Sunday, September 25, 2011

So, it's been a long wait for the most important race of the season, the Tour of Britain.  It's the biggest bike race in Britain and with its growing prestige over the years with teams such as Sky and HTC and good timing in the build up for the World Champs riders like Cav and current World Champ Thor Hushovd to name just a few were on the start list.

Stage 1.  Peebles-Dumfries, 170km.
A pretty flat day, three 3rd cat climbs and some foul weather greeted us.  Reminds me of the last time I was in Scotland for Tour Doon Hame premier calendar where I was close to hypothermic.  I was more prepared this time and had a lot more clothes on!  I tried to get in the moved of the day but after only a few miles two guys had gone up the road, Pete tried to get across but didn't quite make it.  It was obvious that a bunch kick was on the cards and my legs were good.  With the break caught and HTC leading it out for Cav, I was in a good position.  With 2km to go I followed a motorbike and several other riders the long way round a roundabout and lost out on 30 plus places and that was it.  I came home mid bunch on the same time as the winner.

Stage 2.  Kendal-Blackpool, 137km
With everyone keeping an eye on the forecast the previous day we knew it was going to be nasty, very windy and wet.  On the drive to Kendal for the start we realised how windy it was, getting blown around all over the place in the van….It was going to be a long day, or was it.  On arrival in Kendal we were told that the chances are the stage would be cancelled as the wind was much worse in Blackpool and the organisers could not erect the finishing barriers etc to guarantee our safety, as well as the public and everyone else's.  It must have been a hard decision for the organisers to make but I think they made the right choice!  We did two short parade laps around Kendal town and there was a buzzing atmosphere with huge crowds. A rest day after only 1 day felt strange.

Stage 3. Stoke on Trent Stage 140km
Today's stage included two 2nd cats and a 1st cat climb. It was a lumpy start with moves going and coming back making it fast….eventually a group of 3 got clear and HTC started to ride on the front.  As we were climbing up on the moors there was a strong crosswind blowing and Sky had got themselves organised at the front of the bunch and blew the race apart.  I knew that the crosswinds would be decisive and was reasonably well placed, but not good enough. There ended up being a 27 man front group and I must have been about 30th wheel with two guys in front of me letting the wheels go….gutted! I ended up in the 2nd group and we pretty much rolled around the rest of the day as everyone had someone up the road.  Luckily for us, Bibbs had jumped across to the front group on the 1st cat climb and ended up coming 6th.

Stage 4. Welshpool-Caerphilly 184km
Another day, another 3 climbs.  A 3rd and two 1st cats. With the last first cat climb in Caerphilly, Wales being only 4km from the finish and being very very steep.  Again it was a lumpy start and sky were attacking the race full on which made it super fast.  I tried my luck at getting in the move but was unsuccessful.  Lars Boom from Rabobank had taken over the yellow jersey and his team rode on the front for most of the day until the first major climb of Brecon Beacons where Sky tried there best to split it.  But the strong head winds made there life hard and everyone's behind easier and they were unsuccessful.  Sky kept the pressure on to catch the break and hopefully set up local boy Geraint Thomas up for the stage win.  They set a fierce pace leading into the climb and I helped Bibbs be in a good position for the bottom of the climb.  The peleton split into several groups over the climb and Bibb made it in the front finishing 4th with Hushovd taking the win and Bibbs taking himself upto 4th on the overall.

Stage 5. Exeter - Exmouth 180km
The Queen stage of this years tour. A very hard and hilly day in the saddle ahead.  The weather was being kind though with very little wind and the sun shining.  With practically zero flat kilometres today and 3 categorised climbs early on in the stage it was going to be an interesting day.  I got popped on the first cat climb with a good group of us chasing to get back on.  We eventually caught the bunch and a break had gone up the road with most teams having someone up there.  Although almost everyone had the wrong person in the break bar two teams.  The break got a good gap and then several teams put riders on the front to bring it back and chase the break down.  It was a very grippy day and I was struggling but looking after myself alright to make sure I made it through.  With 5km to go the bunch was all back together and it was going to be a bunch sprint, with as normal HTC leading it out.  Mark Renshaw took the honours in front of Cav.  I came home 24th.

Stage 6. Taunton-Wells 146km
A few more hills to contend with today.  But with only one 3rd cat climb to contend with in the first 90km before we hit the 1st cat climb of Cheddar Geroge and lastly with 30km to go the nasty Old Bristol Hill it wasn't going to be an easy day.  It was a fast start with plenty of attacks and nothing really staying away.  After about 23km of racing there was a sprint with time bonuses for the first 4 across the line.  Bibbs was still up there on the overall and really want to give the sprint a go and try to get some bonus seconds and move himself up.  About a km before the sprint, he attacked and got across to a small group and then counter attacked with another rider and was dangling of the front of the bunch.  The peleton were hot on his heels and as Bibbs and Geraint Thomas start to sprint they clashed together and came down hard…..Unfortunately for Bibbs he dislocated his Collar bone and his race was over, which was gutting! Geraint managed to get back on his bike and made it to the finish ok.  The peleton rode easy for a while to let all those get back on who were caught in the crash.  When racing resumed a break got away and eventually came back before the last climb.  I wasn't feeling great and lost contact with the peleton on the last climb and came in several minutes down. 

Stage 7. Bury St Edmunds- Sandringham 200km
My kind of day today……Pan Flat!  Today was almost defiantly going to be a sprint day.  I wanted to try and get in the break again though….and unfortunately just missed a 6 man move which disappeared into the distance and all of a suddenly had over 7 minutes (story of the race for me) Even with Rabobank riding quite hard to bring it back, the gap wasn't really coming down.  With about 30km HTC got on the front and were working hard to try and bring the break down but after a while stopped as they realised that the break was going to stick! Not what anybody thought would happen…..It was going to be a sprint for 7th place.  I was up for it and managed to get on some good wheels and got 5th in the bunch sprint coming home in 11th place which I was pretty happy with, it would have nice to have been in the break but still not a bad result.

Stage 8 London. 8.8km TT + 88km road race
Stage 8a and my favourite discipline of cycling, the dreaded TT….luckily it was only 8.8km so not too much suffering.  The TT didn't go great, I had to stop and sort a problem out with my front wheel rubbing which I lost a few seconds for but main thing was my legs felt good.  My family and a few friends from Guernsey were in London to watch so I caught up with them a bit between the two stages.

I was really up for the afternoon stage and the legs were feeling good.  There was a massive crowd and the atmosphere was buzzing.  I was going to try and get in the break and if I didn't succeed help Johnny in the sprint or have a go myself.  Someone attacked from the gun and opened up a big gap straight away, the bunch didn't seem that bothered and I was expecting it all to kick off.  One other rider attacked and jumped across to the solo rider out front and that was it.  Rabobank, Sky and HTC were happy to ride on the front and bring it to a bunch sprint.  The pace was pretty easy sat in and the two out front weren't given more than 45secs gap.  The pace was upped in the last few laps and there was a big fight as normal to stay at the front…I felt really comfortable and with 500m to go found myself in a good place and moving up the bunch with Johnny on my wheel.  I went round the last two corners on Cavs wheel and he kicked out of the last corner hard.  I kicked as hard as I could but felt like I was standing still….He managed to go round 5 people and won the stage and I was just about catching the gap to Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift in front of me….I was just pipped on the line and ended up 7th which I was very happy with.  Proving that I can do well against some top riders!

The season is pretty much done for me now, just a trip to Belgium and two more races to do and then I'm going to put my feet up for a while! I feel ready for a bit of a break and am looking forward to it……

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