So, one day of rest after Bayern and I was back racing already. “Just a Kermesse”, I was just about to write, but there was no “just” about it. The first hour’s racing was full gas, after 1.5hrs I had averaged 330w! Which to you number geeks out there is a pretty savage start to a race which was totally flat!
After some serious effort I found myself in the front group in some pretty good company. Gilbert, Blythe, Nuyens, Chicci. Van Avermaet, Mcewen, Roelandts and Boonen just to name a few. So I was feeling good, but how would I get a result in company like this? A bit of bluffing and sitting at the back shortly followed!
The last 20km came quick enough and sure enough the attacking started. I was feeling surprisingly strong so I got stuck in and tried a few things myself. A few groups looked promising but the right combination never went and we headed into the final 5km together. Around 20-30 of us were going for the win. The finish was pretty technical with three turns in the last 600m, so I decided I wanted to be pretty far forward. I hit the last 600m in fifth wheel, which was perfect. Quickstep were leading out the Italian rider Chicci and I was in his wheel, so I guess I was in an ideal position for the sprint.
The pace was high but my legs were good and I was just waiting for the right moment to make my move. With 600m to go Gilbert made us all look like schoolboys and simply rode away to win by about 50m! That guy is just awesome! I was left sprinting for second place. I got a bit over-excited and hit out with 250m to go. A little too far in such good company with a block headwind. Needless too say I tried to get the jump on them but just couldn’t hold on long enough.
50m before the line and eight people passed me! I ended the day 10th! A bit of a shame, but I was happy with my condition so not all bad. Next stop Philly! [Philadelphia – ed.] In and out in just two days! Our plan was to try and not adjust to the time differences, just get there, sleep when we were tired, do the race and get home asap.
The flight went pretty fast and I arrived there in not too bad shape. After a bit of food and a few hours’ sleep, we went for a spin around the circuit and we were all introduced to the famous “wall” the race is famous for! To be honest it wasn’t anything special. Pretty steep for a bit but nothing to be worried about. The rest of the circuit was flat and fast with nothing much to write home about. So again a bit of sleep off and on and we were ready to rock and roll.
The plan was pretty simple: don’t miss any dangerous breakaways and try to set the sprint up for our sprinter, Leigh Howard. The start was pretty chaotic. Well, to be honest the whole race was pretty nervous and crazy. The break went early and was nothing to worry about. We started to ride at the front with a couple of other of the bigger teams and tried our best to settle the race down a little and make the 260km distance a little more bearable!
The crazy Americans however had other ideas. Every incline over 5m was preceded by a big rush in the peloton and a flight for the front at the bottom as if we were approaching the foot of the Muur. Anyway, I don’t know if I was just feeling the affects of having no sleep for two days but I was starting to get pretty pissed off with it all. I did the right thing, bit my tongue and just kept with the plan.
To cut a long story short, the breakaways came and went but we managed to control things ok with the help of one or two other teams. We approached the final 10km with a small group of three at 15 seconds. Soon enough HTC were together and starting to set up our sprinter for his fight to the finish. Soon enough, too, did one of the many crazy American guys I was just talking about ride full gas into the back of Leigh and write off his rear mech, ending his race with just 4km to go! Lucky for us most of the team are pretty good bike riders and we still had our second sprinter to rely on in Alex Rasmussen.
I was the only spare guy left with 3km to go and to be honest I was pretty spent at this point after a few big moves up the peloton in what was a crazy few km. I did what I could for Alex and put him in a pretty good position but to be honest he did most of the work himself. He was left alone with 2.5km to go and somehow still managed to pull off HTC’s third consecutive win in Philly. I was tired, frustrated and pretty pissed off when I crossed the line but I soon cheered up when I saw the grin on Alex’s face! How things change when you win, hey!
So, race over and we were soon packed up and heading home. I had a pretty smooth flight back but was still pretty smashed when I got home. I had a few days easy and it was my birthday so I headed back to the UK for a well earned piece of birthday cake.
Next stop, national championships. [Matt won both road and TT Irish champs this weekend – ed.]