discovering Life on the continent
Scroll down for an insight into the life of a young cyclist chasing his dreams
And just like that I am back in France! After spending some well needed time with my family in July I returned to France at the start of August to start the second half of my season over here and what a program I have for my final few months in the Junior category!
Desperate to get back racing as soon as possible I headed to the Auvergne region for a small "racing holiday." We spent 4 days there and took part in two races. The first of which being a shock to the system for me after being in the UK I think the heat really got to me and I ended up 7th and 2nd Junior behind my house/team mate who ended up 6th.
The second race however went a lot better, with a little less heat, a technical circuit and a bit of racing already in the legs from the days before I was ready for this one. I took my time at the start of the 45 lap race letting a breakaway go, but soon realised it was more dangerous than I anticipated. I made the bridge across to them solo and from there on in we gained time each lap on the peloton and eventually ended up taking a lap on them! In the end I managed to take the win and along with it all the primes which I was happy with!
From the Auvergne I headed to Bretagne for La Ronde des Vallees UCI 2.1. After a big midweek training block, including various tests, The race was always going to be a tough two days for me! However, I didn't let this bother me and raced my bike the way I enjoy most, riding on the offensive. After the first KOM sprint a small group of 3 managed to chip of the front and once the peloton gave up their chase I instantly hit it and got across to them. For the next 80km the gap between us and the peloton fluctuated from 2.5 minutes to just 20 seconds until we were eventually caught by a counter attack and moments later a diminished peloton. I was unable to go with the counter attack and neither were my breakaway companions but after picking up 3 of the 4 green jersey sprints of the day I was happy with that and waited for the bunch sprint as I had no cards left to play! In the end the counter attack was never brought back and so it ended in a bunch sprint for 5th in the peloton. Joe Kiely did a great job of getting me placed and I ended 5th from the peloton and 9th overall. All in all not a bad day out but day 2 was still to come and I was really feeling the fatigue from the efforts I had already done earlier in the week.
Day 2 consisted of a 12km TT in the morning and another 100km stage in the afternoon. After a terrible start to my day in the TT ending up 52nd I knew my legs were suffering. With this being the case I re thought m goals for the stage and in the early parts focused on retaining my lead in the Sprints classification which I managed to do with a little help, once again, from Joe!
However, around 15km from the final circuit on a steep climb the peloton split massively and a group of roughly 30 riders got away and from then on we were racing for the minor places. My legs were not in a good way, but I pushed through and with 2 laps of the final circuit to go I attacked off the peloton and caught a small group of riders that had got dropped from the front group. I was followed by another five riders and we rode until the finish together. I managed to win the sprint from this group and ended up 27th on the stage, 31st on GC and won the Sprints Classification. The results may not look good on paper but it gave me great confidence seeing how little I was lacking to be at the top in UCI races even after such a tough lead up to the race!
As you may have noticed from the previous images I wasn't riding in either of my usual colours of VC Saintais or AG2R Citroen U19 team. I was in fact riding for U.V.C Charleville Mezieres (the club of Joe). They saw that I had nothing lined up for the weekend and kindly offered me and Yanis the opportunity to race in their colours for the weekend! As well as this race I was also offered a place on the team for the next weekend at La Boucles de L'oise. La Boucles de l'oise is not a UCI race but is still one of the most well known junior races in France and has in the past been won by some of the best current u23 riders out there. Situated in Hauts-de-France there was sure to be some tough racing with strong crosswinds and short steep climbs on the cards.
Similar to the previous weekend it was a three stage race with a 112km race Saturday and both a 16km TT and a 90km road race the Sunday.
After last weekends performance my confidence was really high heading into the first stage. I knew I had to ride with my head. After looking at the results from the past years they all followed a similar pattern and so I planned my race to this pattern. At the start of the race I got in the first breakaway which unfortunately ended up coming back. I then sat tight in the peloton, positioned well and ready to go when I thought best. heading into the final lap of three I started to line it out in the crosswinds and put some fatigue into the legs of the others. On the exit of the finish town Joe made his move and took a dutch rider from the team Willebrord wil vooruit with him. I sat attentive and then followed the next move that went including another Willebrord rider and an Acrog Tormans rider. It was the perfect situation as we were just heading into the fast tailwind section of the race and the three main teams were represented in the breakaway!
