The season is drawing toward its end, and the fatigue is really setting in, physically and perhaps more so mentally. To be 100% honest, I hardly have the motivation to compose this! Let's talk about this Franco Belge race though. We started the race with 7 guys, and as of today's finish, we're down to 5. Yesterday's stage one was windy, wet, and... exciting? We didn't enter this race with a definite gc leader, but we aren't here to just lay down arms and surrender, so we're trying to fight for stage wins. At the start, I followed several moves as the field stretched out in a few cross wind sections. Nothing was sticking as we raced through the wind and rain. Finally 4 guys went away. I settled in for a day's "typical" ride. Little did I know what I was in store for.
Given the unpredictable nature of Belgian racing and the relative "safety" of it, I made a conscious effort to ride in the front of the field. Well, safety is not assured in the front, even in the top 15 wheels, as I got caught completely off guard as two guys in front of me tumbled to the ground in an instant. I hit the brakes but had nowhere to go except straight into them. Thankfully I had slowed enough to not go completely flying. I came away unscathed but confused! I chased back on and began to work my way back to the front but was too far back when we hit a cobblestone descent. I'm not sure what exactly what happened, but there were numerous crashes on the descent and ensuing flat, 1km section of cobbles. With all this chaos, the field split into multiple groups. I was initially in the third group, which chased onto a second chase group. Then we hit the third KOM of the day, and our group split again. I followed with the first guys.
Our situation was not clear after all the chaos. I wasn't sure who was where, but Giacomo, Joost, and Robert were with my group. I knew Gregory had a flat on the cobbles (worst time ever), so he was behind. That left Jakob and Laurent. Thankfully, Laurent had at least made the front group. It was less than ideal, but at least we had someone in there. In our group, SaxoBank was doing a hard chase. It looked quite certain that the day was over as Lotto and BMC had their whole teams in the front, driving it full gas. We chased hard as our gap slowly climbed to over a minute. Finally a few guys began to help with the chase, myself included, and incredibly we clawed our way back to the front group just as we entered the local circuits. I'm not sure how it happened honestly. As soon as we made contact with the front group, the pressure was on again. Guys were attacking everywhere, making different groups several times. I was trying to recover a little from pulling, so I missed the action. I saw one group go away with Robert, which was great for us, but unfortunately he couldn't follow the winning move out of that group, so in the end, we missed out on everything.
So onto stage two. We avoided the rain today, but the wind seemed more of a factor today. It was basically some form of cross wind all day. That meant the nerves in the field today were on high. Everyone wanted to be at the front, and obviously that just isn't possible! The fight was never ending. It was a huge battle mentally as the stress just wears on you. I was near my nerves end many times but managed to keep it going. There were a lot of crashes today due to all the fighting for position. I narrowly avoided a few of them. It seemed like they were trying to get me! I actually had one moment in a crash that happened in front of me where I was up only on my front wheel, looking at my tire resting in the cassette of the guy front of me. Thankfully before all my momentum brought my rear wheel around to send me tumbling, the guys were able to keep rolling, so I regained my wheels and rolled on. Phew!
We did 3 local circuits again today. There was a short but steep climb with a gnarly descent afterward. I was too far back the first time and found myself chasing again in the cross winds following the descent. At one moment, I looked up to see three echelons in front of me. Uh oh! Somehow we managed to regroup though, and each time after that I made sure I was in better position. I tried to help Gregory, Giacomo, or Robert for the sprint today, but in the end, I was less than entertained by the crazy elbow rubbing on the run into the finish, so I decided to keep the rubber side down and just follow the group.
The next two days will hopefully continue with the sunshine, and if we're lucky, less wind. The mental battle will rage on as I hang onto any motivation I have left to battle for position and push through the pain in the legs. I will continue to do my best for the team and myself personally. You never know when an opportunity might present itself!