C’est la vie. After filling most of Saturday with a dozy nine hour drive, the team arrived in the medieval village of Sillans-la-Cascade.
We were greeted with a hearty four-course feast, courtesy of the host family who would be looking after us.
This set the theme for the week; each meal was both tasty and enormous. With 1000km to ride in the next seven days plenty of fuel was certainly welcomed.
The next morning I was straight into racing…
* * *
The first stage of Les Boucles du Haut Var: the speed of a raging peloton was a bit of a shock to the system after six months without a number on my back. I allowed myself to be bullied too much and was generally too hesitant going for gaps.
Whilst we hadn’t even had a chance to spin the legs the day before, I felt strong, but positioning let me down. I was caught in a group exposed in the wind and we were distanced by the main bunch after someone ahead of me let the wheel go.
Worse than the demoralising tempo ride to the finish was facing my team afterwards. Nonetheless, I’d made the time cut so would start the next day.
Day two dawned and I was fired up after the disastrous start on Sunday. Three laps of the lumpy course shelled riders each lap. I had to dig in and managed to hang on to the front group each time.
Although some seemed to be finding it easier; I witnessed two French riders engaging in a full-blown punch-up whilst we were doing 400 watts up the 8-minute climb. One of them even lost his Oakley sunglasses after a well-placed swipe from his adversary. But we were moving at such a pelt they were soon out of sight. In the end I rolled in towards the back of the reduced bunch which ensured a top-50 placing.
After the previous day’s sizable climbs, I was apprehensive on the start line of day three after teammates had branded the third stage as “the hilly one”.
However, I was pleasantly surprised as the peloton rode the first few climbs at an uncomfortable but manageable pace. The race heated up later on and finished with a tiny front bunch who were blazing. I was “spat” over top of the second last climb and cruised home with a little grupetto, chatting with some of the guys from the Swedish Ryska Posten team.
By day four the fatigue was starting to kick in and I found myself making more tactical mistakes, with my legs paying the price.
The French army had decided to come to watch, hovering alongside the race in a helicopter. But the real war was taking place on the road. Teams were trading big punches and I found myself towards the back of the bunch as the pace really increased in the last hour.
This would be my undoing, as I had major deja-vu from the first day when I found myself on the wrong side of snapped elastic after the bunch was strung-out through a series of roundabouts. I managed to chase back on through the convoy down the dual carriageway but made contact with the front group at the base of a climb, already in the red. I rode the last 10km to the finish with a small grupetto. A bitter note to finish the first sweet race days in France.
* * *
The next two days were training rides with the team.
We did an awesome loop around the Verdon gorge followed by a ride to the coast to finish our time in Provence.
After a slightly boozier final meal, we awoke groggily Saturday for another epic drive.
But there was no time to chill when we arrived as I had to pack for another race the very next day, but not before I’d squeezed in an hour on the bike.
* * *
Said race was Grand Prix D’Onjon: flat and exposed 127km, with a short gravely climb each lap.
I had super legs when I hopped on the bike so was eager to get stuck in from the gun.
After a very aggressive first hour, I’d had little to show for it. I’d missed the move of the day – a small break of six riders, and all bridging moves were shut down by the bigger teams policing the bunch. Later on, the break was reeled in, in part due to work by my teammates and me.
We coasted the climb on the final lap and shot down the other side towards the flame rouge, but as I took the second-last corner my rear tub exploded.
To my horror I was thrown off the bike and the peloton shot past me in a blur.
Luckily, I hadn’t taken anyone else down but knew I’d done some damage to myself. Aside from the usual road rash, my wrist was in a bad way and I suspected it was broken straight away.
After being seen by medics at the race, I was driven at top speed by my cursing DS back to Nancy.
After some x-rays at the local hospital, I learned I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.
My fears were confirmed; I had broken both my hand and wrist, which required an operation the next day. I stayed for three days total in order to recover after having some pins and screws put in.
It has been a week now since the crash and I’ve quickly got settled into a routine of double-days on the turbo.
It’s tough mentally but I’m sure these next two months will be over soon enough, and I’ll appreciate being able to hit racing again without having lost too much fitness. I’ve been told it’ll be eight weeks before I’ll be back properly, with a second operation in six weeks’ time to remove some of the metal in my arm.
I’ll let you know how things go. Cheers, James