so many directions to ride in the first few months was very relieved to have my Garmin GPS to get me back on track. Still did end up in a few farmers fields though! The roads here are amazing. From 2-3km climbs to riding along the beach, it has it all. Also with few cars and good road surfaces its a real stress free way to train.

 Now for the only downside. The group rides, or lack of them! Only once a week, unfortunately just not a big group of riders in the area to train with, which is a shame. Still some of the best rides Ive done out here have been with my team mate Seb and Laurent, as they have shown their local knowledge and taken me on some really great routes. I have had to change training since coming here mainly due to amount and style of racing. Less miles, more intensity, more rest and basically more French less mile munching Anglais!

I still think I prefer training in the UK mainly due to the standard and number of group rides I can get out on. Although over here having numerous directions I can head out on the bike on is a real luxury and something I will really miss, along with the very few cars!

The racing

Its been quite a year. Ive never raced so much, at such a high level, started my season so early and felt quite this tired by the end! It all began with a 9th place at my first race, in an Interclub in Camors, way back on 20th Feburary.

 Since then I have done everything from Elite Nationals, stage races, crits and semi nocturnes. I had a hard start getting used to the style of the racing and with the March weather not helping matters either. The first few months were hard. Big Elite National races, bad weather and that coupled with a whole new lifestyle, language and a niggling injury meant they were not as fruitful as I'd hoped. The change came when moving in with my team mate in May.

Began training differently, eating more, my French improved and I began understanding the racing more. I felt more at home and relaxed. A good May, June and July with a number of top 10s and 15s and the much needed podium place as well. The only downside was I was going well in the part of the season when races became much shorter, more kermesse like, which dont suit me so much and of course I didn't manage that all important win.

Still confidence was high and after a midseason break came into last few months of racing. Steady rather than spectacular but learning all the time and getting better with each race. September and body started to show signs of the 56 races. Wanted to get to the big 60 but head and body was giving up on me unfortunately. Season over.

Looking back and if I get the opportunity to do it again. I would target early season, where the races are longer and the end of the season. Also probably some time back in England mid season (for a week or so) would probably give me a mental break from racing as well. Training differently, as my team mates keep reminding me, will also have made my results all the better and enabled me to reach my full potential in races. Just hope I get the opportunity to learn from this season and do it the right way in the future.

What racing though. Closed roads and amazing circuits. Favourite races have got to be Manche Atlantique (for the huge crowds and brutal finishing circuits) Tour des Mauges again great stages and one of the hardest 60km races Ive ever ridden. Of course Sarzeau my 3rd place in what was a semi nocturne and a race I'd thought id never get such a result in.

The Future?

A good question. Ideally I would like to return here to Brittany. I have learnt a huge amount this year and am sure with this year under my belt and more experience, I could get some really good results next season. Funding and financial support will be deciding factor of whether this could be a reality. Fingers crossed.

If not possibly racing in England again. I am not an under 23 next season so will be hard but definitely don't think I've reached my full potential...a lot still to be decided as you can see.

The blog

Over 4000 hits, viewers from all over the world and an in depth diary of my 2011 season. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

Now for the Oscar like bit....

The thanks

Sam, Sue, Russell and everyone at The John Ibbotson fund: for helping me all year both financially and with all their contacts and advice.

Tony, Nick and the Mills family: for driving me to races, finding me a team, providing me with some lovely meals and basically supporting and helping me out all season. I don't know what I would have done without this family!

Sebastien and the Jego family: The kindest and more generous people you could meet. Helped with the language, racing, training, getting me to and from places, and housing me for a month. Cant say how much Ive appreciated them!

Sam Allen: Fellow Brit, a new friend, great to chat with and get advice and support from and always useful when in need of speaking a bit of English!

Yvon, Laurent, Gurvan, Pascal, Rene Yves, Albert and the UCL Hennebont team: The most welcoming group of cyclists Ive ever met. Helped getting me to races, advice, training rides and had some great meals and laughs with them. Not just a team, a group of friends and a family atmosphere.

Marie: My landlady at Hennebont. So welcoming, makes some amazing meals and great to chat to. Has taken me to music festivals, introduced me to Mussels, Far Breton and Breton way of life!

