Matt’s fanclub at The Century Duo in Aarschot, Belgium
So those last few days training were pretty tough. After nearly two weeks with no big efforts, that five hours jam-packed full of intervals almost finished me off.
A typical five-hour ride from my coach doesn’t leave much time to mess about. It takes almost as much concentration as racing. I can’t say I enjoyed much of the day and neither did poor Adam Blythe whom I told I was just doing a ‘steady few hour’! Sorry chap…
The next day I had another five hours to do, but this really was a steady five hours – a rather enjoyable five hours compared too yesterday. I had no numbers to ride too, no schedule in my pocket, just the simple task of pedalling my bike, not too fast, not too slow, for five hours.
This is probably one of the things I enjoy most about cycling, just riding my bike, plain and simple. So I got suited and booted and headed up north into Holland with my good friend Mr Mark McNally. No Drama just a nice bike ride in the sun with a fellow scally.
Next up, once again, was a bit of recovery before the next racing block. Normally after a good training block we head to our favourite cafe, The Century Duo, in Aarschot for a good feast and knees up. The owners there are cycling nuts, as all Belgians are. Nikki and I first went there a few years back and the owner, Eric, recognised Nikki from a race on television earlier that morning. Ever since they have been our biggest supporters and fans! As you can see in the photos there’s an Irish flag flying outside since I won the nationals last year and the walls are plastered with jerseys photos and all sorts of stuff.
There’s a good little group of riders living in and around Aarschot with myself and Nikki, Adam Blythe and his girlfriend Lizzie Armistead, Andy Fenn and his girlfriend Lucy Martin, and poor old Mark McNally, who is still in search of a friend of the opposite sex. So a good training group and a good few people to knock about with off the bike and keep ourselves busy.
So after a few easy days of recovery rides, a lot of coffee and some good food at the Century I was on the way to my second home. Hotel Pechuer, just outside Ghent is the hotel HTC-Highroad use for almost every Belgian race so to me it’s becoming quite familiar. It’s one of the nicest hotels in Belgium with awesome food and great rooms so I usually enjoy my time here, sleeping, eating, massage, training/racing and lying on my bed is about all I get up too, so recovery and relaxation are always too the max.
Now to my race, Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Unfortunately nothing to write home about really. I was feeling really motivated to race, we had no clear leader or ‘Kop man’ here so we were all given a bit of freedom to race for ourselves. So for me it was going to be a rare opportunity where I could get stuck in and vie for a result myself. I was keen as mustard and got stuck in right from the start. I must say I wasn’t feeling to sharp from the off but I put it out of my head and got stuck in to following attacks and trying to go with a breakaway. After almost two hours of constant attacking and an average of 49kph, the elastic finally snapped and four riders went clear. This group was never going to succeed so it wasn’t one for me.
I was looking out for bigger groups of 10-15. I wasn’t racing for TV time, I wanted a result.
So a bit of calm was instilled in the peloton – which lasted all of 5kms until we approached the ‘berg zone’ and here the tension shot up, along with the speed. I fought well and entered all of the first sections in the first 20. Usually if you can keep yourself up front in a good position its happy days, but you need the legs to stay there too.
I didn’t have those legs. I ended up going from the front group to the back group in a matter of minutes and my race was as good as over. We chased for a while but were never going to catch up so we soldiered on through the last 30kms to the finish. I was pretty disappointed and embarrassed with how I felt but after such a long spell off my bike last week I was pretty crazy to expect much more when the level here is so high. I was cheered up by the fact my good mate Geraint [Thomas, Team Sky] came close to the win and finished second.
So, having raced Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, the next phase is recovery, reconnaissance of the climbs ahead of my next races and, as they say in Belgium, ‘Vollebak’.