I made the decision not to ride with the two others who were trying to bridge across as Joe was already in the front I was able to save a little energy. Once the junction was made it was full gas to the finish. Although the legs not feeling the best at the start of the race once we got to the final stretch of crosswinds 5km from the finish I quickly saw along with Joe that the others had burnt too many matches and we were the strongest. The Willebrord guys tried to attack and I went with him leaving Joe with the two others behind. We rode and as we reached the Flamme Rouge Joe had managed to get rid of the two others and went long. I ended up taking the win and Joe came in 2nd Outfoxing the Willebrord riders and dropping the Acrog rider in the final Kilometres!
With the Stage win I of course took the Overall lead in the race heading into the TT the next day. Unfortunately I never got to race in the leaders jersey as I lost the race lead in the TT and slipped down the table to 5th place. It was disappointing but not a surprise with the TT not being my strong point. Heading into the third and final stage we had Joe in 2nd place on GC just 3 seconds off the lead!
The aim was of course to bring this back and take the overall win but we were overpowered by the strength in depth of Willebrord team who were not letting anything go up the road, until at one moment in the race we managed to catch them off guard and kicked out of a corner into the crosswinds and split the peloton in two. Race leader and 3 of his team mates were isolated in the group behind but it all ended up coming back together as we headed into the final circuit. Despite our best efforts the race overall looked to be decided until Joe attacked with 1km to go with a suicide move. it Looked to be sticking as I continued to disrupt the chase but as the sprint opened up the false flat descent meant the peloton had too much speed and he was swept up with 50m to go at which point I came of the the wheel and opened up my sprint and managed to somehow take my second win from 3 stages!! Honestly, I thought it was too late, so to be able to get around to take the win in the last 50m was insane and such a good feeling to pull it off again! Despite the win, I cant say I wasn't gutted for Joe, missing out by such a small margin is tough and I could tell he had left everything on the road but it just wasn't to be! It was a pleasure to ride with such a good team mate for these two weekends, its just a shame he couldn't pull of what he deserved!
Nonetheless it was a great 2 weeks with the team and I am great full for them giving me the opportunity to race for them!
Since the race I have managed to have a little holiday on the ile d'oleron amongst my final preparations for the last racing block of my season! It brought back memories from my first ever training camp with AG2R Citroen U19 Team when we prepared for the 2019/20 CX season on the beaches of the ile !
End of Season Calendar
Finally, as the month draws to a close, its time to reflect on the past month of racing, training and travelling! My month of Racing kicked off in the Basque Country, then Belgium and I will be ending the month with a race here in the UK!
I kicked the month of racing off on the 1st July at Bizkaiko XXVI Itzulia (Tour Of The Basque Country) The race is deemed prestigious and always attracts some of the worlds best climbers. In the past the likes of Jonathan Castroviejo, Mikel Landa and Remco Evenepoel took part in the race. I Think It is fair to say that I was going to be a bit out of my depth on the climbs, but I was ready and excited to get racing regardless of the outcome.