Karen and Ben. The first two people I lived with over here. Helped me settle in and provided some good laughs along the way.

Parents/grandparents/sister: for being understanding and supportive all year.

Andy Lyons. For being a great friend and mentor all season. Always able to pick up the phone to chat to or email for advice. As always a wealth of experience and good advice.

Daniel Lloyd: professional cyclist but always able and willing to give advice and his expertises. A big thanks for his time.

Lynn Clay: for the nutritional advice and guidance. Well worth a look...

Misty the cat: I've lived with a puppy, two sheep and four cats in my time in France! Misty though was and is a special one! A companion, someone to while away rest days with and a fellow lover of tinned fish! Am definitely a cat person after this season!

Also to anyone else I've forgotten (I'm sure I have) a big thanks.

I hope you've enjoyed reading my blogs and following my season over here.

So there it is, the last blog, thoughts and comments much appreciated.

all that leaves me now is to bid revoir!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bannalec: dernier course

If you've read my blogs over the last few weeks you would see ive been battling with my legs, head and a lot of very strong French riders! Each blog has been the same. Contemplating when to end the season and how I could reinvigorate legs and body. 

After the dangerous and wasted race at Lorient on Saturday, I said I would decide how Monday's race went and then make a decision whether to end season then and there, or carry it through to end of the month.

Strangely though decision was made on Sunday. This was due to a lot of thought and basically a realisation I was going to end up racing myself into a box if I didn't stop soon!

So going into Mondays race at Bannalec I knew it was to be the last of the 2011 season. What was to happen in the next few hours of racing, was still though undecided...

Trophee Aven Moros. The series which included Tregnuc and Scaer races a couple of weeks ago (see previous blog) was to hold today's race at the sleepy town of Bannalec.

Now when you know its the last race of the season everything you do on race day feels quite a moment. Last time making bottles, last time cleaning bike etc..stupid I know, but quite satisfying after a long season all the same!

12:45pm and picked up by team mate Laurent in the team car. Again, just like when Seb had turned up on Saturday, just as he pulled into the driveway the rain began lashing down. A wet and windy final race? I hoped not.

Laurent was looking equally amused with the "meteo Anglais" and after getting bike and kit in car we were soon on 45 minute drive into Finistere to the race. As we drove the weather began to brighten and arriving at the town the sun began to come out. 

Now the French love getting to a race early but today was a new record. An hour and 40 minutes before. 1st car to turn up. This was shortly followed by Sam Allen, in his team car. So at least I could have a good chat to Sam while waiting for sign on to open!

Signed on and normal procedures done. Bannalec, if you've read earlier blogs, was a town I had raced at earlier in the season. A slightly lower quality race then, with a bigger field, warmer weather, but other than that basically same circuit.

So I knew what was coming up as I headed off for a 20 minute warm up. A fast and open road onto a smaller one with a wet descent through trees. Then a 200 metre climb, a quick drop down, another 200 metre climb, another descent before in and out of houses a bit before a tight right onto the drag to the finish. 7.1km in total, 15 laps.

 3pm and lined up. Only around 50 riders for this one. Probably due to endofseasonitis and the fact it was a Monday afternoon and most people should be at work! This though meant of the 50 there were some very good riders. VCP Lorient (with series leader Zelinski) Hennebont Cyclisme, Saur Sojasun under 23, the Guidon team (all on team issue Times!)UC Briochine, AC Lanester and BIC2000. UCL Hennebont had myself, Laurent, Stephane and Rene.

So away we went and straight away attacks were flying. I wanted to at least give the last race my best shot and followed wheels and attacks. Yet although legs felt alright head just didn't seem to be able to get into it. Its hard to explain but that ability to focus on the wheel in front and suffer after a while becomes harder as the season progresses. I don't know why. Just mentally hard to make yourself suffer after a while. Probably because  after over 50 races having to do this, mind is starting to get a bit fed up with it!

So the break went. I stayed in the top 15/20 riders, yet hitting the climbs round the back for the 2nd lap and I had nothing. No "get up and go". Other groups went and soon I was left in what was now a relatively small peloton.

