"Yer Yer" - As they say in Belgium...
Well, I've had more than a perfect return to racing. I don't really know
what to say other than that I'm absolutely fizzing, yet once again bummed
that I couldn't share it with Carole, who's back at home in Spain.
This week I had three very rewarding victories in the Tour of Region Wallone
in Belgium. The first came in the 4th stage, the second win was in the 5th
and final stage which gave me my third victory in 2 days - the overall in
the general classment. Yup, for the first time in my career I have won a
UCI stage race in Europe. It feels really nice....
The first 2 days of the tour were relatively quiet and I thought I wasn't
actually going all that well. I tried in the sprints in the first two days
but was never able to show much for my efforts. After the second day I was
content to just ride the race and use it as progressive training for the
upcoming races, as I had planned.
On the third day, we started in pissing rain. It was pretty depressing as
it was the hardest and longest day and the rain was relentless. As the race
progressed, and especially as we headed over the final climbs, I began to
realise that I wasn't actually going all that bad. I was able to hold my
own on the climbs and when I was dropped, I was able to get back on down the
descents. In the final part of the day, still being lashed by the pissing
rain, I managed to get back to the main group and we chased down the
breakaway to within 8 seconds. I think I finished 9th or 10th in the final.
It was a hard day but I knew that I needed to really dig deep for the
training, if nothing else. Surprisingly, my day's effort paid off and it
put me into 10th place overall - 18 seconds off the leader's jersey.
The next day I had an unbelievable day. Being only 18 seconds from the lead,
I knew I could move up the General Classment but I thought that winning
would be a long shot. Especially as Bartoli was in the yellow jersey and
riding like he really wanted to keep it. As it turned out, I went better
than expected, winning the 1st and 3rd of the three intermediate sprints and
taking the stage win. Each of which had time bonuses. I surprised my team,
the director and not least, myself. The final 2km of the stage was uphill
and it was hard. I don't think I had a whole lot of speed but I was super
strong. Something that really counts in an uphill field sprint.
I had had a great day and to top it all off, I had moved up into second
place in the overall and only 4 seconds off Bartoli in his yellow jersey.
The fifth and final day was going to be hard. It was possible that I could
win but I didn't really like my chances a whole lot. It would be difficult
for the team to control the race but we had to give it a nudge.
An early break went and Bartoli's team, Fassa Bortolo, kept it at 2 mins so
the intermediate sprints would be taken by guys who weren't a threat to the
yellow jersey. For them, the plan was working out well. For me, my chances
were quickly disappearing. The only likelihood of knocking off Bartoli from
the top of the podium would be to win the stage.
Over the final 25km, after the last intermediate sprint, Fassa Bortolo
brought the breakaway back. Now my only chance was to win the stage. It
was going to be a very important sprint. I had to win. I couldn't settle
for second and have Bartoli 3rd as I wouldn't get enough bonus seconds to
move ahead of him. And, as most of you now know, I didn't.
I was a little lucky in the end as the race was a little out of control over
the last kms. My team had pretty much already killed themselves for me so
if I had to be out there alone, it's better that it be a disorganised final.
It came together in the last 1km and I found myself at the front. I had to
slow a bit and let a few guys come around me so I could get onto a wheel.
At 150m to go, I punched it as hard as I could to the line taking the
victory, with the Italian on my wheel getting second place.
The interesting thing about this result was that it put us on equal time. I
was determined as the overall winner based on my previous stage placings
which were better than Bartoli's. Goes to show just how important those
non-placings can be!!!!
I was so stoked. This is a great victory for me and once again I have my
awesome wife to thank for so much of it. We both worked so hard in July to
be good now and the benefits have come sooner than we both expected, which
is just awesome for us.
Now I'm in Hamburg for the World Cup on Sunday. We drove here from Belgium
and managed to get well and truly stuck in a traffic jam, finally arriving
at 2 am this morning. I'm pretty tired still so I hope I can recover before
tomorrow's big race...
PS. My website is currently being re-designed so until it's back up and
running, you can tune in here for my updates.