“If I come out of this block without at least two wins it will be a failure in my eyes. I’m not one for putting pressure on myself but there you go, I just did!”
The Ster ZLM tour went ok I suppose; the legs were good and I did my job for the team in the sprints. I tried each day to slip into the breakaway but it wasn’t to be. The starts where as expected in Holland and Belgium, full gas and pretty sketchy at times but its what I’m used to and what I love.
To not make a breakaway all week and not make the front group on the Ardennes stage was pretty disappointing but I came out of the race fit and healthy, feeling good and more than ready to take on the national champs the following week.
Each year before the nationals I realise how much I take for granted how much is done for me when I travel to a race with my team. Getting three bikes, four sets of wheels, a turbo trainer, race food, drinks, bottles etc, etc. across the water to Ireland alone is not an easy task.
I tried to keep my self pretty organised and kept stress levels to a minimum so I wasn’t too worn out for Thursday’s time trial. I arrived in Cork late afternoon and traveled straight to the TT course for a look. A quick cobbling together of my Specialized Shiv in a bus stop and I was on my way. There wasn’t much to see to be honest. One road out for 20k, turn around and come back. Pretty straight forward and a course that didn’t excite me too much! The only thing I was hoping for was terrible conditions to give me the edge over my competition.
I was up against, in my eyes, one of the fastest guys in the world on a course like this. Michael Hutchinson was always going to be hard to beat. Never the less I was confident and went into the race full gas to try to regain my title from last year. It wasn’t to be. I started well but after about 10 minutes all of a sudden I just couldn’t put any power down, I wasn’t sitting comfortably on the bike and was creeping along at a terrible speed. At the half way point I was already over a minute behind Hutch. My race was over. I kept the pressure on and suffered to the finish but my day was a disaster. I had no explanation: I had trained well, was feeling good and fresh, my bike was more than perfect. I just put it down to a bad day.
So after a few days relaxing in my hotel, I was on the start line again and feeling more pressure than I’ve ever felt to ride well. After such a disappointing TT and my situation with the Olympic games, I really wanted to ride well and show myself at my best. My race tactic was like every year: follow, follow, follow, and this is what I did. The attacks started immediately and they didn’t really stop much until the final few laps. So many groups came and went I lost track of who I was with each time and how many ties the race split. All I knew was I was always at the pointy end of the race and never once had to chase. My plan went perfectly as I was heading into the final lap in a group of four that included no AN Post riders, whom I was most worried about with their strength in numbers.
I was together with Nicolas Roche, Phillip Lavery and Martin Irvine. Martin looked like a huge threat: he had a flyer in the TT on Thursday and is no slouch in a sprint. Luckily enough we managed to shake him on the last climb. We were going to the finish in a group of 3, the attacks soon started and i was feeling pretty stuffed. I just had to use my head, stay cool and give it one hit out for the finish at just the right time. Nico and Phillip took the race by the horns and really made me suffer. Somehow I managed too keep my cool, waited until the final two kilometres and launched my attack. I knew instantly: I had an immediate gap and with such a technical final kilometre I knew I had won. I came around the final bend with more than enough room to celebrate – there was no photo finish needed this year!
So title number three and I was going home a happy man!
After a few days at home, freshening up and squeezing in one final day of training, I was soon on the way to my next race, the Tour Of Austria. The first stage didn’t go too well for me. We had to cover a fourth category climb four times before the finish and I knew if I could get my fat ass over it four times, I would be in with a shout. Firstly I tried to go in the breakaway as always, I almost made it but narrowly missed out on a bit of luck. The last time over the climb I exploded. until then, I was feeling good and was pretty confident, but all of a sudden I died. I don’t know if it was the 37-degree heat, the lack of climbing in my legs or what, but I didn’t make it, and was pretty pissed off.
I started the second stage pretty motivated to go in the breakaway. We rode the first 50kms in less than an hour and after jumping like crazy there was still no breakaway. We were approaching the day’s first climbs so I decided to call my breakaway attempt a day and try to get over these climbs in one piece. The break went in between the two climbs and I wasn’t in it. I was climbing OK but just didn’t have the legs to follow these little whippets up these hills. Next up was a few kilometres flat and then the dreaded slog up the Kitzbuhel; as I’ve said before, it’s the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden and never in a million years am I ever going to get up it any where near the front. I did what I could for the team, dropped the skinny guys off at the bottom, selected my bottom gear (36×28) and rode as slowly as possible without falling over. If I was to go full gas up this climb I would probably manage to finish 6-7 minutes behind the winners, so six minutes or 20 minutes is all the same. I have to stay fresh for the days when I’m needed and the days that suit me.
I started today’s stage feeling tired but my legs felt good. We started full gas as usual but I wasn’t going to try any breakaway attempts today. After just five kilometres we hit the day’s first climb, a third category, 8km climb. A short drop down the other side and then made our way up a 15 kilometres, first category climb. With these climbs so early on I had to survive over them and get to the final climb in as best shape as possible. I actually felt OK and got over them both no bother. A few kilometres later and we were approaching the final first category climb of the day: some 4.5 kilometres at eight per cent average. I gave it my all but didn’t quite make it. It was just that little bit too tough for me. I finished the day in a small group just behind the peloton somewhere.
It’s been a tough race so far and nothing has really fallen into place for me, but I’m hoping if I keep plugging away and doing the right things I will get my chance. As I said, I’m only half way to the goal I set in my last blog and I intend to give it my all for that second win!