Onto the finish straight. Rene and a few others attacked. I tried to follow yet couldnt make it and was stuck in no mans land, alone. I could see the group and was only a mere 50 metres if that from getting on. Yet try as I might, maybe mentally more than physically, I couldn't close the gap.

So back to the bunch. Next few laps and we rode steadily through and off. A lot of Leucemie Espoir riders still in the bunch seemed to want to chase. A bit of a waste of effort considering about 20 riders were minutes up the road! 

After an hour and the bunch was starting to split. I could now have thought forget it and called it a day. Yet I was keen to enjoy the last race, even if I was now not racing for a result. 

The problem now was although head was clearly not up for racing, legs were ok and a lot stronger than the riders I was with. Annoying that, as proves I should have been in one of the groups up the road. Still wanted a bit of a hack so went for one and did 4-5kms alone before sitting up and going back to bunch. At least killed a bit of time!

Few laps to go and bunch split. 6 of us getting away including team mate Laurent. Bit of through and off for concluding few laps and even a prime (where a cake was the prize!) was on offer. Not much to say for final lap as we rolled round and headed across the line. I took 27th. Nothing to write home about, but with how tired I've been feeling last couple of weeks just happy to finish.

So that was it. Last race of season done. Bit of relief, a few what ifs and definitely a sense I've had a full season.

I could carry on and try and race last few races, but don't see the point of riding round in the peloton or not being fresh enough to actually be racing for a good result.

Didn't quite get to the 60 races Id planned. 56 done, 58 days racing, 60 individual stages (including split stages in Tro div ster and Tour des Mauges). All starting with a 9th place at my first race, an Interclub, all the way back in mid Feburary, culminating in my last race here mid September.

Will do a follow up blog and summarise my season and my 2011 experience in France, in the next week or so. Stay tuned for that!

Am staying in France for a couple more weeks, so rather than take my end of season break too early, I am going to make the most of the great roads and spend the next two weeks as a cyclotourist, cruising to a different town each week and hopefully finding a few new cafes...all now in little ring of course!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Lorient Lanveur: the shortest blog yet!

Gonna keep this brief, as basically Lorient Lanveur was just that..brief!

Since the last blog Ive been deciding whether to carry on with my season or whether to listen to my clearly knackered body and call it a day.

After speaking to my team mate he convinced me to take a couple of days off the bike and give the last few races a go. So that's what I'm trying. A relatively lazy Thursday and then the laziest day I think Ive ever had on Friday.  Literally stayed in bed all day. Clearly knackered and something not right as not in my nature to do this!

Still Saturday came and race day. Half an hour on turbo easy in the morning to remind legs they are still needed (for now anyway) and then normal prep before being picked up by team mate Seb at 1:30pm.

The weather forecast was for rain. Yet the morning, if very grey, was dry and warm. Sods law then dictates just as Seb pulled up in the car the rain began hacking down!

Away we went anyway. The race was a mere 20 minutes away at Lorient. Arriving and the circuit was a 1.55km affair. Just a square, 4 right corners, a slight drag to the finish, tonnes of road furniture and white lines...oh and it was still pouring with rain!

Signed on and kitted up in the car. 15 mins before the start I headed out for a warm up. 15 mins later absolutely soaked and standing on the start line with 50 or so other equally soaked riders, ready for the off. I had though already made it further than team mate Rene who had signed on, pinned number on, saw the rain and decided not to leave the comforts of his motorhome!

So just myself and Seb for UCL Hennebont. Away we went. Normal guys here today. Lots of Lorient riders, Lanester and Vendee U as well. Straight away I could see this was not gonna be a good idea. Was so cold, after we were held on the line for a good 10 minutes!?, Legs were not working. Couple that with some dodgy French cornering and treacherous road surface, it was more a question of survival than a race.

After a few near misses and feeling cold and rough I did something I very very rarely do. I got off. Seb did the same. Feeling disheartened I headed to the car. Just as I did I heard a crash. Fellow Brit Mike Cuming had crashed on one of the corners and was in a bad way. I ran over to see him and watched as he was carted away by ambulance to the hospital. Luckily just a mere 1km away.

Literally a minute later and another crash, different corner, but shows just how dangerous this circuit was when wet.

