Season Fleeting

The 2011 competitive season is over.  It’s been long but varied, having competed in a range of sports from ski-mountaineering to mountain running to MTB Marathons, with the odd road event thrown in for old times sake.  One thing that feels totally normal is a burned out desire to have at least a month of no structured training to recharge the batteries.

The season has finished with moderate success.  After the body and soul-destroying Grand Raid (definitely back for next year by the way) I thought twice about riding the Gruyere Sportif the weekend after, but a few days of rest and a decent massage combined with a cooler weather forecast made me think it was possible.  In fact the race started very well, with good feelings up the Mitteberg climb, before just about hanging on over the Col du Pillon.  Things went wrong on the Col des Mosses as the power just ebbed away leaving me in no-mans land at the top of the climb.  I was saved on the descent by the train that was Dean Windsor, riding the event in support of some other riders.  We gunned the last 30km to the finish although I was sad to not be strong enough to do a turn having cramped badly.

The good news was I finished well enough in the 30-34 age category to qualify for the new look UCI World Championships for Masters and Amateurs in Stavelot, Belgium.  This was not a planned event but it fell on a weekend where I had just enough hours free to drive to Belgium, race and get home so in the entry went.

Before heading to the unofficial home of cycling there was the small matter of the Giron du Rhone to finish off, with a hill climb nearby in Blonay.  I thought it would be a good tune up for Belgium but suffered like a dog, not even making the podium in the populaire category, although my 4th place was more than enough to secure the overall victory in this series of seven events.

The drive to Belgium was quite epic solo, with amusement coming in the form of road signs such as “Wankdorf” and “Bitche” before hitting some derestricted autobahn.  Nothing sharpens the senses on a long drive like hitting 220kph on a straight downhill, and I was in Belgium in good time for a recce around my hotel in Trois Pont.

The parcours for the race was based around climbs used in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone and it was the kind of course that would have suited me to a tee if I had anything like decent form- seven climbs between 3-5km in the last half of the race that suited punchy/power climbers (most had “Phillipe” written all over them).  The finish line came immediately after an ascent of the infamous Stockeau climb and involved 300 metres of slippery cobbles to the line.

The race started well, I moved up in spite of race rustiness and had a pop of the front to try and bridge to an early break on the first time out of Trois Pont.  Things got a little worse at around 40km where the road surface deteriorated to an almost unrideable state and with spray from the morning rain everywhere I foolishly allowed myself to slip back a little.

As we approached the Ancienne Barriere the race was still together but I was now towards the back of it, and on the descent back towards Trois Pont I lost contact a little.  The riders around me formed a group and we had a strong chase back, only just missing the bunch before the next climb where several more riders were dropped to join our group.  I had something of a second wind as we passed the finish line halfway through the race, and gave it some beans up the Haute Levee where the field was now strung out.  The killer with the Haute Levee though is the long drag after the steep section, and again on the descent I lost the wheels a little before Le Rosier.

Now a little isolated I was passed by Martin Smith who was racing in a different category that had started five minutes after ours and he gave a cheery insult about holding wheels before riding off into the distance.  A group of us did form at his point and we rode together almost to the finish, until the Stockeau finished me off with it’s long stretch at 21%.  I didn’t even get to see the Eddy Mercxx memorial I was so destroyed.

Having completed the race 26th out of 60 in the 30-34 group I shoved the bike in the car and headed south, with Sportsbalm still burning my legs and Belgian toothpaste all over my face.  Driving into the night in pouring rain after a race in the Ardennes was a poor decision; I made it home at 2am.

This Belgian experience felt like the closing of a chapter on serious road racing which I have tried to keep up in the face of diminished training hours and waning motivation.  Next year the focus will be more on MTB Marathons, and we’ll see what happens.  In the meantime there is the small matter of a winters ski-mountaineering and cross-country to look forward to!

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