Apologies for my silence on the Blog for the last six weeks. If you had read my last blog post, you would know that my start to the season has not been brilliant. In just my first week of racing in France, I crashed and broke both my finger and wrist.

Since then I’ve had more hospital visits than outdoor rides but am delighted to say I’ve just completed a week of riding outdoors again and have started back racing – with success…

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So, what have I been up to?

I took a few days of downtime to recover from the initial operation and crash.

But soon enough I started cracking out two sessions per day on Zwift using a turbo trainer. My motivation to ride outdoors is usually high but I channelled all my anger from the injury into training, giving me a fiery appetite for work.

Over the six weeks I never missed an interval, cut a session short and did core training every other day; I logged 100hrs on Zwift mostly doing structured workouts but also threw in a few Zwift “races” (where cyclists compete against each other on a virtual course through the internet).

On my last week of indoor riding I unlocked the infamous “tron bike” (the fastest bike on the game) and even managed to win an “e-race”. Although I was embarrassingly delighted, it was clearly a sign that I needed to move on to newer and more-outdoor challenges.

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I worked hard on the turbo with the cast on. Photo©James McKay

To keep myself sane I spent a lot of the lower intensity riding using the language-teaching application Duolingo on my ‘phone.

I’ve seen considerable improvement in my French ability since arriving in February, although living in France undeniably helps – there is only one way to order a coffee!

This is a skill I want to master before I leave in October. I feel like it would be a year wasted if I didn’t take away a language which could be used for my whole life. However, it is also useful in the short-term for ease of communication, to integrate with the team and crucially to understand what is happening in a race – if a breakaway compatriot tells me something, it’s in my interest to understand it.

I’ve also been reading like a demon; I managed to finish 17 books during my time in the cast. English books are a great way to get some English language into my life (although podcasts are also ideal). Fortunately, a Kindle makes getting hold of them simple.

I had a second operation to remove the pins from my wrist which was made no-less stressful by the local hospital informing me that I needed to produce an S2-document, or I would be charged 1600 euros for the operation.

This was less than a week before I was due to go under the knife.

After some panicked Google-searching it turned out that this document is sometimes needed in conjunction with an EHIC card for non-emergency healthcare treatment in EU countries. One thing was clear though, this document was not going to appear in a matter of days.

As I write this now, I did manage to apply to the NHS for one but given my length of stay they do not seem to want to help. I’m currently €2000 out-of-pocket but the team manager is optimistic we will be able to claim this back from the French cycling licence insurance.

On a more positive note, I was able to ride the very next day after the operation. I should hope so given how much it cost! My wrist has been a bit stiff and initially it was tough to apply the brakes but riding has been a lot easier than I had feared.

Fortunately, my manic Zwifting has paid serious dividends and I’m feeling the strongest I have ever been on a bicycle.

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First race back: the GP Bologne

My form was somewhat highlighted by my first outing since the accident…

Just four days after the operation I decided to race with the team at the 22eme GP Bologne.

I attacked from the gun with a teammate and one other rider and we spent the first hour off the front, only for our sizeable advantage to be wiped out by a train.

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I instigated the first move in the Prix de Bologne. Photo©James McKay

The commissaire did not/could not reinstate our lead after the level crossing opened. You can only imagine the carnage that ensued with an adrenaline filled peloton stopped mid-race.

Livid at this injustice, I followed the next move away with three others.

But this breakaway was short lived, and when the countering move contained three team mates, I was glad to have an excuse to save some energy for a while. As the last few laps dawned it became clear this move would stay the distance, but after the first few attacks from the bunch started, I clipped-off and rode solo for the last 8km to the line.

I was pretty surprised to put a minute into the chasing pack and delighted to hear the team had wrapped up the podium with 1st for Fabien Schmitt and 3rd for Maximilien Beurville. With 10 riders up the road, I finished 11th for my efforts. 

I took a lot of positives from the race; I was physically strong, we had played it tactically perfectly as a team and best of all I was ecstatic to be back. So remember kids, if you enjoy racing on Zwift, just imagine how fun a real bike race could be!

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Easter Sunday: Montigny-le-Roi

I had one of the best week’s training in years leading up to this race; exploring the French countryside, drinking Oranginas and getting sunburnt.

The only thing I hadn’t missed during my six weeks as a Zwift stagiaire was cleaning my bike – however, even that has been better than ever after my Bulgarian housemate, Yordan Andreev showed me how to clean a chain with a secret 2:1 ratio of petrol and diesel. He proudly told me he was taught this by the Androni (Italian pro-conti team) mechanic. 

I was going to need the most efficient drivetrain in the Champagne, where we were racing at Montigny-le-Roi. Whilst only 99km, the circuit featured a horrendous 1km climb to the finish line each lap.

I was too aggressive early on, finding myself in the red coasting the climb for the first time. I couldn’t follow the move that went away over the top, but fortunately the break featured four teammates. I let rival teams ride in the wind for the next few laps, and as such found the climb significantly easier as the race progressed.

With 30km to go, the break was within sight, due to the efforts of Macadam’s Cowboys – our rival local DN3 team.

But once we had made the catch, it became apparent one of our riders was still up the road; Maximilien was putting in a heroic solo ride with a sizable gap on the peloton. But with just half a lap to go, Max was reeled in.

The attacks started from the remainder of the front group, but to my delight I saw my teammate Yordan riding away alone. Determined for a Nancy victory, I shut down any aggression from other teams. I tagged countless moves but after keeping most of my powder dry so far, I never found myself in great difficulty. 

With 3km to go, one rider jumped, and I followed.

It was clear Yordan would take the win so I fancied taking my chances for second place. I went straight over the top of the attack, attempting to hit out alone. I figured that worst-case scenario if it was unsuccessful, I wouldn’t be jeopardising Yordan’s chances.

I punched out a gap and was away without any unwelcome company.

When I first dared a glance back two riders from Macadam’s were hot on my heels. I hit the bottom of the climb and buried myself.

When I was half-way up, I could see Yordan cresting the summit and allowed myself to back-off slightly when I saw my advantage on the chasers.

I soaked in the last 500m, already tasting the success of a team 1-2. I was whooping with glee and adrenaline as I came to embrace Yordan after the line.

Remarkably, Fabien Schmitt was the first home from the peloton, meaning ASPTT Nancy completed the podium for the lengthy presentation ceremony at the town hall. After the disastrous start to my season, champagne has never tasted so sweet.

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We’re 1,2,3 at Montigny-le-Roi, and it feels great! Photo©James McKay

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Wrapping Up

Being injured was frustrating.

In the short-term I felt trapped and missed riding my bike outdoors. But long-term I lost a sizeable chunk of racing from the season. However, I’m pleased my form is good and I’m able to get some results.

This weekend I’m racing the three-day Des Ronde Des Combatants, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Speak soon, James.