discovering Life on the continent
Scroll down for an insight into the life of a young cyclist chasing his dreams
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,
What a whirlwind of a time its been for me since I last posted on here! It feels like so much has happened in my life between then and now, yet when looking back I am having trouble thinking of a topic for today. Unfortunately, that means that this weeks blog will be a lot shorter than normal
I guess by this point many of you will have heard about my crash whilst on camp with my team (AG2R Citroen U19 team.) However, for those of you who haven't heard, I had an incident on a training camp at the end of February. It was the first training day of the camp and spirits were high throughout the team! We set off early in the morning for testing on a local climb. Personally the testing went as well as it possibly could have and huge improvements were made in all aspects of my data. Once everyone had finished we headed back down the descent and shook out the legs ready for a steady 3-4 hours extra to finish off the day. Unfortunately for me I was knocked off the road and into the safety barriers, eventually landing back onto the tarmac with my collarbone taking most of the impact. The result of this can be seen on the x-ray below:
Unfortunately for me during this rehab time I have missed a few season opening races which I imagine were my last chances for a while now as the pandemic continues to cause havok across the world. Although, at the time I was disappointed not to start these races, looking back it was 100% the best decision as the risk massively outweighed the benefit!
Honestly, I don't know when I will next line up for a race, everything is once again up in the air and races are being cancelled each day, the main talking point being Paris-Roubaix, a race I have dreamed of doing since the first time I saw it on the TV. This year was my chance but it is now looking increasingly likely to be cancelled for the second year running :(
Hopefully that is all my bad luck out of the way for the year now because I'm looking forward to show what I am capable of this season and I am ready to give it my all whenever racing will start for me, for the moment though I'll continue with my training and be ready to start my season whenever a racing opportunity should arise!
Whats Next ?
Finally i'm back writing my next blog entry, a little later than expected, but i'm back none the less. In today's blog I will be talking about Life in France so far, new team sponsors and my plans for this season. However, first I would like to give you a little update into my winter of training up to this point.
After around 3-4 weeks off at the end of September start of October I got back into light training, speaking with my coach we decided on my first set of goals and got our plan together ready to really attack the winter ahead and so for the next few weeks I slowly began to increase volume whilst still using a lot of diversity in my sessions. I was doing MTB, road, running, walking and gym switching up each week and making it interesting whilst working on different muscles I would never normally pay any attention to. From here we started to increase volume little by little and I got in some solid miles just before heading back home for December. Whilst at home, my first two weeks were spent on the turbo along with the final two days due to self isolation and heavy snowfall, this meant my sessions contained a lot of intensity. upon returning in France we got back to work with a 4 week endurance block with bits of intensity thrown in here and there. We also spent a long weekend in the Pyrenees during this time where we hiked to thee tops of the mountains and descended on ski's this was super enjoyable and my first ever time experiencing the mountains in what would normally be the ski season.
This brought us up to the current day where I am currently bearing a knee injury picked up from an incident with a car in a local town. The car reversed out from its driveway straight into my path when i was travelling at 35kmh + I tried my best to avoid the car and in doing so ended up in the wall of a boulangerie with a pretty bust up knee, not to mention my brand new bike and kit that was on its second outing !! Currently. I am doing everything I can to recover and keep as much of the benefits gained this winter as possible ! I have been able to ride in recent days but no more than an hour so I'm just taking it easy whilst being active as possible.
Now onto the main topic where i will be talking about my Life In France as a junior..
I first heard about the possibility of living here some time ago, almost 1 year ago to the day in fact ! I was on a training camp with the team and it was briefly mentioned in a conversation with our staff. At the time I was quick to accept it and the staff got to work setting everything in place, from this point i kind of forgot about the situation and didn't believe it would happen until the next training camp in July where my choices were presented to me, at this point it all became a lot more real and I felt pretty intimidated by the opportunity. Fast forward to the 23rd August and I was boarding the plane to a new chapter in my life. After weeks of debate and questioning I had decided to at least give it a try and I haven't looked back since, for pursuing my goal of becoming a world tour professional making the move here was possibly the best decision I could've made so far. That's not to say that it has all been plain sailing though, the first month or two were super tough ridden with serious illness and injury that is where my choice to take 3 weeks off of the bike came from to help me properly settle down. In terms of the french language, there's not much that can prepare you better than learning as much as possible, when I arrived I spoke the bare minimum and really struggled as I wasn't able to communicate with anyone which was a slight problem when I was submitted into hospital in my first week here with symptoms of concussion after a crash in training. If any of you reading are planning on making the move whilst still a junior I would try to get into the local school, this is the best way to improve your french fast and also keeps you in education and gets you some qualifications which will be helpful should you ever need anything to fall back on in the future.
