Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Next Chapter

Picking up from where I left off last, I thought I'd start by briefly summarising some of the races I did in the second half of the season.

29th July - Ronde Van Vlaams Brabant - Stage 4
After having a nightmare of a day on stage 3 I knew I had to do a decent ride on stage 4. A large break of around 15 riders formed early on and my team had 2 guys in it so it was a good situation to be in. It was extremely windy and Lotto were forcing the pace every lap on one long, exposed crosswind stretch of road. I knew it was better to be up the road than in the gutter each lap so with around 70km remaining I attacked with a handful of riders and we bridged 1'30 to the breakaway. I felt strong coming into the finish but with less than 5km to go we were swamped by the peloton.

5th August - Overijse - 7th
I'd raced the previous day but early on my di2 started playing up and after 1 hour in 53/11 I had to climb off. It was as if the battery died but I knew it was fully charged so it couldn't have been that, and every cable was plugged in. Half an hour after I'd stopped, it started shifting perfectly again... standard. I went for a ride the next morning, ran a diagnostics check on my laptop and it worked fine so I trusted it'd work in the race that afternoon.

I love racing on the roads near Overijse, it's quite hilly and it's an area I used to train in every other day when I lived in Ottenburg. I formed the break early on and we were soon out of sight. Sadly, however my gearing started playing up again. I could 'manage' throughout the race but with 5km to go it wouldn't budge out of 53/21. I was spinning my tits off following the late attacks and I knew a well-timed solo move around 2km to the finish would be perfect from a 10-man group. I attacked and got a good gap but I couldn't shift down and couldn't ride fast enough in the gear I was in. As soon as I was brought back a rider went over the top and solo'd to the win and I finished a disconsolate 7th. I didn't know whether to cry or punch something.

10th August - Halen - 11th
I really enjoy racing in bad weather, especially in Belgium, Belgians are notorious for cornering like they're on ice at the first sign of rain (at an amateur level at least). I was always towards the front and attentive until I relaxed a little too much and slipped to the middle of the bunch. As I started to move forward I saw a break of 5, containing 3 Lotto riders, scream off into the distance. I was left sprinting for minor places and finished 11th.

8th September - Herselt Koerse - 10th 
Another wet race and one less than 10km from home. It was your typical end of season 'rolling' kermesse. Heavy roads, not a huge field, but an absolute death fest of attacks. I was aggressive early on and felt great but long story short, in typical fashion, I missed two golden opportunities to make the breakaway and was left riding round wondering how it all went so wrong. The best I could salvage was 10th.

I'm back in the UK now, re-adjusting to life at home. I could write a book about what it's like to live and race abroad, chasing a career in cycling. For now though I just want to thank the people in cycling that made the last three years possible.

First off is the Dave Rayner Fund, and in particular Joscelin Ryan and Chris Walker. The fund has supported me every year I've been in Belgium and it goes without saying that it would not have been possible without them.

Click here for tickets to the dinner!

Then there's the individuals and other companies that have helped me; GripGrab, PedalPotential, Benu Energy, Paul Haynes, Paul Lockett, Prendas and many more. There's been so many times where I've felt what I give back doesn't even come close to what they've given me.

Next is the team I've ridden for during the last two seasons; Goma Dakwerken, and my manager; Gerry Vande Pontseele. He gave me everything I needed to succeed; kit, transportation and a brilliant calendar. He picked me for team races time and time again when even I doubted my own abilities. Truthfully, I don't know why he did it, but I cannot thank him, the other staff members and my teammates enough.

Finally thank you to everybody I met in 2017 in connection with Cafe Surplace. Betty and Chris (the owners) helped me from the day I got there until the day I left. The lads I lived with made it a blast. Races, cafe rides, shopping, watching movies, cooking, they made everything more memorable and more enjoyable. The locals who were always friendly and supportive; Danny and Helene, Ingrid and Ruddy, Walter and Eline, Pascal and Heidi, Eddy and Mark and the rest. Finally, Isabeau and her mum, Miranda, who looked out for me on and off the bike and did more for me than I can ever thank them for. I cannot wait to see you all again next year.

I have decided not to return to Belgium for the whole season in 2018. It's been a fantastic chapter of my life but I'm ready to start the next one now. I'll be back at some point next year because I love racing there and I love the people listed above but it's time for a change. I'm very excited to be riding for Morvelo Basso in 2018. My good friend Stephen Bradbury is on the team and I met a handful of the riders and the manager out in Belgium towards the end of this season. They have a great setup and a strong cohesion. I'm really looking forward to racing for them and racing in the UK again.

Click here to visit the team's website.

Again, thank you to everyone who's supported me the last three years. I'm so grateful that I could experience so much and meet so many brilliant people. I'll never forget all that I've done and everyone that I've met.


