We set off for the first of many Belgium adventures this year at quite a leisurely 12pm on Saturday 24th February at the usual meet-up point, Swanley services. A relatively painless crossing with a lunch stop (again, at the usual place, Dunkirk) meant that, at 17:30, we were around 21km from Kortrijk, where we were staying and where the race was starting from the next morning. Due to the slightly late start, rather than spin our legs on the finishing circuit we just rode the final few miles of the journey to the hostel chucking in a couple efforts along the way to make sure the legs weren’t too sleepy.
We then got the necessary recovery food down us before showering and heading out to eat (again at the usual restaurant for the usual spaghetti bolognese). A few rounds of chips were also ordered, to make sure we had carbed up enough.
Back at the hostel we chilled for a bit and got into bed at around 10pm for again a fairly civilised 7:30am start.
On race day, the main priority was to keep warm. We sat in the car wearing as many layers as possible for a couple of hours whilst John, Dave and Iain sorted out the bikes and numbers etc. An hour and a bit to go we were changed, following a long debate on the number of base layers to put on… winter tights? Overshoes…? And laughing at Matt trying to prove his hardness with the suggestion of not wearing gloves. To be fair, he didn’t end up wearing any.
The long race, and even longer gear check queue (which we masterfully jumped) meant there was no warm up, which wasn’t too bad given the few kms neutralised to begin with. The first 25km or so of the race was pretty hectic, lots of crashes and the main priority was to stay at the front and stay upright. Hitting the first climb though I was caught behind a crash and spent the next stretch of road trying to get back on terms with the front. The chase was made a lot harder with an unexpected, long cobbled sector straight afterwards. The race split and I had made it back to the second group on the road, which relatively quickly re-made contact with the first. Things were a fair bit more settled with the peloton now of about 60/80 (from 180). I then knew from experience to get to the front for the Oude Kwaremont, which seemed to pay off because, despite a bit of a shattering of the race, I was quite comfortably in the front group of around 40 riders with 25km to go.
We had to start chasing quite hard at that point though, as a small move that had gotten away before the Oude Kwaremont was still away and had a decent lead. The advantage was still there hitting the finishing circuit and it became much clearer it would be a race for 3rd as the line beckoned. I had plans to attack on the finishing circuit (as that’s where the race has most frequently been won in the past), but lots of others had the same idea. The final few kms was just a series of attacks and counter attacks (a couple of which were mine) any of which could have gotten away or, in this case, none of them. I tried one last move just over 1km out (since a bunch sprint isn’t my forte), but the legs and timing weren’t quite there. Because of that I had nothing left for the sprint and rolled in at the back of the group. I had hoped for a better result, but it’s still early days, the legs are there and there are many more of these to come.
The mood was pretty good back at the cars given Matt’s awesome ride for 5th (3rd in the bunch sprint) and we were 5th on the team classification so didn’t come away completely empty handed.
We had a smooth (but tired) journey back, our tummies kept content courtesy of the organisers’ ham and cheese rolls.
Overall, it was a nice weekend to kick off the season, I’m looking forward to heading back out to Belgium for some local races this weekend and another UCI 1.1, Guido Reybrouck Classic, in three weeks’ time.