When it comes to a training environment here in Jonzac, its great. Although there is a lack of climbs, the winds are so strong it acts as a substitute especially when you hit a long false flat! The road surfaces are a massive improvement, and add this to the lack of cars on the road its such a great morale boost when ticking over those long hours. Living with my team mate is also a mega bonus as this means on those tough days I always have someone to keep me going and i'm always there to keep him going too ! once training is over we usually relax and give each other a kicking on the Play station, surprisingly this hasn't ended in tears just yet haha !
Below are some images of the town and my insane view from my bedroom window in summer !!!
Hopefully you enjoyed that little insight into what its like to move away from home and live in France at such a young age, if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comment section below and i'll get back to them in my next blog!
Now onto the big news, from now on my team will go by the name of AG2R Citroen U19 Team! Its super exciting for all the staff and riders to have such big companies backing and believing in us at such a young age. Vincent Lavenu the general manager of the World tour team decided it was time to integrate all three steps of the AG2R Citroen team under the same identity and with all the same sponsors and invest in the future of the sport !
Therefore this season the u19 team has undergone a complete transformation and we will now be riding in the iconic brown shorts too!
We will be riding a BMC Team machine Slr02 disc which will be equipped with Mavic SLR 45 Pro ltd wheels, Ultegra Di2, Michelin Power Road tubeless tyres, FIZIK finishing kit and Look pedals. We will also have access to Mavic's Ksyrium wheel set should we need them for whatever reason.
I am very excited to get racing on this bike and represent the companies as best as possible. My initial thoughts on the bike are that its fast, stiff, and agile.
Take a closer look at the bike below:
Alongside the new bike and component sponsors comes new Protection, kit, and nutrition sponsors and so for this season we will be racing in the HJC Ibex 2.0 helmets, Smith Optics eye wear (on and off the bike), our kit is supplied by Rosti, and our nutrition is provided by Named Sports. Off the bike we will be wearing Hummels clothing who will keep us looking sharp whilst not sacrificing comfort.
Here are a few more images of our brand new kit design and what we have received from our sponsors so far:
I'm super excited to do this kit justice now and get winning some bike races and once again a massive thank you to our sponsors for the trusting our abilities and deciding to support me and my team mates this year I am extremely gratefiul !
Whats next ?
FINALLY ! I'm back in the UK and back writing blogs again. It seems like a lifetime ago when I was last on here giving an update about how I was fairing throughout the pandemic. In my previous blog i hoped to have a few more exciting things to talk about and luckily since then and now there has been many great experiences and changes in my life, more good than bad, which will probably be a shock to most people in a year like this one.
Lets take it all the way back to the start of July when I set off to France for an action packed month with my team Van Rysel-AG2R La Mondiale U19. First stop was the Vercors Massif, we were based in a small town called Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans. It was a perfect set up for the team and catered for all of our needs at this camp. The aim of this camp was to train at altitude and rack up the miles in the process. Its safe to say it was a real shock to the system for me riding in the proper mountains for the first time but i loved every second of it, The views were insane and 100% worth the pain! On the fifth day, after 20000ft of climbing in just 185 miles already endured, we set off for the big day. The ride started up Col de la Croix De Fer, a big descent and after some flat dual carriageway riding we arrived at the next climbCol du Télégraphe where I buried myself to stay with the climbers group only to find out 3 miles over the crest I was going to have to tackle Col du Galibier!! I think its safe to say that this ascent of Galibier was definitely one of the hardest things I've done on a bike due to the fatigue I came into the climb with, my time up the mountain proves that haha. After this we descended back to the carpark for around 15 miles which was a big relief, however when i arrived at the carpark i realised some of the riders were missing, only later was i told that a little group of them had gone to ride up Alp D'huez just to finish themselves off!
The camp wasn't just about riding however a lot of fun was had in the downtime! Due to the extreme heat we found ourselves heading to the local water spots to cool down. The camp was a massive boost of morale for the team and a sign of improvement in the quest of getting back racing.
