When I downloaded the route profile for GP Thesseloniki I was immediately excited: a 170km road stage with a 20km mountain in the middle ascending up to 1350m. It was the most exciting route profile I had seen all season.
The promise of the route profile kept me motivated through a few tough weeks of training and when it finally arrived it was quite something. Although I was specifically targeting the road race, the event actually consisted of two stages: a 50km criterium on the first day followed by the road race the morning after.
The 4km loop of the criterium course was in the heart of Thesseloniki, Greece’s second largest city, right alongside the Gulf. There were loads of loud, excited spectators and, with the bunch weaving from left to right under the strain of constant attacks, they had plenty to cheer about. In just under an hour the early break of three riders stole the show.
We started the next day at 9am and as soon as we left the city the attacks began. After 10km a group of 5 got away, followed by a small chase group about 10 minutes later. I was content in the bunch since I planned to save my legs for the climb. The speed of the peloton began to drop, however, and I began to get worried since no one was taking control. When another group of 9 got a small gap, I thought it may be better off the front than sitting back in a bunch that was dragging its heels.
The group worked well to join the front of the race and by the time we got there a group of 4 were about a minute off the front. As we hit the climb and the inevitable attacks started, I was able to follow and stay with the strong climbers. As the 20km climb dragged on, however, I began to crack. I had to back off and ride at my own pace. I made it over the top in no mans land and set about chasing after reaching the rider in front of me. Two other riders joined us from behind and we worked together across the 60km flat towards the finish. The race remained as it was and I ended up in 13th after a tough final 4km uphill finish.
I was happy after tough 5 hour day but couldn’t help being a little disappointed about my performance on the climb. After a season of racing only on the flats I just didn’t have the condition to match the guys on the climb. I head back to South Africa in a week, motivated and ready to race and work hard to be competitive on hillier terrain next year.