The first stage was set to be a bit more of a punchy one but wasn't marked by anyone as a particularly difficult stage as if you look back on the past years it rarely split and usually ended in a bunch sprint. The first 10km consisted of one longer climb and then a descent onto the days circuit where we would do two laps. I knew I was going pretty well after the first climb so I sat in the front few places of the group with the idea of getting in a move. After studying the circuit before hand we had marked a potential key moment in the race where splits could occur. It was a tough climb, maybe five minutes in length, the road was super narrow and it led onto a techy descent. Sure enough the group split to pieces here but with all of my team mates still in the front group we were in an ideal position. The next climb was also pretty steep and had a KOM sprint on the top, here i managed to chip off the front with a few other riders but we were caught on top of the final climb of the circuit. The final climb was similar to the previous, approximately 1.5km on a dual carriageway and roughly 12%. From this point it was basically false flat descent until the finish line. Whilst descending the other riders were trying to rest up a little and so my team mate Yanis chipped off the front. I stayed in the wheels watching for chasers and followed one of the Spanish lads who was wanting to get across. I imagined the peloton would be all over this considering we already had yanis up the road but we managed to get a decent gap but I continued to play the game and not aid this rider in bridging the gap to yanis. Once we were together we didn't look back. it was the perfect scenario, two of us in the breakaway and due to us already living together we knew each others strengths weaknesses etc which helped a lot in the distribution of work load. We agreed that I would pull for Yanis due to his bigger capabilities on the climbs but if I was to make it over the final climb Yanis was going to work for me. To my surprise I got over the climb and picked up some KOM points in the process. However at this point the chase group were closing fast and our 2 minute gap had been brought down to just 30 seconds with 8km to go. We buried ourselves to keep it alive, and that was when bad luck struck, I hit a pothole which caused my chain to bounce off the cassette and jam in between my frame. I was absolutely gutted but tried not to stress and pull it out whilst continuing to ride which i did but I had lost too much time to the breakaway which had just got a pair of fresh legs in there in the form of the newly crowned Spanish national road and time trial champion so i ended up sitting up and waiting for the chasing group of 10 riders which included two of my team mates. In the end, the group of 10 never made it back to the front and finished 6 seconds short. Luckily for us Yanis picked up the win, I won the sprint for fourth and my two team mates were 5th and 7th. All in all a good day out despite my bad luck ! Going into stage 2 we held 4 jerseys in the team but it was all still to play for in the coming days!
Stage 2 was one of two really hilly stages, with 95km and 1800m of elevation on the cards it was always going to be a tough day out and the efforts of the day before really did me no favours. I think I suffered from start to finish. I battled cramps for the final 30km, but managed to catch the yellow jersey group just as we entered the finish town after a big solo chase on the descents and the flat run in to the finish. In the end I finished 2 minutes down on the leaders and lost my lead in the sprints classification to someone in the breakaway. Although a tough day out for the jersey wearers of the team, the other two managed to get up there for 2nd place and a top 10 on the stage which was great!
Day 3 of the tour consisted of a shorter race in the morning and a TT in the afternoon. With the fatigue setting in after a super tough stage 1 and 2 for me I switched my focus from stage wins to the blue Sprinters jersey and aiding my team mates on their ambitions for the race. Stage 3 was very short at just 65km. There were two intermediate sprints during this stage one at 7km and the second at 14km into the race so it was necessary that I was warmed up well to take these which I did very comfortably. This stage was possibly the easiest of the tour on paper but with just one difficulty in the form of a 4km climb this was ridden at the max by the favourites and I was distanced the final time up it. However after a great team performance in shutting down moves we managed to pick up our second stage win in three days and regained two jerseys back into the team. My jersey being the sprint jersey and yanis leading the points classification.
From here it was all about recovery ahead of the time trial, Maximising recovery was essential due to the tough finish of the race. The 7.5km course started of into a false flat followed by a small technical descent onto a dual carriageway and finished up a brutal 15% street with the max gradient being around 20%. I went off well and had one of the fastest times but I had nothing to give on the climb, I was empty so just tried to hold on as best as I could and ended up 17th in that which may not look the best on paper but was a result I was reasonably happy with!
The 4th and final day was going to be a tough one for us! With lots of goals to achieve our plan had to be executed perfectly! The stage was 100km with 1900m of climbing. The sprints were situated at the bottom of the descents of one of the climbs so for me it was essential that I was still in the group at the top of the climbs to set me up for the sprints. The team did a great job shutting down any attacks ensuring I got maximum points in the first two sprints which cemented my victory in the sprint classification. I was really grateful for the work they did for me to bring home this jersey. As soon as that was done the teams focus switched to the GC and getting Robin Donze up there fighting for the win! Unfortunately I was distanced on the penultimate climb but from what I was told the lads did a great job but just weren't able to make anything stick. Robin ended 5th on the stage and took 5th on GC too !
