This year i planned to update my blogs more regularly, obviously that hasn't happened. It just seemed that when i finally caught my breathe from an event or race or anything worth writing about, i was of the next adventure. I was convinced that things couldn't get more unpredictable than they did in the spring. I was wrong. Here I am on the 1st day of summer, sitting on an aeroplane crossing the Atlantic to the USA.
As a kid i grew up dreaming of racing or competing in, this, that, & everything else, simultaneously, at the highest level. This latest trip takes me to Kansas for the Unbound Gravel event, aka the Super Bowl of the burgeoning Gravel Racing scene. While all events I'm currently competing in revolve around a bicycle, that means may last 3 competition's have been Paris Roubaix on the road, the Ironman World Championships in Utah, & Unbound Gravel, yep, that's a pretty big 3!
I have so much appreciation for even being on these start lines. If i think back 5 years ago, not even in my wildest of dreams would i have imagined I'd be in this privileged position in the sporting world. Being on the start line & participating is nice, however, it really hammers home how much nicer i would be if i could actually be competitive in all forms of the sport. To be fair to myself my role in road cycling is one of a helper. When the teams wins, i feel like I've won, almost feel like I've won, you certainly feel apart of the victory assuming you've done the job asked of you. In Ironman I'm expected to, & I expect myself, to challenge for the win. In Gravel Racing I've obviously no idea what to expect. I know there's a physical side to it which i believe will allow me to hold my own, however, I've no idea of the technical aspect of the event, skills, fixing mechanicals, ect ect. Anyways after Saturday June 4th, all going well ill be able to at the very least say I've completed all 3 events & can start plotting on how to potentially excel at them all simultaneously going forward.
With that all being said lets just do a little recap of what's happened during this wild old spring! I'll start with what didn't work out overly well, my very pathetic attempt at the Ironman World Championship in Utah a few weeks ago. Basically I hadn't planned to be there at all. I knew I'd have a busy start to the season racing on the Road & I've far to much respect for my Triathlon rivals to think i can rock up to an event involving swimming & running when I've not been doing the required amount of swimming & running i'd normally do to Ben competitive. The plan was to give me 5 weeks to prepare for the Ironman in Lanzarote after Roubaix, this was a period of time we found worked well last season with Copenhagen. A INEOS corporate event popped up on the colander in Namibia which i was asked to attend, 1 week trail running, hiking, & mountain bike biking across the Namibian dessert, & this clashed with & ruled out me racing Lanzarote. Utah was a few days before my departure to Africa so i decided id roll the dice & show up in Utah instead. I've been able to go a long way in sport on self confidence & obviously in this case id convinced myself I'd be able to rock up & be competitive. Obviously i was very wrong.
The race started out pretty averagely for me & didn't get any better from there. I tried to get off to a good start in the swim & briefly tagging onto the front group. I just as quickly blew up & dropped back to the next group including the eventual winner Kristian Blummenfelt. I was already at my limit & now found myself dropped from his feet & drifting back to the main pack. At that moment i was annoyed for letting my expectations get the better of my current capabilities however as it was a World Championship event it was all in or nothing. Stupidly I probably used all my bullets in the first few hundred meters of the swim. I was right where I didn't want to be with the race literally swimming away from me. This all happened in the first 500m so it was a very long 3.3km after that. When Lionel & his lazy arms banged me on the head a few hundred meters from the shore i knew i was in for a long day. When you're exhausted from the swim you don't then have a fresh body for the bike! I got on the bike & simply couldn't get going, i simply didn't have the legs to make a difference. I tried to manage my effort to stay in the race as close to the front as I possibly could trying desperately to stay positive & not give up hope of m oracle running legs. Those legs never arrived & I did my best for the Marathon to hon or the race & make it to the finish.
If you have any vulnerabilities then a marathon at the end of an Ironman triathlon will expose you & it was clearly evident i had plenty of vulnerabilities on this day. This isn't uncommon for me. In fact almost every year my first race goes a bit like this, usually however I'd find something a little more low key to blow out the cobwebs. In fact 12 months prior almost to the day I'd put together a similarly pathetic performance in the Girona Full Distance Triathlon. I'd obviously prefer to come out at the start of every season all guns blazing but for me it just never seems to happen. On a positive from past experience my Triathlon season generally gets better from there on haha.
