The last few months haven’t been a walk in the park. With the mid-season creep in May followed by a bout of Flu and a highly frustrating ITB injury soon after it has been a mix of ice packs, stretch sessions and shortened rides. Last month things slowly started to come back together and, while training resumed a normal pattern, I was able to get myself back on track. With a rather dry-run of results lately, it was also time to put that back on track as well.
We lined up in Yssingeaux (a town even most French people have not heard of or can pronounce) on Sunday for a Criterium. Luckily for me, this one wasn’t in the dark and wasn’t flat either. In fact, the 500m climb on the 2.6km circuit was something I could work with.
The first few laps went by in a haze of attacks, breaks, and sprints. A group of 3 settled off the front after about 10km but without any representation from our team. We kept the attacks coming until about 5km later we had a group of 6, containing myself and my Polish teammate, Kamil Migdol, off the front. Unfortunately, with 3 of our 4 breakaway partners represented up the road in the first breakaway, it was up to us to shut the 55sec gap. With the heat rising, it was all about the chase and frequent water bottles but, with the excitement of the crowd also rising as we edged closer to the front riders, I knew it was going to be a good race.
The gruelling chase lasted for over 23 laps with Kamil and I doing all the work but, as we caught the front riders, the rhythm of the last 60km changed into a game of cat and mouse. The pace slowed as we all waited for the action to begin again. My teammate kicked off the attacking, surging on the climb, but was soon brought back after the descent. Next, it was the current Rhone-Alpes Champion, Xavier Brun, who hit it hard. I responded and buried myself to get on his wheel.
I successfully made the jump and turned around to see we were alone. I clung to his wheel over the climb and saw only 3 laps to go as we raced past the finish area. This was it, all or nothing. We worked together to hold on to our 20sec gap but I knew our cooperation would end as we hit the final lap. I was up against a classy rider who was quicker than me in a sprint and had an easier ride in the chase. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.
The lap wound down until it was only the climb left and I found myself on the front, not ideal. I waited until about 500m to go before giving the pedals everything I had to try and shake him but it wasn’t enough. Brun galloped past me 100m to go. I was 2nd.
The feelings after a race are always mixed. Happiness followed my initial disappointment which was soon all replaced by fear that I would have to participate in a French interview on the podium! Having negotiated the post-race ceremonies, the feeling that settled was relief, relief that I was back on track and back to where I had started the year: strong.