So that's it I'm home now. Dry and safe. Yes its annoying to get off and not finish a race. But I know I dont usually do it, and sometimes its better to be safe than sorry and crash. Yes probably also my head is going a bit now as well.

Dont do not finishing, so any more DNF's and decided season will be over. Its a hard decision to make but without head in the right place and the legs, it just is not possible .

Next then is Trophee Aven Moros on Monday. Meant to be a safer circuit and hopefully will be able to make amends for today.

Oh and by the way...its sunny here now!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

GP Fougeres Elite National: numbers

If you are reading this blog you most probably have read one of my other blogs over the season. All with the same sort of structure, a bit of background info on the race, the race and a bit of reflection. Well today's blog is different. Just to add a bit of spice to it and to give it another slant Im gonna break this blog up into numbers.

As a cyclist and as a sportsman numbers mean a hell of a lot and are constantly telling us the bare facts about our performances. So here number 76!

Race number 54 for me and one of the biggest...

GP Fougeres Elite National

Tuesday 6th September. After my mechanical at Hennebont on Sunday (see previous blog) I spent Monday trying to get bike fixed. Went from thinking it was a mere gear cable snap to ending up being lent a new lever, by Culture Velo bike shop, Lorient, and mine being sent away back to Shimano! The was a 105 old school lever on one side and new Ultegra lever on the other. Think the cycle fashion police will be on to me!

Still I now had gears and I was saved just in time for Tuesday's race.

8am and awake. An early start today. Pre race meal made night before as well as a post race meal. I was in for a long day! Picked up by Sam in his team car at 9:30am and we were away! Straight away though and problems. The fuel light came on and we had 40km to where we were meeting the van to take us to the race...was gonna be a nerve racking drive. 

Arriving at Locmine. As I was the only UCL Hennebont rider doing this race, I was getting a lift with the Hennebont Cyclisme team in their van. Everything chucked in the van and we were on our way. Mechanic, Sam, his two team mates, a rider from BIC2000 and myself. 

A bit of a way to today's race a couple of hours. Other side of Rennes. Still we arrived with plenty of time at the medieval town of Fougeres. Straight away I could see this was a big deal. All the DN1 teams parked up with vans, lorries, marquees and team cars. The town was also in full race mode. Crowds already building, a massive podium presentation and just a lot of hubbub.

Signed on, number 104. Around 150 starters for this race. 

This being an Elite National event meant all the top teams were present. Veranda Sarthe, BIC2000, UC Nantes, Cotes D'armor, Saur Sojasun, BIG Mat, Roubaix Lille Metropole, Vendee U. To put it bluntly there wasnt really a weak team in sight!

The wind was howling though, 90km/h I was told. This meant it was pretty cold and a good warm up was in order.

Warming up I was quite apprehensive. This was my first Elite National road race for months, the longest race I've done since March and in previous races had started to feel quite tired. This was gonna go one of two ways!

Lined up 1:30pm start. In the centre of Fougeres. The crowds were huge and could hardly make my way through them to line up. Still away we went for the 59th GP Fougeres. The race was made up of 2x33km loops and then a 9.5km finishing loop to be done 8 times. 140 km in total.

After stopping and starting a number of times ( lots of stopping and starting bike computer) we were finally waved away for the official start, a few kilometres out of town.

The pace was on and the wind was howling. I knew with the winds and open roads it was a case of hiding and waiting for the finishing circuit, which I was told had a 500 metre, 12 % hill in it!

To be honest I didnt have much of an option than to hide. Legs and body felt rough and I was only half an hour into the race. Eating and drinking I made sure I hung on the wheel and stayed as far to the front as possible. Easier said than done!

Coming round for the 1st of  2 big loops things were already breaking up as bunch split in two as we hit the 12% climb. I was feeling rough and ended up in second group, yet not panicking as with a bit of demon descending, soon it was all back together.

Final finishing lap done. Only real drama was a funny uphill crash. Basically was so windy a Vendee U and UC Nantes rider came to a near stop and toppled majestically into one another. A very slo mo crash and both guys were back up and riding pretty quickly. Probably slightly embarrassed though.

Coming into the first of the finishing circuits and race blew to pieces. Riders going off the back, front, all over the place in fact. I could tell I wasnt the only one who was suffering with end of season fatigue.

