Readers of my previous blog post may have been left with a slight sense of dispiritedness or melancholy, and rightly so; things really weren’t going all that well for me and mentally I had got myself into a bit of a mess. That’s the “tl;dr” summary of last month out of the way!
The interest in that blog post and the messages of support received on the back of it were overwhelming and greatly appreciated. I hope that at least a few readers have been finding my ramblings vaguely interesting and enjoyable to read.
I’m pleased to say that the month of June has been, in contrast to May, a massive success in that I’ve really managed to restart, turn the page, and make good progress across the board.
I attribute this to my move away from Belgium and into a new positive team environment with new challenges and goals to work towards, which in turn helped me re-find my love and enjoyment of cycling.
I can honestly say that I’m proud of myself for the way in which I’ve managed to get through a pretty tough period filled with negativity and self doubt, emerge on the other side and bounce back into one of my best ever months on a bike.
I look back on it now wiser, stronger, and in disbelief that I was genuinely considering giving up and throwing in the towel.
There’s not a huge amount to report in terms of racing for the month of June, because I started it with a 16 day personal training camp in Italy.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made, as I came out of it with not only incredible legs and aerobic condition but also I was loving every minute spent on the bike and motivation was higher than ever – a great situation to be in going into July and August, where many riders traditionally start to struggle.
Highlights includes riding to the Slovenian border, driving north for an epic day in the mountainswhich included climbing the infamous Monte Zoncolan, tapping out a couple of power PBs and baking (and devouring) the most incredible banana bread.
Very warm weather and 185km taking in windy, narrow lanes and including four ascents of the challenging Ryals climb would make for a big day out, but I was confident that this would put me at an advantage over much of the field given the big miles I had under my belt.
Positioning into the small road leading to the foot of the climb was crucial, but unfortunately a rear derailleur hanger damaged in transit caused my chain to drop and jam, right at the bottom of the first ascent of the Ryals (arguably the worst possible moment of the race for something like this to happen).
After 20km spent chasing back onto the peloton, I joined what had become a large grupetto riding steadily, with the race proper up the road.
The mechanical issue had put me out of contention, and my race was effectively over, made even more frustrating by the fact that I was clearly in great condition and going well on the Ryals climb. These things happen though, and I was already focussed on the next races.
I then had a handful of days on holiday with my family in Salcombe, Devon, where I managed to get in a particularly enjoyable endurance ride around the grippy roads of Dartmoor National Park. It was then onto the weekend’s National B race – the TMG Horizon Trophy.
Conditions were dry and mild, but very windy. I felt incredibly strong throughout and felt as though I was able to control the race quite confidently.
I got myself into all the various breakaways and ultimately the winning front group of seven riders, though I had made one or two small mistakes earlier in the race which meant I’d wasted some energy unnecessarily having to make bridging efforts.
I hit the group with about 2km to go in pursuit of a lone leader, who I passed at the foot of the finishing climb, but unfortunately I’d run out of gas at this point.
In the lead and with just 100m to go, I watched the rest of the group sprint past me and rolled in for 6th place.
At the time, I was pretty angry not to have won, but in hindsight I’m glad I rolled the dice and risked losing in order to go for the win. It only takes a bit of hesitation from the group behind for moves like that to work, so it was worth a shot.
After another good week of training, it was time for a big one; the Tour of the Reservoir, a two day National Series / Premier Calendar race based around the village of Edmundbyers in County Durham.
A particularly grim pre-race ride in the rain confirmed that we were well and truly ‘up North’ and the 140 strong bunch would be facing some tough racing on grippy roads and in some very strong winds.
Stage 1 was 141km comprising 7 laps around the Derwent Reservoir. The start of the race was, unsurprisingly, incredibly fast, with riders being dropped immediately as the bunch climbed a short sharp drag and turned onto an exposed crosswind section.
Things were not helped by getting caught behind a crash in the bunch in the first hour, and after 80 minutes I found myself in one of the chasing groups.
Sensing that things were not going to come back together again as they had done up until this point, I attacked and bridged quite comfortably across to the group ahead with Edmund Bradbury of JLT Condor.
After attacks by the favourites on a climb a lap later forced a split in this group which I missed, I was keen to chase back on, but with the teams represented by their strongest riders in the front, most of the other riders in my group showed no interest in contributing to the chase.
So, once again I attacked and bridged across to the front group, this time with Rob Partridge of Bike Channel Canyon. I now found myself at the head of the race, in a 19 man select group containing many of the race favourites.
After numerous attacks, mostly from One Pro Cycling, came to nothing, a soft move slipped away as we passed through the feed zone onto a descent. Regretfully, I chose not to go with this move, from which the winner ultimately came.