All in all a succesful 4 days for the team coming away with the Sprint Jersey, two stage wins, a second place, numerous top tens, 2nd Team GC, 5th Rider GC
From the Mountains of The Basque Country we headed home for a few days of rest before heading out to the flat lands of Flanders for Menen-kemmel-Menen UCI 1.1
Personally I came into this race aiming for nothing other than the win. I was a big favourite for the race which is something i haven't had to deal with before on an international stage. Personally I didnt feel any pressure as I had confidence in myself and in my team. The race was 130km pan flat around a very twisty 10km circuit. I rode aggressively from the get go along with my team mates. We aimed to have a rider in every move. Me and Yanis knew we were on a bad day though due to having our second Vaccine just a few days prior to the race it was far from the ideal preparation. In the end my team mate Max Cushway had a great ride to get into the winning break on a course not suited to him and ended up 5th! I ended up 16th from a small group of 4 that was in between the main breakaway and the peloton. On paper its not a bad result but it wasn't the result I was there for which left me a little disappointed in my performance!
After my race in Belgium I had a gap in my race Calendar, so I made the decision to head home for a couple of weeks to spend time with my family and friends. I hadn't been home since Christmas so it was great to be back! Since being back home I have been trying to keep my circle to the minimum but I have been able to get out with my club (Lancashire Road Club) from time to time which has been great fun! Its always a good laugh getting out with those lads and has been one thing I've missed whilst training out in France!
I have done a few races whilst back home which was nice but the form hasn't been quite where i would have liked, but it is understandable due to the training I am doing at the moment. As these races aren't my goals for the season I chose to continue to train as I would normally. That being said it has been nice giving the Lancashire Road club Kit a run out, most recently being at the ELITE Cycle Racing National B road race. I ended up 1st junior and 23rd in the elites. I finished in the second group just in between the peloton and the main breakaway. I was pretty happy with that due to the 47kph average speed. On junior gears it gets tough riding at those speeds after 120km haha!
Finally my season has gotten properly underway! I kicked it off with the classique des alpes at the end of may (see last blog to see how it went) and since then I have managed to get 4 more races in the legs which has been great for my form and great for me mentally if i'm honest. To be back in the racing mentality after so long is such a good feeling!
I kicked off the month racing for the departmental committee of Charente-Maritime. This was my first race in their colours and second race of the season, which was pretty cool! The race consisted of a 8km uphill TT in the morning followed by 130km road race in the challenging terrain of Brittany. Personally results wise I was not where I wanted, or expected to be. After a very disappointing TT I was fired up for the road race, and proved my strength to everybody. The result doesn't reflect my performance in the road race after I rolled in 24th from what was a heavily diminished peloton. After my fair share of efforts throughout the race I was happy with the result although on paper this isn't what I should be aiming for. One of the negatives of riding for one of the best teams in the world is that you are heavily marked and in these kinds of races you have to be on top form to be able to stay clear of the peloton and for me I just lacked the extra little bit of fitness that the others had gained from the early season races. My team/house mate Yanis Seguin finished a great 4th place which was a great result after a tough race!
After leaving the race a little disappointed with my results, I looked at what I was missing and realised it was just that top end race fitness so entered myself into 3 more races over the next week. The first being Trophee Maxime Mederel. It was a nightmare of a race for me after going the wrong way on the first lap and having to chase from the get go. I then had to stop and re adjust my handle bar position after hitting a pothole just after regaining contact with the peloton. I then got back to the peloton to find a breakaway had gone clear of 8 riders. I managed to then bridge across to them with 1 other rider and after working well with the group, riders were getting dropped each lap. By the final lap there left 3 of us to fight it out for the sprint which won by a comfortable margin! It was a great feeling to get my first win of the year and my first win since 2019!! Although not the biggest of races all the extra efforts I had to make during the race gave me a big confidence boost.