Soon groups had gone off the front and I was left in the peloton of 100 or so riders. Lap after lap I suffered, downhill, uphill, flat, didnt seem to matter... I was a feeling it.

Few laps to go and eating and drinking constantly. Our group was now down to 15 of us as riders got dropped, climbed off or had attacked! Break was miles in front now yet I was keen to finish, whatever place.

The climb was becoming the biggest challenge, as being so steep it was a feet just to get up and over it. The crowds though were huge, and gave me loads of support as I dug deep. Best way to describe climb was it was very similar to Michael Gate in the British Lincoln GP, just maybe a bit longer.

Last lap and barely getting up the 12 % climb I rolled in 44th...out of 49 finishers! Yes nothing to shout about. A real savage race. Made worse by the fact my body is pretty much finished for the season!

Back to the team van. Best Hennebont finish was 15th and Sam doing a great ride for 29th. 

Changed, meal ate and back in the van for long drive home. Lots of thinking to do over next few days. Dont enjoy making up the numbers in these races. Yet with my body feeling the way it is, that's all I seem to be able to do. 

In theory 6 more races this season. I'm motivated for them, but maybe 6 to far. A bit of thinking to do!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Hennebont Langroix: a sign from above?

September...yes end of summer, strange as summers been a bit on and off this year.

I think this season I have had all sorts of weather from at me, from a very wet Febuary/March, a being hot April and May, then a very unstable June/July and August. What therefore will the final month, September, hold?

Hopefully sun, warm temperatures and little wind! Its that point in the season where the slightest mention of rain can send an already tired and fragile mind into complete melt down.

Luckily then I awoke to sunny skies and warm temperatures, lots of wind though! Race was a mere 2km from my door today (ultra local race) and was the third and final race in my home town of Hennebont. The first being the savage cobbled crit, where I made an appearance on the podium, second being GP Hennebont and this being the third.

Wish all racing could be so local!

So after over 50 races I have all the pre race stuff down to a fine tee. Leaving me ready to leave at 12:45pm for the 10 min ride to the start. All downhill as well!

Arriving and my race was to be the support race for The Tour Of Morbihan Junior race. An Elite National junior event, with international teams as well.

So as you can imagine there was a lot of banners, a massive podium and lots of riders. Signed on I headed to find a suitable bench to sit and pin number on and then headed off for a warm up. I knew the circuit like the back of my hand, as often ride up the hill in training, and had been training round it on Thursday.

A 4.5km loop made up of a kilometres climb, with sections over 7%, a very windy false flat, a right onto main road before a windy descent, another right, a very slight drag and then a fast descent to the finish. 18 laps to do. So not a long race but with 18 times up the hill it was sure to be a hard one.

The Junior race was to set off an hour later than ours and used the 4.5km circuit as a finishing loop. We though were all lined up and ready to go at 2pm.

Around 50 riders. Lots of the normal guys, including National Masters Champion. Just myself and team mate Samuel for this one. Away we went and an attack from the gun. With AC Lanester rider getting a gap. Straight onto hill and it all started kicking off.

I never like jumping about on a climb and knew I needed to ride climb at my own pace. Surprisingly that was quicker than a lot of the bunch. Another lap done. All together...for now.

With these local races I always struggle with the change of pace. Sounds strange but find it easier if the race is just lined out and full on all the time! So coming over the hill for the second time, the bunch sat up. I knew this was not good for me and so attacked.

I got a big gap straight away as riders were recovering from the climb. Soon joined by another rider and we were away with the bunch now out of sight. Two laps into an 18 lap race and I was committing myself. To early?

I was going on the principle of keep it hard throughout and then wont have to react to changes of pace. The rider I was with clearly had the same idea as he was hacking! He was a man on a mission and wasn't even calling me through to take a turn. We were flying along and with him quite happy to do all the work I made the most of a free ride.

A couple more laps, a prime and a group of 8 or so were coming across. A rider jumped them and bridged to us. That's where it started going wrong.

Onto the climb and on previous ascensions had been riding it big ring. Yet for some reason decided to little ring it. Not a good idea. Big ring is definitely better! The rider who had bridged to us was flying up the climb. I was not!