From the the cobbles of Roubaix I headed to Jonzac, a small town just North of Bordeaux in the west of France as this is the place I would be calling home for the next year. My team mate Yanis Sequin and his family welcomed me with open arms when this situation was proposed to them by our staff and I am very grateful for what they're doing for me. I stayed at the house for a week, got to know the family, friends and the area in which I would spend the next year of my life in. I would be lying if I was to say I didn't love it there, just waking up to the view below each day sold it to me haha!
On the 22nd August it was finally time to say goodbye to my family for the next 3 and a half months, It was the longest time i had ever spent away from my family and was a really strange feeling at the airport when I waved goodbye. I was super excited but also very nervous to be starting at a new school and speaking minimal french at that time. However, I didn't go to my new home straight away, I headed to Clermont Ferrand for my first race since Covid-19 hit. After 1 plane and 4 different trains I made it some 11 hours later, its fair to say it wasn't the best preparation considering it was my first race back, the hilly nature of the course and that the french had been back racing for a few weeks at this point. I was also riding junior gears unlike the others in the race which made for very little rest on the descents. After a tough race I ended 10th and 4th junior only being beaten by 3 of my teammates. I was happy with this result considering my situation. From here we headed to the Jura mountain range for another weeks training camp. The aim of this camp was to get some more intensity into the legs now that racing was back underway but also to select the riders for the last few UCI races that were still on the calendar. It was once again a super tough camp with 20 hours of riding in the legs in just 6 days!
Next stop Jonzac! (my new hometown).
After arriving back to my new home at midnight, my team mate Yanis Sequin, it was straight to bed getting as much recovery as possible for another race day at the Tour des Landes. This time 150km with some of the best international U23 teams on the start list. It was full gas from the gun with all the teams wanting to get in the breakaway. Once the break had gone up the road it was left up to the Caja Rural U23 squad to chase as the they were to be the big losers otherwise with just 1 or 2 riders in a 14 man break. At the halfway marker, I was comfortable but could start to feel the weeks efforts setting in. Then after one of the KOM sprints and soon after a dropped chain, from this point onwards I was on the rivet until i reached the 3km circuit where I got what felt like a 2nd set of legs. It was a perfect situation coming into the final technical sprint. In the end I finished 16th, 2nd in the bunch kick, and 2nd junior as one of the best french juniors had managed to get in the days breakaway. This result was a big confidence booster for me especially after the week I had.
As we all know the highs don't come without the lows and just 3 days after the race I crashed whilst out training during an effort. All seemed to be okay and just gravel rash until the next morning when i woke up with a bad headache. Just a couple hours later i started to feel nauseous and immediately headed to the local hospital. For somebody who has only been sick once in my life I knew something wasn't quite right and so I was taken by ambulance to the city of Saintes to have a brain scan and was checked for concussion. Luckily test results came back clear for concussion but showed a blocked sinus which the hospital ruled as sinusitis. The next week was probably the worst I have been in terms of illness, which wasn't helped by my unknown allergy to the prescribed medication. Luckily, once on the correct medication, I started to recover just in time for my birthday so I was fit enough to have a little celebration.
Two weeks on from my illness I was back racing another 1st,2nd,3rd category race, this time it was the Tour du Brissac. It was due to be a tough race with crosswinds right from the start. After 5km I was stuck behind a big crash which spread across the whole road, it was a less than ideal start but I made my way back to the peloton only to suffer a front flat tyre. I waited on the side of the road for my wheel but the team my wheels were with didn't stop. I waited for 2 minutes at the roadside before I was able to receive a wheel. Now it was time to chase the convoy which was out of sight at this point. After around 20 minutes full on chasing i joined the back of the race convoy and then it was about picking off the cars slowly but in the crosswinds it was not the easiest of tasks bearing in mind the way the french attack the first hours of racing I was shocked that I had even managed to reach this point. After hitting the hour mark jumping from car to car and being within touching distance of the peloton we reached a small drag and an attack went over the top which I was unable to follow my legs blew up and that was the end of my race and the end of my season!
I think its fair to say that this year didn't turn out to be what everyone had planned for, however I am extremely grateful for the support I received from family, my Team staff, Team mates, sponsors and mates to make this year as best as possible in the given situation. I have managed to make the best out of a bad situation and create many unforgettable memories, all whilst still managing to get some racing in the legs post Lockdown.
I would also like to say a massive shoutout to Pedal Potential who continued to support me and all their other riders even when times got tough and without their support a lot of what was achieved wouldn't have been possible.
Check out the gallery for more pictures from this years travels and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for another blog post coming in the next few weeks where I will talk about life in France, plans for 2021, and some exciting news on a new team sponsor!