For what felt like the hundredth time this year (though it was only the fifth) I was back on the tunnel with pretty much the usual group of guys and John Barclay. On the menu this weekend were a fair few cobbles in the form of two cobbled climbs, the Oude Kwaremount and the Patterburg alongside a couple of flat sectors, in the space of 123km with 8 other burgs. So, all good fun.
It was already almost 5pm by the time we were on the train, despite having been at the tunnel since 1.30pm. A slight miscommunication meant we met about 15 mins later than we were supposed to, which came to mean a train 3 hours later in the logical world of the Eurotunnel. All it meant, though, was we would have to miss the evening ride; we got to the hostel just in time for dinner, and had a couple of hours of down time and preparation before going to bed.
The race wasn’t starting until 2pm so at 9am we went out for a quick spin to make up for the loss of such last night. Instead of going on the usual canal route we flukily navigated our way through the backstreets of Kortrijk and to the finishing circuit getting a good look at the relatively twisty final 3km until we were well prepared for the race. In hindsight, I was perhaps a bit optimistic…
We were back in time for lunch at 11am. We then showered and headed over to the race. Once there, we were met with the usual bustle of teams and managers. We got changed with an hour and a bit to go, I squeezed into some fresh, but pretty tight shorts, which had quite a questionable chamois. Half an hour before the race though I had to change to my team shorts, as I genuinely became quite worried about circulation in that area. Quite a bit more comfortable I headed over to the start line with the rest of the guys where we would wait for the next half-hour, taking in the odour of leg oil and embrocation and trying to not think about the hygiene implications of sharing a single bottle of water around the Welsh lot and us.
As per usual the neutralised was pretty sketchy and ten minutes into the race we had already been stopped and were waiting for crashed riders to join back on. Once he had begun again I was just focused on staying towards the front and not wasting unnecessary energy, which for the majority of the race I did well. About 10km in though I had to make a sizeable effort to bridge to a big group, which had gone up the road early and which, given how the other UCIs had played out this year, could stick. It did come back together, but at least I knew the legs were feeling good. The first few climbs weren’t too much trouble and on the first cobbled flat section I was feeling pretty comfy. Coming up to the Patterburg though I was too far back, so made up as much as I could on the twisty decent beforehand. I then stuck it in the gutter up the climb which, though being much easier wasn’t the best idea because a little tumble a few riders ahead meant a foot down and a loss of a few places. I found the climb pretty slow though other than that, but part of that might be to do with the fact I was in the second group - it had split over the top. I knew I had to get back on terms quickly as the Kwaremount was only a couple of kms away. It only took a few hundred meters though for me to jump back over to that group and begin moving up. Hitting the Kwaremount I was again a bit far back, around 30th wheel. Thanks to the good legs though I worked my way through riders cracking left, right and centre, and about one-third of the way up I was quite comfortably in the front, around 15th, as the rest of the peloton was splitting. We were all going fairly deep on the climb, holding the tops, intently watching the behind of the rider in front and looking for the smoothest line. We jumped onto a nice smooth footpath alongside someone’s drive way then suddenly the rider in front of me swerved right. What had been a back wheel 5cm from my front wheel was now a rather large plant pot and then came the sweet taste of tarmac - quite literally since it was a face plant. Neither myself nor the bike were really in any state to continue considering it was basically in two pieces, so it was a trip in the broom wagon back to race finish.
My face was quite swollen by that point, but not too painful, though it’s never reassuring when one of the first-aiders responds to your, “It’s fine” with, “No, it’s not fine”. At the medics tent I was told it might be a broken jaw due to the swelling, but it turned out (from a trip to A&E the next day) John was right when he said, “You’re walking and talking, you seem fine to me”.
The ride home wasn’t the most comfortable, but timing wise it was pretty efficient and we were back at Swanley by 20.30. Overall, a slightly disappointing race, but with nothing broken the next one wouldn’t be too far away.