Going back to the start of the year & things where back to normal normal with my training camp in LA with my teammate Geraint Thomas. He'd missed out on the 2021 camp with the Covid restrictions so was great to have his company again in the Malibu & Hollywood hills. As would become the theme for this first part of the year my time in LA was cut a little short with a call up to an early season race in Spain. I was mighty glad I received this call up as our youngest team member, Magnus Sheffield, soloed to his first professional win on stage 2. Last season i felt fortunate enough to be apart of 3 victories with the team, Dylan Van Baarles first Semi Classics win, Tom Pidcock's first Rd win, & one of seemingly 100's of wins Ethan Hayter effortlessly racks up.
To start the season this way i knew it was a good sign. Magnus's win was particularly special as I'd a lot of time with him over the off season in the US & also back in Andorra. He'd stayed at our house while he found his feet in Andorra & I've gotta say both Fallon (my wife) & I where mightily impressed by this young lad. As Fallon rightly puts it, his parents must be very very proud to see the boy they've raised, polite, educated, & seemingly gifted with the strength of raging bull. The boy seems to have it all & he's certainly showed no signs of slowing down since that maiden win. From this race the next stage race in Italy continued in the same fashion. This time it was Ethan winning again, Ben Tullet taking a stage, & Eddie Dunbar winning the overall GC. Ben, or little Ben as he's known within the team, is quite the smiling assassin. I'd not spent much time with him until i drove him to the airport to go to the race. Chatting with him i realised his target was to win & win was what he intended to do that week. For yet another lad so young, he exuded so much confidence that it was so fantastic to see him get the victory, as i knew he'd set out to do just that. A real sign of a leader. The guys where simply making it look easy & gifting me with the job i love the most, hours & hours on the front of the peloton keeping everything under control for them to strut there stuff.
Next up it was of to the heartland of cycling to do the final couple of cobbled classics. The classics group had had an incredibly successful campaign including winning the Amstel Gold Race on weekend prior to me joining the squad. Obviously coming of such a big win & being the only change to the team, you don't want to be the obvious reason they don't win next start! Fortunately for me, our Magnus ificant young American attacked from a select group of 6 including Tom Pidcock & Ben Turner (aka Big Ben), to win his 2nd race of his young career & first one day semi classic. Yes, of 6 in the deciding front group we had 3, the boys really bossed it & i could sleep easy that night knowing I hadn't caused the team to fall off there winning streak! The season from my perspective just didn't seem capable of getting any better, every race we where turning up to we where winning, it was just bonkers!
Well, it got better!!! During our celebratory dinner of Magnus's win, Kurt Boegarts (one of the team sports directors) came over & asked me what i was doing for Easter. I replied by saying sitting in front of the TV with my Son cheering on the boys in Paris Roubaix. He asked me if I'd like to be the one on TV instead to which i said of course assuming he was joking. Turns out he wasn't & told me to call my wife to let her know I wouldn't be home for Easter, shed be watching me on TV instead! I really couldn't believe it.
The next day we had the customary recon of the course. This was obviously pretty important for me as had no experience with these roads. Dylan had had another fine spring campaign with a close 2nd in tour of Flanders & obviously a big favourite for Roubaix. As was the case 12 months prior with his victory in Dwars Door Vlanderan, he asked me if i'd ride the 2hrs back to the hotel with him after the recon while the rest of the boys took the bus, it'd give him the confidence he needed to know he'd done all the preparations required for the big day. I was more than happy to oblige as simply put i love exercising so I'm more than happy to be out there all day. In fact when we finally got back to the hotel after 5hrs 30min of riding I decided to go for. 30 minute jog to make up 6hrs, I hadn't done a day that long since LA & i knew my body needed it if i was to stand any chance of surviving the cobbles all the way to the Roubaix Velodrome. During our ride Dylan told me he felt ready for this, an even better feeling than 12 months ago, suffice to say i was pretty confident he could pull it of. All we needed was to be able to execute our strategy & it was going to be very hard for anyone to touch him. A couple of days rest now & it was all in for the final cobbled race of the campaign, the big one, Paris Roubaix
Race day finally rolled around & you could feel the confidence within the team. Normally for such a big race with so many variables you can feel the tension & nervousness. Not on our bus, we where all cool as cucumbers. We all knew exactly what we needed to do & all seven of us couldn't wait to get of that bus & go & do it. I really couldn't wait, i went to the start line about 15 minutes early. That was actually intentional as i wanted to line up first, make sure everyone saw me right there on the front row. It was my way of saying to the rest of the field if you want to win this you'll have to go through us to do it!