Just hung on over the top as the chase group made the junction. All the race favourites, it was looking good.

Yet coming onto the climb again and the bunch were back up to us. Although now the bunch was half the original size.

Attacks began as we crested the top and I basically didnt react. Whether it be legs, head, I do not know I had no fire in either.

Soon a sizeable dozen riders were off the front. This was bad news. Onto the climb again, big ring and try and get across. The gap was within touching distance yet legs wouldn't commit and the riders I were with were knackered. I seemed to close the gap on the climb only to lose it again on the false flat. Very frustrating.

Lap after lap and the break was a mere 100 metres, if that, in front, yet only myself and a couple of others seemed able to chase. The group I was in was now a mere half a dozen riders.

3 laps to go and we were starting to close on the break. I was feeling powerless and frustrated it had taken this long to close the gap. Then it happened. Down the descent and changing gear, cable snapped. I was stuck in the 23...I tried to get it working but no luck. Race over.

Only 3rd mechanical of the year and only 6th DNF, I think. So statistically had been doing well, still rubbish when it happens though.

Even more annoying was a lap later and the group I was in had made the junction to the break.

I was pretty annoyed. A lot of work in the group for nothing. Yes legs were terrible but a race is not over till you cross the line, and a lap or two later they may have come round.

Only consolation was I picked up a prime from my earlier breakaway. 15 Euros...will pay for a new cable at least!

So not a good days racing. Possibly a sign my season is nearly over. Legs feel numb and powerless all the time and head just doesn't feel like there's a huge amount of fight left after 7 hard months of racing.

Plan is to try and get bike fixed tomorrow. Need to find a bike shop which is open on a Monday, as all local ones seem to be shut! Then will decide after Elite National race on Tuesday whether to continue my season or call it a day for this year.

Annoying as I still want to race, but legs don't seem to want to, and don't wanna just be making up numbers or be suffering with little reward. So not a very positive end to my blog.

Just need to remember how lucky I am to have this opportunity to race in France and with all the support I've had. So to reflect on the brilliant experience so far  and make the most of last few weeks!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Scaer: Grippy

Trophee Aven Moros take 2!


After the pan flat Belgium-like race the day before, today was promising to be completely different. Another round of the Trophee Aven Moros series and if Monday's race was anything to go by was going to be another fiercely contested race.

Awoke at silly a'clock again! Body seems to think 7am is a good time to go to the toilet. Great, only problem is I never get back to sleep and with the race not starting till 3:30pm it makes for a long day!

Still sun was out and I was promised a hilly more suitable race for me, what could be better. Bike cleaned and new tyres put on. I know it is never a good idea to use new equipment and especially new tyres on race day but I needed all the help I could get! Nice set of blue Vredsteins fitted, the colour alone I hoped would add a few kilometres an hour more speed.

So away to meet Sam again. 1:30pm and on the road. Finistere bound. All races at the moment seem to be in this direction. Might consider booking into a hotel for the last few weeks racing as spending so much time in this region.

A 45 min drive and arriving at the town of Scaer. One thing I have learnt since being out here in France is the French love getting to a race early. Arriving and riders were already kitted up and beginning their warm up, with over an hour before the race! Myself and Sam weren't quite as eager for extra chamois time. Still signed on we met Mike Cuming and Tony Mills.

All ready, I headed off for a warm up round the circuit. A 6.2km loop made up of  a false flat finish, a right onto a short sharp kick of a hill, a tight left onto a long wide drag of a hill, a tight right, some descent, another tight right onto some smaller roads another short hill, a descent with a fast right hander before a gentle climb back round to the finish. Warming up it didn't feel too hard. Come the race though it was bound to be a different story!

Lined up. Field was pretty good. Lots of the same guys from yesterday's race. UC Nante, UC Cholet, BIC2000, VCP Lorient, Hennebont Cyclisme (with on form David Chopin present today) Vendee U, AC Lanester and Cotes D'Armor, just to name a few. For UCL Hennebont just myself and Rene. So 86 riders and 16 laps...lets roll!

Away we went. Pace on from the gun, in typical French fashion. Straight up the climb and it was lined out.

