Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoir

On Friday an 8hour drive took me to Belgium for the first time in my life and after a nice 2 hours of "debloquage" I was feeling confident for the race the following day. It was an important one for me plus a good performance would get me a spot on the team for the Tour de Bretagne the following week. 

The first 25 km were on windy big roads and it was pure chaos. Yet I mostly  stayed in front which gave me  more confidence for the race ahead. A small break went up the road and BMC development team took over almost immediately.  They had an impressive ride controlling the race almost from start to finish with only 6 riders including the leader.

After barely missing out on 2 huge crashes, I had made my way to the front again and we were on a fast downhill at around km 95. There was a traffic island in the middle followed by a traffic island coming off the right hand side of the road but due to the speed no one pointed out the island on the right hand side. Being of a smaller statue I couldn't see too far ahead in the tightly packed peloton and smashed right into the side of the pavement. My weight was leaning towards the right hand side so the only option to avoid crashing was to bunny hop onto the pavement, which wasn't a great option either since there were concrete blocks all over it. So I leaped over my handlebars (Bernie Eisel style Tour Down Under), trying to land on my feet, but cycling shoes don't have a lot of grip so I slid and landed right on my buttocks on one of the concrete blocks. 

Just as I picked myself up a storm of tumbling riders came down on me and smacked me down again. Picking myself up a second time I realized that I hadn't crashed on my head this time and also remembered to pick up my glasses before I got going again (I lost a pair last year). 

Before the end of the downhill I was back in the pack and had time to observe the damage. I seemed to have taken quite a blow onto my right hand quad and buttocks, but except for that all seemed fine. It did make riding on the climbs very uncomfortable though. 

Unfortunately the pack was very nervous now and it seemed like all 180 starters wanted to be at the front at the same time, so it took me a while to get back to the front, taking more energy out of me than I would have liked to. 

With 40 km to go the first climb that everyone feared arrived. The famous "la Redoute". Again on the downhill before it seemed like all 180 riders wanted to be in front (which makes sense, if you're at the back on that climb you've lost the race no matter how strong you are) but I wasn't going to give up my place even if that meant taking a few risks. 

So I started the Redoute well placed but soon realized that my leg hurt more than I had originally thought and I seemed to run low on power too. Riders popped everywhere and I was slowly drifting backwards too, but managed to hold onto the second group and we quickly regrouped after the climb. 

Then something comical happened. Like at Paris Roubaix this year, the peloton was brought to a halt by closing barriers as a train was approaching. Not that I enjoyed the forced stop but it's funny to see the riders different reactions, some completely relaxed taking a natural break at the side of the road while others nervously trying to box their way to the front, muttering and swearing along the way. 

The break wasn't caught up by the barriers so everyone knew the approaching climb would be fast. And it was, though controlled fast, so I managed to hang on despite the pain. A wide highway descend followed (where a service vehicle that passed the pack lost a bike off the roof rack just in front of the peloton, almost causing a crash at 80km/h) and unfortunately I ended up getting pushed out to the back. 

The next climb was a crucial one and attacks came flying everywhere causing a furious tempo and lots of splits. Being a bit further back didn't help the pain and I was soon getting dropped too. 
Along with a 15 man group I tackled the last climb and rode a good pace to the finish, 1min20 down on the winner in 69th place. It was an amazing feeling to finish the race on a velodrome though!
My teammate had the bad luck of being in an 8man break with 5km to go but they got misdirected so the peloton caught up with them again. He finished 20th none the less. 

The sensations were mixed like after every race. I had a good ride and was there when it mattered which made me happy with the high level of teams that were there, but somehow still seems to lack a bit of power. Plus the unfortunate tumble of course. But except for my leg and an ugly rash on my right shoe all was fine this time.
My DS was happy with my performance though and I'll be trying to get my leg back to normal in the next week as I will be starting the Tour de Bretagne. The show must go on...

Funny side story: As team after team was leaving the finish area we were still waiting for our last rider to arrive. He got dropped with 70km to go and there were no police bikes left to show him the way so he got a bit lost in Liège and ended up almost riding across the German border. We had to wait until 9 o'clock until someone who had realized he was lost and kindly enough brought him to the finish line by car. He spent 7 hours on the bike that day and rode almost 240km. Solid training day I would say. Here is the story on DirectVelo for the French speaking people: http://www.directvelo.com/actualite/41648-liege-espoirs-il-se-perd-et-termine-la-course-a-21h.html#.VTYDbJNUP5U

Hotel view Panorama

Feeling the pain on the famous "La Redoute"

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