Resigned to the fact that I’d missed the race go up the road, I chipped off the front of the second group and rode a solo time trial effort in the gap for the last 75 minutes of the race, to reduce my time deficit on GC and also secure a respectable stage result.
Eventually, I rolled in 24th on the day (4th best non-Continental / amateur rider), 14 mins 47 secs down on the winner but about 5 mins up on the bunch behind. Whilst I was disappointed and annoyed with myself for not following the winning move, I was pleased to have been in the mix and to have got my first ever Premier Calendar finish in the bag.
lot of big names were finding the going tough or getting dropped, and everyone seemed to be talking about how hard the day was at the finish, so it was nice to know that I had been feeling pretty strong and comfortable throughout.
Stage 2 was 164km comprising three brutal ascents of the Meadows Edge climb, an 11 minute effort taking in a series of ramps over moorland which was incredibly exposed to a strong crosswind, resulting in the race splintering into numerous echelons and forcing groups to chase hard all the way down the fast descent back into Edmundbyers.
The addition of laps of the previous day’s circuit took the day’s climbing to over 2,200m in total. After yesterday’s promising but slightly disappointing result, a good performance today could have secured me a top 20 on the overall general classification, and this was on my mind.
With the race being controlled by One Pro Cycling (who held the yellow leader’s jersey), it wasn’t until the third and final ascent of the climb, by which time the peloton had been heavily reduced to leave only the strongest riders, that things really kicked off. I’d been let down a little by my positioning into and on the climb and so I’d had to do some chasing up until this point, which had taken its toll on my legs.
The steady pace into the climb caused me to let my guard down, and so when the attacks started I was too far back and my legs couldn’t quite respond to the initial accelerations. I time trialed solo into the descent as best I could, losing 70 seconds to the leaders over the course of the climb, but I can’t help thinking that I should have gone just that little bit more into the red at this crucial moment of the race, in order to stay with the front group.
The power data certainly suggests I was either incredibly fatigued by this point, or I could have dug much deeper. I spent the rest of the race working in a chasing group, ultimately rolling in 47th on the stage (11th best non-Continental / amateur rider) which saw me finish 34th on the final general classification (7th best non-Continental / amateur rider).
Only 55 riders finished the second stage out of the 140 who originally started the race.
Not a bad first National Series / Premier Calendar result I suppose, especially after just two previous seasons of road racing – I feel like I was strong enough to be more or less in the mix, but I was just let down on occasions by lack of experience, from which I learnt a great deal. A couple of slight changes and I could have had at least one stand out result.
Overall, I’ve had a great month though, arguably my best ever.
Training wise, I’ve averaged 907 TSS / just under 19hrs per week over 5 weeks, I’ve had great legs throughout, and I’ve now successfully transformed myself as a rider (from having specialised for the demands of Belgium racing, to those of hilly British racing) by carefully losing approximately 7kg over the last 2 months or so (I’m now the lightest I’ve ever been), with 2-3kg hopefully still to go and with my power higher than ever. That’s obviously had a dramatic effect on my climbing ability, and completely changed my outlook on the future and how I see myself as a rider.
Hopefully I can now carry this form and condition forwards throughout the remaining couple of months of the season and get myself a few nice results.
I feel like all the hard work I’ve put in all year since the start of winter is finally starting to pay off, so it would be nice to get a top result or two to show for it.
The more I race in the UK, the more I realise how suited I am to it, and that focussing on Belgium was perhaps not the best idea. Certainly, I’m increasingly aiming to be based in the UK next year at an elite level (or perhaps abroad but in hillier terrain), so there’s some pressure now to demonstrate both my capabilities and future potential to the various domestic teams.
I know now that I’m at least as strong as many of the best British riders, and that it’s mostly just my positioning and experience letting me down, which itself is improving dramatically with each race and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
I’ll always be up against it having entered the sport late and only started racing at the age of 19, but I’d say that in terms of experience and potential for improvement that puts me on par with first year U23s who have also been racing for about three years since they were first year juniors. It’s hard to believe that a little over two years ago I was racing 3rd/4th category criteriums exclusively, and I’m now racing at the sharp end of some of the hardest races in Britain.
I have the Stockton GP (16th July), London Dynamo RR (23rd July) and the Ryedale GP (6th August) to look forward to as my next few races. A big thanks to the Lewis Balyckyi Trust Fund for helping to cover the ever increasing costs of British racing, to Jason Nind and everyone else at the TBW Bottecchia RT for taking me on board at the last minute and supporting me at these races, and to my coach Mark Holt for sticking with me and helping me find my legs.
As always, thanks for reading! Tune in early August for the next instalment.