This race was the confidence boost I needed and I carried the good form through to my next race "Le Nocturne De Niort." Off the back of my previous win all eyes were on me. However, I played this race to perfection and raced it as if I wasn't bothered about loosing. I played the waiting game and just as the main breakaway had been reeled in I made my race move. None of the other favourites were able to follow and i quickly gained a comfortable advantage on the chasers. From here I focused on nailing all the corners on the more technical corners of the 1km circuit. At the finish I won with a 1 minute advantage and insight of the rear end of the peloton! It was definitely a shock to the system racing a criterium again, the intensity in these races is something like no other race
Finally I headed to GP Nieul-Les-Saintes for my final local race in my preparation for my upcoming UCi program. As favourite for the race I had to race with my head but it didn't start well. I found myself 1 minute behind the main peloton due to playing too much cat and mouse with the other riders who were marking me. After a long chase and finally some cohesion from the other riders we managed to get back up to the front. Once arriving into the front group I decided to instantly test the legs of the other riders and pressed on through a set of corners but was only followed by one other. Due to the strong winds the group looked to be suffering so we decided to press on. we were joined by one other rider 2 laps later and as a three we pressed on and the gap extended each time we passed the line of the 4km circuit.towards the back end of the race we lapped the peloton and that's when I made my move and went solo again arriving at the finish 30 seconds ahead of my other 2 breakaway companions to take my 3 third win in 7 days. Its fair to say winning never gets old!
Off the back off all this racing I went directly to a training camp with my team (AG2R Citroen U19 Team.) We focused on getting some decent climbs in the legs and a bit of TT testing done. Other than the miserable weather the camp went well and the team is really like a family this year, we work great together and the ambience is great!! The camp was really good for me to get to know my form on a national level after my wins regionally and it looks like i am definitely on the right track !
As I am writing this Its just days before the start of a tough few weeks of racing, I have prepared as best I could now all I can do is hope that my best is enough and that I can pull of a result that I know I am capable of on an international stage! Below are the races i've got coming up in the next few weeks:
1st - 4th July XXVI Bizkaiko Itzulia (Spain)
11th July Menen - Kemel - Menen UCI (Belgium)
18th July HSBC UK Junior National Series rd3 (Bath, UK)
Thank you to Pedal Potential for their continued support,
Finally after what felt like a lifetime I was back on the start list of a race! At the start of May, having not raced since September 2020, I was told I was finally going to be starting another race. Although this race wasn't on the terrain in which I excel in I was just excited to be able to get back into a racing mindset and test myself on the course of the Classique des Alpes UCI 1.1
However before going head first into a race of this calibre, the team organised a 5 day training camp in Pressins, a small town just on the edge of the French Alps. The aim of the training camp was to prepare for the race, and so we kicked off the camp with a recce of the races key features. This was a necessary part of preparation for me as since my crash id be lying if i said my confidence hadn't been knocked in the descents and with the lack of descents in Charente Maritime it was great to get back to grips with them and really fight that mental block that i was suffering from!
It was also a great indicator of my form coming into the race, as I was still not quick back to the form I had back in February on the training camp in Spain. I was happy with progress I have made but I'm still not quite where i would like to be but that extra bit should come once i get some proper racing in the legs!
After 19h, just under 600km 9000m climbing in 5 days I headed back to Jonzac to do my final preparations for the race.
After the camp its fair to say I was pretty tired but with just one more hard week before, a bit of an easier week I cracked on and got it done. Amongst all the training, I took the trip up to La Rochelle with fellow Brit and former teammate Charlie Paige. We finally managed to get our residency permits sorted meaning we are now able to be residents of France for at least the next 5 years!
As the race crept closer it is fair to say my nerves started to kick in! I'm normally not one to get nervous but with so long away from racing and it being not just my first junior race but also my first UCI race it was hard not to feel some kind of nerves. As you can see from the elevation map below it was set to be a tough day out! 130km with 2600m of climbing it was never going to be easy. However, we had a strong team and the teams riders have a great history with the race as in 2019, it was won by Valentin Paret-Peintre , who was also 2nd in 2018. In 2016, Nicolas Malle won a few months before becoming European champion. Then we had Simon Gugliemi 2nd in 2015, David Gaudu 2nd in 2014, Nans Peters 2nd in 2012 and last but not least Pierre-Henri Le Cuisinier , 3rd in 2011.