This is now where this blog gets simple, for me at least. The next 14 laps were pretty much identical in that I hung on for dear life! About 20-30 riders back I knew I needed to be further up but knowing and actually being able to get there are two different things! For what was meant to be a hilly course, expected to blow the bunch to pieces it wasnt happening. Yes it was hilly but the bunch were intact and the speed never dropped.

Eating and drinking and riding the rollercoaster that was this race. Breaks would go yet with a number of strong teams nothing stuck. This meant racing was full on. I was struggling sprinting out of the corners and after a few laps getting frustrated with myself I decided big gear and roll it over rather than spin would be better. I was right, massive gear and hack! Much better.

Not entirely sure of the size of the bunch over the next few laps (was just transfixed on holding wheel infront) but the race wasnt shredding riders out like I thought it would.

One and a half laps to go. The bunch eased momentarily. Lots of tired legs by now. A break of 3 had managed to escape off the front and had built a 30 second lead. With Vendee U, AC Lanester and Cotes D'Armor each having a rider in it.

I have said in previous blogs how I'm starting to feel effects of a long season. Both legs and rest of body starting to slowly crack I think! One strange thing though is I dont seem to get any worse as race goes on. I seem to finish the same as I start. This is compared to the other riders who start fresh and seem knackered by the end. 

This sometimes plays into my hands. As a lap and a bit to go I attacked. Legs felt ok, good job it took over 2 hours of racing for them too! No luck though. 

Last lap and it looked like a bunch kick for 4th. A few kamikaze moments into the finish and I chickened out of the sprint. I know I should have tried it but some real dodgy riding going on! So across line. Says I came 24th, not sure about that but I'll take it! Sam and Mike came in in bunch as well after what was a strange finish, for on paper a hilly race. 

Race was won by a Vendee U rider with his brother from Cotes D'Armor coming second. A nice family affair!

Only looking at the photos afterwards did I see how close the break was to being caught. Shows how a hilly 100km and strong riders can keep the race pretty much together throughout. 42km/h average not a slow day either.

bunch within sight of catching both 2nd and 3rd place!

So there we have it. August racing done. Not the month of results I hoped for and feeling a bit run down now. One more month of racing and determined to get some good results in it.
Next few days its a case of recovering, trying to get rid of mouth ulcer (sign of tiredness I think) and also trying to get some more sleep.

Next race is a very local one on Sunday, 2km away from me in fact, in Hennebont. 18km of climbing in 90 or so kilometres, gonna be fun!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

St Philibert Tregnuc: Horses for courses

After racing The GP Plouay amateurs on Saturday, which I was hoping for a good ride but unfortunately didn't pan out that way, I tried to put it behind me and look forward to the next few days of racing....

 Sunday was spent at Plouay watching the mens pro race. A long day (left home at 8:30am) spent looking round the team buses, meeting loads of familiar faces, team mates, the Mills' etc and shaking hands and kissing a ridiculous amount of people, many of whom I didn't know. Also ended up doing about 8km of walking! So not the day of rest I was after really especially after racing the day before and having a race the following day!

 Still watching one of the biggest one day races in the World live, and on a course I had raced on, was a awesome experience. The crowds, masses of camping cars, electric atmosphere and the world's best riders showing how 248km can be made to look so easy was a brilliant experience.

Great day and all a mere 20 minutes from my door. Cant say that about to many Pro races!

So back to it...

The last week or so my body has been all over the place. Sleeping badly, sore and generally feeling the effects of more racing than ive ever experienced before. Yes I know its impossible to hold form for the whole season but a bit now wouldnt go a miss! Also the lack of a proper deep massage all year has also not helped!
So it's safe to say not going to be going into next few races in the best of states. Still need to make the best out of the situation and rely on mental strength and dogged determination if nothing else!

Race day. 

St Philibert Tregnuc was the town, 3pm was the start and Trophee Aven Moros was the series. 

Normal morning procedure. I still had the team car from Plouay so drove over to first pick Sam up then to the team garage to meet my team mates, Gurvan, Pascal and Laurent.