Surplace crew.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Bidons, Bandages and Breakaways

If I had to choose a period then spring would certainly be my favourite time of the season both to race and to watch the pros on TV. All those months of winter training and speculation put to bed in an instant. Spring now seems like a distant memory and summer has well and truly arrived in Belgium. Getting ready for training takes all of 30 seconds, getting to sleep at night is a deeply unpleasant affair and racing is becoming a case of who can cope with the heat the best.

The last 6 weeks have been very busy, below is a brief summary of a selection of the races I've done.

7th May - GP Fietsen D'Hose - 17th
A race I enjoy, it's organised and sponsored by my team so we're all obliged to be there but it's far from a chore. The parcour is nice and it's always fun to try and rip up a kermesse with your team. Many of you will have heard the recent Tom Boonen quote; "Sometimes you don't need a plan, you just need big balls". Well on this day I left mine at home. The perfect number of guys had just attacked, the break was going and I knew it. I attacked in the gutter on the right as the bunch slowed but just as I did so a rider was drifting towards the edge of the road. I should have bombed through the gap before it closed but I reached for the brakes and that was that. In the end I salvaged what I could and had to settle for a disappointing 17th.

18th-21st May - Tour de la Manche 
I was fortunate enough to race here last year so I knew what to expect. The level of racing is high as there are a number of first division French teams present, more so this season than last season. In 2016 I finished close to last place on GC and I struggled on almost every stage. This year however I was much more competitive. After 5 stages I finished 32nd in the General Classification. A poor ITT saw me lose some crucial time and cost me, but all in all it was a great race and there was lots to be taken from it.

28th May - Wezembeek Oppen BVB - 23rd
Immediately after the Tour de la Manche I headed back to the UK for a few days to see my family. Shortly after I returned to Belgium I headed to Wesembeek for the first round of the Belgian cup. It was a fairly rolling course but it ended in a bunch sprint. The last kilometre consisted of a downhill right-hand bend, some traffic furniture, a right, another right and then a downhill left hand turn 250 meters before the line. Basically, it was stupid. A combination of luck, anticipation and skill kept me upright and I finished 23rd. Our team rode strongly and we're currently sitting in 3rd place in the team classification.

30th May - Booischot Kermesse 
I knew my form was good and lots of the locals from the cafe where I live were at the race so I was super motivated to get a good result. Late on in the race I forced a group clear and we rode to within touching distance of the winning break that had established itself earlier on. Just as we were about to make contact the rider in front of me overlapped a wheel coming out of a corner and he hit the deck. I had nowhere to go and came down too. I was disappointed and extremely angry but I guess that's racing.

3rd June - Houthalen Kermesse - 8th
Despite crashing just a few days earlier I felt very strong. At one point, I was in the third group on the road, over a minute down on the front group. I kept calm and managed to ride between groups and eventually make it to the break away. The closing laps were cagey and I made a few mistakes that cost me and I had to settle for 8th.

5th June - Liedekerkse Pijl IC1
What a nightmare. I punctured so hard my wheel cracked just 5km into the race. In any race this is less than ideal but in a race where the pace is relentless from start to finish it's a disaster. My teammate had a problem in the first kilometre so my team car was with him which meant standing at the side of the road with a wheel in my hand for what felt like an eternity. Eventually I got a spare wheel and after 45 minutes chasing in the convoy I made it back to the peloton but I was a spent force. 

13th June - Waasland Belsele IC1
For much of the season I've been quite lucky, so I guess these last few weeks were karma's way of saying "I've not gone anywhere". While sprinting out of a corner just 15km into the race my chain jumped between gears and slipped. One second I was sprinting full gas and the next I was bouncing and sliding down the road. I figured the best way to stop the pain and uncontrollable shaking was to jump on the spare bike. Like in Liedekerkse Pijl I came back to the peloton but the crash took its toll and I had to pull the pin.

After a few days rest I headed to S'Gravenwezel for a kermesse. My form had definitely taken a knock and I finished in an unsatisfactory 20th place.

21st June - Tienen kermesse - 27th
Even at 18:00 it was still 33 degrees celcius, I expected a move to go early so I followed the attacks in the first laps and then attacked myself when I could tell everyone was a little tired. Myself and five other riders went clear and were soon out of sight. I thought a small group would ride across to us and we'd contest the win but sadly after a handful of laps clear the peloton reeled us in. An attack went over the top soon after, I didn't respond fast enough and the race was over.

