The next European adventure began again at Swanley at 9.45 where, with some masterful packing on Dave’s behalf, we solved the apparently impossible problem of loading six road bikes, six TT bikes and about 12 bags into two vehicles. The job was so well done we even had a seat to spare in the back. We caught our 11.20 train and were in France by mid-day.
This weekend though, the only time we crossed the second border to Belgium was to pick up Ian, who would be acting as mechanic for the weekend. The loss of space in the back was a small price to pay. We would only be back in Belgium to drop Ian off; the racing was in France this time - a first for John Barclay in 20 years. We would never be too far from the familiar though; our destination was Trélon, a small town so close to the border it might as well have been in Belgium.
We stopped for an obligatory baguette with cheese and salami at about 15.30 in Maubeuge and were at our destination by 16.30.
It was straight onto the bikes to stretch our legs. We had a quick and relatively scenic tour of the rolling, oddly Essex-like terrain of the surrounding area made even nicer by the weather, which permitted bare legs. At 19.30 we were met with an interesting meal, provided by the race organisers, of Steak Haché and plain, buttered, curly pasta. Admittedly we were slightly envious of the steak and chips given to the adults. We then got sorted for the morning, chilled and got into bed nine and a half hours before wakeup.
There were only a couple of other teams at breakfast, which at this point was rather sparse - apparently 8.30 is late? Luckily, I had my Weetabix to fill me up. We got changed and went for a ride on the TT course. It was quite nice; very rolling and had a couple of technical sections. All very fun. We were back for lunch at 11.30 then straight back out to prepare for the TT at 15.00.
I had a good TT. It began with a 20-minute warmup on the rollers, some spinning, then a gear check and onto the start line. My nerves weren’t helped by the fact that I almost missed my start because the rider before me arrived late for bike check, dropped his chain during the gear check and set off 30 seconds after his start. It was a relief to get underway. I spent most of the time watching the power numbers, trying to hold as close to 400 W as I could for the full effort. I did manage this on the drags, but the descents were a matter of getting into hamster wheel mode, revving the 52-14 out as much as possible. I came in with a time of 23’36” for 11 miles, at an average power of 360 W. This put me 4th, about 20 seconds off the winner, but frustratingly only 1 second off 3rd.
It was a slightly more conventional dinner this time, of pasta with tomato sauce and a whole chicken split up between the six of us. We were in bed by 22.00 for Sunday’s 7.15 wakeup.
It was up and straight out in the morning to make the 10am start. We rode the 30 minutes there to warm up then did the presentation, gear check and jumped on the start line. It was another slightly stressful start, as I was pulled to the front and told to change my jersey with 10 seconds to go. I had to put on the blue ‘étranger’ jersey, which I hadn’t picked up the previous day, as we didn’t realise where the presentation was (none of us can read French).
It was a fast pace from the gun; ACROG, having the race leader, controlled pretty much everything that tried to go. With the twisty circuit though, I thought there might be a chance to gain those 20 seconds by making a late move. I stayed in a decent position and narrowly avoided a couple of crashes. Then, with two laps to go, I attacked on the drag and bridged to the guys up the road, we worked to bridge to a group of about four who had snuck away earlier and had a decent gap. The break wasn’t the most efficient, however, and within a lap we had been brought back. From there, I just tried to stay in safe position to secure 4th place on GC. With about 50m to go I almost tasted tarmac. Some real evasive action was needed to skid round five riders decking it on the front row, but I stayed upright and sprinted to the back of the depleted peloton to secure the same time. In the end, I held my 4th on GC, so I’m pretty happy with that.
The journey back was slightly longer than expected, after a bit of miscommunication about dropping Ian back off in Belgium meant having to change course in the middle of France. But we were kept happy by some baguettes, waffles and apples courtesy of the race organisers. Apart from that, the rest of the journey home was relatively smooth, ignoring the post-holiday border control queues that is.
Overall a fun weekend and a good result for me. Looking forward to coming back on Friday for the E3 Harelbeke.