17ème Tour du Pays d’Olliergues

On Wednesday 2nd May I headed over to Bristol after school to begin the travelling for racing a French Junior National event on the north-west of the Alps, with the finish for the final stage previously used for the Criterium du Dauphine.

After a meal out with the team, and a few hours sleep, we left Bristol at 1am and started on the long drive down to Sauviat. The journey took us all day, arriving at 7pm local time. Once at our accommodation we unloaded quickly, changed, and went out riding for 45 minutes just to ease the legs out. The roads were great, fast and flowing, a much needed break from sitting in the back of a car for so long. 🙂

On Friday we went out as a team to recce the race route and main climbs, also having a look at where the sign on was. We also took a look at the time trial course, so we knew what to expect. We didn’t view all of the course for the road stages as that would’ve taken all day! Everyone was in good spirits and looking forward to racing, and bags were packed to allow us the most rest for tomorrow morning.

On Saturday, the first day of racing, team helpers/managers Russ and Brandon went down and collected our numbers, transponders and race information while we had a lie in. We ate breakfast and then went back to bed again, all about the rest! When they got back we had a light lunch to prepare us for the race, and then headed down to the start – the weekend of racing finally about to start.

We had plenty of time to get ready before the race, which was useful as someone had forgot to pick up helmet and shoes, but first we had a podium sign on and presentation like in the big tours, with an announcer giving it a feel of a pro race. The announcerhad done his homework on all the riders, and I chuckled with him mentioning that I had ridden Odd Down Winter Series! Although no one else will have not known that it was essentially the “World Champs!” 🙂

Pre race we had to do a gear check, and then we spent 30 minutes on a bridge waiting for the roll out, this sets a new record for the longest wait, with most riders ending up taking a pee off the side of the bridge! we assembled as a team towards the front.

The race was hard, fast, hilly and hot, the hardest stage i had ever ridden. It was full gas from the start, enough to take a couple of strava KOMS – a real win of the week! The race stayed together faily well until the second cat climb, where I had to do more work at the bottom following a quick descent into it, as I dropped backwards a little. On the climb it just exploded, with riders shelled everywhere, and it was a constant fight to stay with the front over the final few kilometers, as i was swinging, although i think everyone was! Post climb it settled down a bit, although the pace was still very high. No riders regained contact to the front group, with more getting dropped on repeats of the climb. Sadly i ended up losing contact with the front group on the final descent, and whilst I was closing in back to the group, a sharp hairpin turn into a climb saw the legs just dissapear. I lost contact fully, but I got my head down time trialed in, losing under two minutes, but still 28th on GC.

Post stage we rode back down to the HQ once everyone had finished, which provided an adequate cool down to let the legs be as good as they could possibly be for the next day. Once back at the house and clean, we loaded the van up with road and tt bikes for sundays double stage day, ate well, and then get some sleep before an early start in the morning at Marat.

We got to the start of the TT in plenty of time, so we unloaded all the bikes and got everything sorted. Where we had a rider low down on gc – and so off early in the TT, there was enough time for both me and George to go in the following team car to see the course and how to best ride it. We prepped our kit and made sure all was ready before we went in the car, so there was no rush when we returned. Once back and with course info, I started to get final bits of kit on and get into my zone, with pre warm up music and routines. Then it was on to the turbo with new music and getting used to my TT bike in a UCI legal set up. I was feelign good with my timings perfect, and I did a much better TT than i thought i would, only dropping a handful of seconds to the other GC riders. The quickest rider in the TT was of little relevance as he was a long way down on GC.

So, on to the final road stage, finishing up the lower half of the Col du Béal, which was used for a summit finish in the crit du dauphiné in 2014 with Froomey winning up it – a highly rated climb. I wasn’t feeling super before the race, but after it got underway I got into the rhythm and was comfortable in at the front of the race. I was good on the climbs, and managed the descents well, starting them at the front to allow space to move backwards through the group as i was more cautious than others! Unfortunately I got detatched slightly on the final descent before the big climb, and was helped by a team mate, Sam, to get down safely and in to the best position going into the bottom of the climb to try and get back to the group. I just rode up at my own tempo, holding the same speed as the front group which where in site, not going backwards but unable to make major inroads. as i climbed i just picked off riders one by one, and ended up coming in 15th on the stage, and that resulted in 21st on GC – an improvement of about 20 places from after the TT!

After the climb i was empty, and had to be pushed away from the finish by a marshal as the legs just went, so I rolled away and then collasped off the bike and had a lie down on some French tarmac!

I spent some time recovering and then it was time to eat, drink and hand back numbers, bringing an end to the best race I have taken part in so far, an incredible experience. So then it was time to  return to the van, packing stuff away before heading back to the house to do yet more packing and van loading in preparation for the drive home the next morning.

A long 18 hour journey later and i was back home and getting into bed for 5 hours sleep before returning back to normality with double physics, maths and PE at school! It was great to see my school friends, even if they were complaining that i didnt win, but celebrating I raced and stayed upright!!! Cheeky!!!

I would like to thank all that made this trip possible, especially to Russ and Brandon for helping us through the weekend and providing us with a great experience and plenty of fun whilst being away, and being prepared to go the extra mile to give us the best chance possible, whether that be with logistics or sawing away at Sam’s TT bike seatpost to make it fit the UCI jig! It was a event that will live long in the mind.

I’d also like to say thanks to the various sponsors that helped support our trip, British Cycling South Region for providing us with kit and funding to race, to Primera Sports for the help with nutrition, bottles, caps and much more, to Prendas Cyclismo for providing us with some awesome socks and clothing for the racing, to Plane Clothes for giving us t-shirts to wear for the event and making us feel like a collective team even more, and finally to goselfdrive.com for the race packs they gave us, with race food and equipment that was appreciated and used over the weekend and will be useful in future races.

Also a personal thanks to Sunwise for the continued support, with my eyewear performing excellently once again in challenging conditions, and to my coach Peter Georgi at Halo Cycles for the support, advice and work that enables me to progress and develop. Also a big thanks to Zonkey for continuing to back me.