It feels like I only arrived in France a few weeks ago, yet the summer has started now. The weather and racing has been heating up, I’ve raced the UCI 2.2 Tour de Mirabelle and plenty of other events. Here’s the story so far…

Tour de Mirabelle
The team at the UCI 2.2 Tour de Mirabelle. That’s me second left. Photo©James McKay

GP Haroue

I spent first 40 minutes ruining myself with various moves up the road. I ended up doing more power than I thought possible for that long, which is probably not the best situation to be in with 100km still left to go…

I sat in for the middle hour of racing to recharge and as a result felt good going into the bunch sprint. As we passed the flamme rouge I was well positioned, in the front-few riders but on the right-hand side of the road.

At this point a fellow rider tried to overtake, squeezeing me from the outside despite the fact there was absolutely no space for him. I stood firm and he had no choice but to ride straight off into the field adjascent to the road.

After that I had to jump on pavement to avoid a pile-up but managed to get the big-gear moving again to finish 9th.

This was a shame as I really felt a podium was acheivable.

* * *

Prix de Villiers

Perhaps it was a good move to follow this disappointment with Prix de Villiers, a Friday night crit around a village on the outskirts of St. Dizier.

I took it with no pressure; an opportunity to try some new ideas tactically and open up the legs before Sunday’s road race. 

Tour de Mirabelle
Using some of my aero kit in the Prix de Villiers criterium. Photo©James McKay

I was strong, never missing from the front off the race. There were a plenty of small moves  and I kept on hitting it, just to keep the pace high and to contest some of the primes on offer.

I developed a friendly rivalry with an equally agressive rider dressed in pink (whom I later found out was Julien Laidoun – who rode for AG2R for four years) but I claimed three of the primes from him and just managed to close down his heroic solo attack on the final lap.

As such it was a sprint finish (from a very reduced front group), but I was boxed in and could only launch my sprint until it was too late.

I rolled in 7th but left the presentation ceremony happy enough with three envolopes of euros.

* * *

GP de Dieulouard

I may have caused a bit too much damage with my Friday night antics, as I had very average legs on Sunday.

The road race took in 5 laps of a rolling circuit in the aptly named “petite Suisse”  (Little Switzerland) region of the Lorraine National Park. Fortunately a strong early break formed with a team mate present, so I had no need to over-exert myself before the final.

I led out the bunch into the final drag to the finish, but was swamped despite the headwind, finishing 30th.

* * *

Tour de Mirabelle

My morale was restored the following week with my good friend Oli Smee coming to visit. He’d been living and racing near Perpignan since the start of the year and was breaking up the epic drive back to home in Derby with a stop-off in Nancy.

We obviously spent some quality time at the cafe in the town square, but also drove to to the nearby Vosges mountains for a lumpy ride. This was to help get some course recon in for my race, and as I chased Oli’s 50 kilo skeleton up the climbs, I knew I would be in for a tough day!

Tour de Mirabelle
Course recon. Photo©James McKay

Luckily only a quarter of the racing took place in the Vosges, which is because it was a stage race – the Tour de Mirabelle: composed of four stages over three days.

As a UCI 2.2 event (a pretty big deal) continental teams would be competiting from all over Europe, plus a large number of DN1 teams.

The two local DN3 teams – ASPTT Nancy & Macadam’s Cowboys had been thrown into the mix, apparently to see how much suffering we could take…

Day One

Stage 1 kicked off the double-day of racing on Friday. I felt pretty dehydrated, and just focused on getting to the finish in order to try and recover properly before the second stage that afternoon. The stage wasn’t too flat-out so I managed to accomplish my mission fairly easily and got plenty of fluids and salt in me at midday. 

After the teams had lunch (and unebelievably one Dn1 rider had a fag), we set off for the second stage of the day.

The first hour was visciously fast before eventually a breakaway was established. I wasn’t too fazed by the KOM climb, but had to go deep to stick in the bunch on an even steeeper climb just a few kilometeres after. This was certainly unexpected – it hadn’t been on the route or in the road book.

Once I’d made it to the finish we found out that some joker had moved the signs for the race, adding an additional challenge to the route, which might’ve been been funnier if it hadn’t hurt so much.

After a lengthy transfer we ate dinner in the beauty of the Vosges, which ominously reminded us of the challenge facing us the next day.  

I dragged myself over three out of the seven categorised climbs, before I was despatched on a particularly nasty berg. As riders had been steadily dropped from the first climb, I easily found a grouppetto to creep over the remaining mountains with.

Dinner with a view. Photo©James McKay

Day Two

The final day started in from the spectacular Chateau de Luneville. The castle walls made for a good place to shelter from the relentless sun, and I would have been cooked by the time the race went underway (French punctuality = 40 minutes late).

I grovelled over the first KOM but the second climb of the day caused some severe damage, breaking the peloton in to several groups.

The group I found myself in managed rejoin the front only to be dropped with a grupetto just before the finishing circuit. This made for a slightly dissapointing finish  but a finish nonetheless – I had never finished a UCI race before so that was a milestone for me. 

Hard work but finishing a UCI race was a first for me. Photo©James McKay

* * *

I’m off home to London for a few days to get my MOT done and see the dentist but I’m sure that the chance to see friends and family should give me a recharge before the biggest adventure yet.

It’s coming up very soon, so stay tuned…

Cheers, James.