24th June - Gingelom-Jeuk kermesse - 6th
A strong group of around 12 broke away quite early in the race and established a good gap. The roads were very exposed and the wind was strong but it was proving difficult to form a chase group. Eventually I broke clear and bridged over to the break away with 7 other riders with just 15km to go. With just under 10km to go 4 riders attacked what was now a 20 man lead group and they went on to fight for the win. In the sprint one rider jumped very early and caught everyone off gaurd, I waited for the guys around me to respond and then jumped myself and managed to just hold them off for 6th place. 

My friend Stephen Bradbury has just been to stay with me for 10 days which was a great laugh. We were teammates here in Belgium last year and now he spends the majority of his season racing in the UK but it was a good moral boost to have him back over here. July is packed with Interclubs so I'll be working hard to be in top condition those races. In particular the next three rounds of the Belgium Cup (BVB) in Borlo, Wanfercee and Kraainem.

Thank you as always for reading,


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Every dog has his day.

Ideally, I'd have liked to have written individual blog posts about my winter training, moving back to Belgium and my first few races of the season. But it would appear that winter, much of spring and all the classics under the sun have come and gone without so much as a paragraph being written. But it's ok, because I'm a cyclist and a racer, so you know I'll have a list of excuses as long as my arm.

If I had a penny for every time I saw a rider pull out of a line when things started getting tough and then miraculously pull an excuse out of their you know where after the race had finished, then I'd be a very rich man. We've all heard them, from the scarcely believable to the downright ridiculous, i just don't care for them. Someone recently tried to give me a list of excuses during a race as to why they were riding bad, I kid you not it was like they'd pulled a piece of paper out their back pocket with some pre-prepared excuses jotted down and proceeded to string them off like they were reading me my last rights. Don't get me wrong, in the past I've probably tried to use every excuse going at some point or another, and you know you have too. The truth is, we've all punctured at a crucial moment, crashed hard, had someone in front of us drop the wheel, had a hard weeks training or been stupid enough to race when we're a bit sick. But when it's all said and done, the race is over, you've crossed the line (or not, because, you know... you snapped a spoke or something), it doesn't matter to me in the slightest what good or bad luck you had. In five months' time, nobody will remember if you had a crap race and got dropped, but they won't forget seeing you win. They say, "every dog has his day" and I like to think it's true. Forget the excuses and look for the positives.

So, you see, there are reasons why I've not written a blog post for such a long time. Some of them are personal and I'm really not prepared to talk about them on here. I also don't like writing posts when I don't have anything positive to write about. I got fully cleaned out by a car in training last month and then picked up a common cold which led to an ear infection for which I've had two courses of antibiotics (neither of which have done anything) so that was hardly worth writing about. But as you sit and read this, it goes without saying, that things must be quite positive at the moment, otherwise there wouldn't be a blog post in front of you to read.

I'm living at Cafe Surplace this year, in the Antwerpen region of Belgium. I was a bit apprehensive about living above a bar/cafe but it turns out I love it. The owners are the salt of the earth, the locals are all extremely friendly and it's great living with a group of other riders. If you have a bad race they can help you forget about it and if they do well it motivates you to do the same. Four of the other guys I live with are also Dave Rayner funded riders, earlier this year I was the rider interviewed for Cycling Weekly's 'Brits Abroad' feature. At some point or another throughout the season all the other lads will be in the magazine as well, so keep an eye out.

As I'm sure you'll be able to tell from my very recognisable orange and blue kit, I'm racing for the same team this season as I did in 2016. Therefore, my calendar for 2017 is much the same; Belgium Cup races, Elite National 1 Interclubs and stage races in Belgium as well as some Elite races in France, interspersed with kermesse racing. Despite the fact all my photos from winter featured the borough of Macclesfield in the background and not the Mediterranean ocean, I'm confident that thanks to the help of my new coach, I started the season in great shape. March was a bit of a write off, for the reasons I spoke briefly about earlier on, so I've been focusing on re-building my strength and form again during the early part of the season. I've been feeling better and better with every passing race and despite only finishing in the bunch in both my recent team races; Driebergenprijs Stasegem and GP Affligem, I'm happy that I had the legs to be aggressive throughout. Last tuesday I was in Hakendover for a kermesse, the weather suddenly turned very bad on the start line and it became a race of attrition. I like races like that, I finished 9th and know that if I'd ridden a little more intuitively I could have been racing for the win.

Unfortunately I picked up a throat infection after GP Affligem, I suspect it has something to do with all the cow muck I must have ingested earlier in the week in Hakendover (see photos above). Luckily I was already down for a 'regeneration week' this week anyway as I have no races, so maybe getting ill now was a blessing in disguise. I'm sure I'll be back to full health for May, I'll certainly need to be as I have a total of 14 races, including the Tour de la Manche and the first round of the Beker van Belge.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to all those who sponsor and support me,


Dave Rayner Fund
Benu Energy