Finally, on the day of the race, we had briefing in the morning just before heading to the start. I was assigned the role of road captain meaning I would control my team mates and put them in the right places at the right times or go back to the car to get food if needed etc... that being said I was also given the opportunity to go in the early breakaway if I was able to. After the neutral zone ended I went on the offensive and ended up splitting the peloton into 4 groups coming off a little descent although with no one willing to work with me it eventually came back together at which point I was counter attacked. I managed to just get onto the back of this move but as the rider in front of me slowly lost the wheel on a little rise I was unable to make the effort to get round and close the gap due to my previous efforts. That was the days break gone, consisting of roughly 8 guys who quickly got a big advantage. I had a few more attempts to bridge across but was instantly shut down by the Auto-Eder team which went onto get 1st and 2nd in the race. Just 10km before the first climb is where things started to go wrong for me, I suffered a mechanical on the big main road leading to the mountains. After a hard chase back on I regained contact with the peloton at which point I brought my team to the first quarter of peloton so that we were well positioned ahead of the first climb where as happens each year the peloton explodes and there are riders all over the road, this year was no different!
Although, My race ended just before here. As we came into the final bend through the town, we took a right hand corner only to be greeted by a parked car on the exit that was not being signalled by marshals and this resulted in the rider in front hitting it and me following along with many others behind. I managed to get back on and out of the chaos at which point I noticed my Di2 no longer was working and I was stuck in my hardest gear. Once the cars finally got past the crash I changed bikes but was too far behind at this point to get back to the peloton and ended my race at the bottom of the Mont du Chat 2 hours 30 into the race. Its unfortunate but I did my job for the team and we were able to get 11th in the end. Not what we came for but a good result nonetheless.
Unfortunately it will be another short blog this month. Not much has happened in my life this past month and there has definitely been no racing! On April 3rd France went into a national lock down and everything was put on hold once again, with this new lock down came the cancellation of sport events. Among them being Junior Paris-Roubaix, my main goal of the first half of the season and a race I have been preparing for for quite some time now. As i am sure you can imagine it was a pretty big blow for me so i took a week to reset and re focus my energy onto something further down the line. During this lock down I have been taking time to enjoy riding my bike as well as getting all of my necessary training in. For me this has meant incorporating a lot more MTB into my schedule. The trails around here aren't anything to shout about but that has been really good and actually really beneficial in terms of strengthening my collarbone and the surrounding muscles in a risk free environment
The new lock down rules changed more than just the racing however, from April 3rd we were obliged to stay within a 10 km radius of where we lived which has meant lots of local laps to get the miles in. With that being said, here in the countryside the rules aren't monitored quite so severely as that of the city meaning we were still able to ride in groups as long as we were all within our 10 km zones. This caused what were meant to be steady training rides into full blown races around our local roads. Its always good to have some tear ups like that and it reminded me of the group rides back home with Lancashire road club where we would have a burn up back to the Cafe. Although, at this point i'm just craving the real thing, back in a peloton, the smell of burnt rubber on the descents and the chaotic bunch finishes.
Seeing as schools were closed I have been left twiddling my thumbs in the masses of downtime I have so as an alternative I've took the opportunity to work with Yanis (my team/housemate) and his Father. Its been good fun learning about new things from making terraces to working in the vineyards!
Alongside working me and Yanis have been having fun getting to grips with an air rifle and have laid out a little shooting range in his garden where we shoot at a can some 50 ft away. Its surprisingly a lot harder than I expected haha!
I hope that my next blog will be a bit more action filled and by that point I should have my first race of the year under the belt at Classiques des Alpes UCI. It will be a tough race and is not my preferred terrain but i'm going to test my capabilities on the climbs and try and do as much for the team as possible, but who knows maybe I will surprise myself with a better result than what I'm expecting ........ Only time will tell !
Please feel free to drop me a message or leave a comment below if there's anything in particular that you would like me to talk about!
Thanks for reading,