"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." Confucius
It has been a while since I last posted and wrote with some meaning. It’s been a really busy last two months with the Tour of California and the Tour of Estonia followed by some Italian adventures, to unfortunately but unavoidably escape the Isle of Man TT - although that‘s no excuse.
But anyway, I wanted to take a closer look back and revisit the Tour of Estonia, for (perhaps) obvious reasons. So here we go... Following some transatlantic travel, a quick stop at home to refresh, it was time to leave for Estonia. I felt good, albeit a little tired.
After reflecting and refocusing for Estonia, I knew the racing in California had been tough, one of the hardest races I think I’ve done with what, not only felt like non-stop racing but, an actual battle from gun to tape. It was noted, by a lot of riders, about the continual fighting and unrelenting pace of the race! Simply; it was racing. I loved it.
Heading to Estonia, I was excited. I felt the racing in California had provided me with a platform to kick on. But, that didn‘t seem to become apparent right away. Without too much prior examination, the prologue (3.7km) was never going to suit me; a short, sharp and explosive time trial with a technical descent. It just wasn't my bag, but nonetheless I gave it everything.
Stage One from Tallinn to Tartu was 187km of relatively flat albeit rolling roads with an extremely poor forecast in store. Rain was the topic of the day. Entering the 'fire-pit' that is the peloton in the morning of the stage, there was an unusual absence of colour due to the standard monochrome rain gear donned by the majority of riders, brought on by the inclement weather. I don't know whether it was the rain, or the scenario - I didn't feel the greatest but didn't want my feelings to be swayed by the overriding feeling of dissatisfaction of the unrelenting rain. I'd trained a lot in these conditions, a typical day in the Isle of Man. The weather, and the scenario of racing in the rain brought me back to an often common conversation between my Uncle and Father, one that at the time probably didn't feel so apparent but sprung to mind as the group gathered under starting orders right outside the team hotel. I was confident, I had good albeit hard racing in my legs from the previous week and I was ready to work.
The conversation - "When the weathers bad, it's often best to be up the road". I was wet, so was everyone. It's easy to become cold and demotivated, and these feelings can settle in and be hard to shake. In the breakaway, you work, stay warm and focus on everything but the rain. At this point I knew I wanted to be in the breakaway. It was the best place for me, and I was motivated.
After a few strong moves from myself and teammates, including ones I felt would stick only to be brought back, I thought it might not be my day but the next move I made started to develop. This move was allowed to grow, and I was there - at the front. It quickly developed and our five rider move was given the go. We proceeded to make the gap grow. It took a good 10km of chasing within the peloton to realise none of the five had an overall ambition and after the short melee behind; it settled down.
In any scenario it’s easy to find yourself in a situation that has been over complicated. This, to me at least, was simple - all out fun. Cycling. I (and the team) had a game plan; of course, but for once - to me at least - this race was simple. Ride.
The start of a breakaway is where a lot of the tough work is done, once the break is established, it becomes rhythmic. Turn by turn. It's steady; usually. Then comes the measuring up. Looking at your breakaway counterparts one by one to see who may become a threat later on, who can sprint and who is there to do a job. All whilst the rain beats down on us. I really enjoyed being in this move, I felt as good as ever on the bike.
Let's make this clear now, those who know me will know I am far from a sprinter. More of a diesel juggernaut. At this point I hadn't even considered finishing the stage with a jersey, although I am always there to fight and compete for the points in the intermediate classifications; give everything, always. Whether that's in the sprint or king of the mountain (KOM) classifications.
The first sprint was a continued weighing up. It allowed me to assess the strengths of the others. I was fifth, of five. No problem, it was closer than it sounds. The best thing I took from this was now the cards had been played. I knew the game plan of most of the riders. Who was hanging on, going easy and waiting for the sprints. No problem, it was all about the end game. At the second sprint, I went early. I kicked with 500m to go and finished second, only being passed at the final moment. Better.
I knew there were two KOM sprint's towards the end of the stage and once I had made the breakaway I began to quietly target them. Being in the breakaway on stage one, the chance of taking away a jersey was all the more strong, but I had to work. I had to be focused and smart. Cycling isn't about how hard you can pedal but doing it at the right time after all.
The first KOM came at roughly 120km into the stage with the last coming at close to 170km. I felt strong but couldn't overthink the situation, after all I hadn't been in this position before. I claimed second on the first sprint but was close to taking first, a few more metres and it was mine. A shame but not done. The peloton had began to close the breakaway, and fast. We had a few minutes advantage but with 30km to go they had brought the gap to within a minute. As the distance to go fell, we approached 10km to the final KOM opportunity. As I rolled to the back of the now 4-man break, I looked behind and could see the onrushing group. Knowing it was now or never with only 8km to the KOM line, I attacked hard with the gap at only 20 seconds and went solo.
I had a gap and just kept my head down, I was receiving information from the team car and my teammates in the group; all urging me on. I crossed the final peak alone, in first and focussed on the final 19km to claim my first jersey to wear on stage two.
There isn't much to say about stage two, I gave my all to defend the jersey but on a tight and punchy city centre circuit in Tartu, it was tough. 18 laps of 9.6km. Although I was equal on points at the end of the stage and race, I lost the classification based on general classification, never easy but I had work to do for the team. We came away from the race with some unbelievable results. Top 10's, multiple podiums and a lot of experience. For me it felt like a huge step and a jersey was something I hadn't even contemplated let alone thought possible, heading in to the race. There was a lot of disappointment personally but this soon washed away when I realised what I'd achieved. I loved it.
A thought: it is easy to overcomplicate a situation especially one that is, in its fundamental part, simple. This is bike racing, it can be complicated but in this moment, for me, it was as it should be; simple.
My first podium, my first jersey, some great experience and a lot to be happy about.
More at Team Novo Nordisk
As always, a huge thank you to you all for reading. It's an experience I really wanted to share with you all. A dream come true and a lot of hard work to take the jersey, even for a stage. Hopefully a stepping stone. I hope that you found it entertaining and got as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did writing it.
If you feel it would be of benefit to others, then please feel free to share. Don't forget to follow, and I'd love to hear from you.
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