The race finally got underway with the usual barrage of attacks. I was definitely kept on my toes & all the boys supported me amazingly to ensure i didn't completely blow up chasing absolutely everything. After around 40km i was definitely feeling the effects of the hard start however also noticed there wasn't a big fight for the front positions in the peloton, a tell tale sign everyone was finding it challenging. Next thing on the radio we heard the peloton was in a long line & could split, we all massed on the front & that was that, we split the peloton in 2. Our entire team of Seven made the front group & with the big favourites Matthieu Van der Pol & Wout Van Art both out in the 2nd group the day couldn't have gotten off to a better start.
Everyone had told me the safest place to be was in the early Breakaway, safest way to attack the dangerous first cobbled sectors. Well, I achieve that, was just a bit larger group than Normal! Around 70 of us to be precise haha. Still, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Here i was at one of the biggest races of the year, Easter Sunday, leading the race onto the infamous roubaix cobblestones, all my team mates lined upo behind me, we where absolutely bossing it! We hadn't gone crazy trying to gain a massive advantage, more just enough time to allow us to deal with any mechanical issues or crashes that always happen when the peloton hits the cobbles. Sure enough our 3 leaders, Ganna with a Flat tyre, Dylan needed to change bike, Kwiato had a nasty crash, where all caught out. In every case however all that happened was they had time to get the problem fixed & rejoined the Van Art & Van der Pol group.
With our misfortune out of the way & all the boys now safely in a select group of 20 or so thing started going our way again. When the others had there mechanicals they had to chase back to our guys in the front group. Dylan now just had to bide his time, wear them down, & launch his knockout move. Sounds so simple i know. If you saw however the way Dylan trained & prepared, you'd be excused for thinking it'd be as simple as that. He's truly the epitome of the word professional in every aspect. Sure enough around 20km remaining of a 265km race Dylan rode them all off his wheel & wouldn't be caught. Luke Rowe & I where 10km further back down the course getting updates from people on the side of the road. When i heard Dylan was solo with 1minute, 10km to go, I actually shed a tear, it was one of the most special memories ill ever have in sport. I was certain he'd finish it off & just thought about the whole lead up. The recon, the days leading in, atmosphere on the Bus, Dylan telling me he was going to do this, the way the race started, the way the boys executed the winning moves, it was just so special to be privy to that whole process.
When Luke & I finally crossed the line Dylan was already on the podium in the middle of singing his National Anthem. I was a little oblivious & screamed & yelled like an Aussie Larikan to him. Being the amazing team mate he is, he interrupted his statue pose staring at his flag to wave to me, much to the crowds amusement. The team had never won Roubaix before so that made it doubly special for everyone involved. As Luke Rowe put it best they'd been 10+ times & had there teeth kicked in, today the shoes where well & truly on our feet to do the kicking! Yep, thanks a whole heap for that Dylan, whenever you ask me to do some extra km's on recon days I know its always a good sign!
So that was that, the first part of the cycling season complete. I spoke with Dave B on the bus after the race as he'd made the trip to be there for the big day. You don't have the track record of Dave B without having an intuitive feeling for when success is about to happen. We talked about our conversation back in 2019, when i said I'd be happy to be a fill in guy for the team, if you need me call me, no matter where you are, no matter how far, you know the song. Anyways, i told him that i never imagined that'd mean doing a grand tour or being apart of the winning Roubaix team! Even Dave admitted he never envisioned them calling upon me for such important races. I probably should rephrase that. I liked the "thought" of getting called up for the biggest races, i just never imagined that'd actually happen. But then again its kind of like the sporting situation I currently find myself in. I've always liked the thought of doing exactly what I'm doing doing. Deep down however i just never imagined it'd actually happen.
Be careful what you wish for! Onto the Summer!
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