12:45pm and car packed to the rafters we headed off. Usually with 5 riders in the car the conversation flows pretty easily, yet you can tell its coming to the final part of the season as everyone was a lot quieter, even my normally ridiculously chatty team mate Pascal!

The race was in theory an hour away. In theory because we ended up missing the turn off and having to do a loop of Concarneau! No problem though as we arrived at the race in perfect time, an hour before the start.

Was told by Sam that the race was to be a pan flat, seaside affair and he wasn't wrong. A 7.86km lap made up of a very slight 50 metre drag to the finish, a long windy coast road, a few more flat windy sections back to finish. Warming up I could tell it was going to be fast as was cruising effortlessly at 40km/h.

So lined up ready for the 3pm start. A series race so a yellow jersey leader (Zelinski, VCP Lorient and general hard Polish man) Polka dot climbers jersey, worn by a rider from UC Nantes (think the climbers prize would be safe for today!) and a white and a green jersey both worn by AC Lanester riders, think for young rider and sprints competition. Along with these few riders there was 112 other riders for this one. 

Cotes D'armor, UC Nantes, VCP Lorient, AC Lanester, Hennebont Cyclisme, BIC2000 (including Vignes, Bretonne champion) a Parisien team and winner from GP Plouay amateurs Guyot of The Armee de Terre team all present. For UCL Hennebont there was loads of us, 9 I think! 

Off we went 15 laps, 117.9km and a prime every lap. Was a very Belgiumesque setup today. First lap and the pace was on. Attacks flying yet everyone was attentive and keen to get in moves so nothing was sticking. I was 20 or so riders back, sitting in and following the wheels and the occasional attacks.

Then disaster struck, well for Pascal that is. Down the back of the circuit and at over 50km/h he didn't see a bollard in the middle of the road and ploughed straight into it. I was just behind and saw him somersault over the bike. Was so fast we had passed him before he'd even hit the ground. I was in a bit of shock and thinking the worst. Yet he managed to come away very luckily. Just a few scratches and a bit of a cut to the back of his head. His bike on the over hand was in two! Frame snapped clean in half as did his helmet.

So first lap done and was hoping the next 14 were to be a bit safer. The attacks continued and I tried to follow them. Yet I was feeling heavy legged and on a circuit like this, being fresh is key. After an hour of racing, and a 47km/h average, a break had gone with 11 riders in it. This included Mike Cumings who was on for a storming ride. Soon they had pulled out a sizeable gap. Yet a lot of the big hitters were still in the bunch, including the yellow jersey.

An hour and a half done and I was keen, even if my legs weren't, to try and get in a move and bridge. A big move went with a dozen or so riders including, Zelinski and Sam in it. I knew this was a serious move so with team mates Rene and Cedric we buried ourselves to get across.

We managed it, yet the group was too big and everyone sat up allowing the bunch back up to us. Another lap and the chase group finally did go with Zelinski and Sam along with a number of other riders soon flying off the front. I was feeling terrible and couldn't make the group.

Still Guyot of Armee de Terre, a number of Cotes d'Armor and VCP Lorient were still in the bunch. I could see they were biding their time to jump across to the chase group,which was still in sight. Flat windy section and the big hitters went, I buried myself but couldn't quite get on the wheel. I was dangling a few bike lengths off it, slowly clawing my way up to Guyots wheel. 

Then we turned left! Not good as it meant everyone sprinted out of the corner, I was already sprinting into it! Thus couldn't go any harder and the gap to the wheel in front opened, I was in no mans land. The break going up the road the bunch of 70-80 riders a couple of hundred metres behind. I sat up.

I decided that was it for the day. I'd tried my best on a pan flat, sprint fest course, with bad legs. It was clearly a sign I should take the last few laps easy in the bunch and save my legs for the next days racing.

That's what I did. The bunch weren't to interested now as around 25 riders were now up the road. Last lap and across the line on the wheel of Vignes. Clearly he is either knackered or saving his legs for today's race as well, will soon find out!

Mike did an awesome ride for 5th, Sam was really strong all race but was worked over in chasing group coming just outside top 20 and myself in the bunch. So not a course for me but been told today's is. Same series this time in a place called Scaer. Meant to be ridiculously hard and hilly. 

Horses for courses as they say, lets hope today then I have some horse power!