The Trophee is a race we’ve done for ten years. It’s three stages, two road races split by a shortseven and a half km time trial. In the past we have done very well here but I don’t want you to think it’s an easy task, it’s not. This is the biggest stage race for juniors in France and riders from France, Belgium, Holland, New Zealand and the US assure a hard fought event.
After having lost all but one rider in our last race in Belgium, I was not completely confident that we would be able to match our past successes at this race this year. I do believe in our guys and need to trust them.
We arrived in Locmine’, France, on the north west coast, with just over a day to recover before the first stage. After a good dinner and a good nights rest, we set off to check out the time trial course and ride it several times. Thomas and Colin both knew it but were anxious to refresh their memories since we had brought time trial bikes this year. With airfares what they are and bike fees for flying higher than they have ever been, I need to consider carefully if the time trial is a game changer and if it’s worth the costs of bringing specific bikes. In this case, even though it’s only a seven and a half km time trial, it was worth it.
At the directors meeting that evening I got to see old friends, hear a lot more instructions from the UCI in French that I didn’t understand, and get our caravan number. This time I drew a middle of the pack number 13. The morning of the first stage I had the guys ride the finishing circuits. These races always do one big loop with the final forty km or so done on small, maybe six or seven km loops for five or six laps. There are usually two races going on, the first is to the circuits and the second, for the stage win, usually starts on the finishing circuits. The guys all seemed to like the course so we were ready to go.
We drove to the start town, maybe forty minutes away and setup the camper van with the caravan car in the parking lot with all the other teams and the guys got ready. This is am important time for me but I’m usually just watching them, not saying much. I’m assessing who’s ready to race and who’s looking to survive. I gave them team instructions and individual instructions based on what I thought they needed to do to finish and be as effective as possible. The race is not usually won on the first day but it can be lost then so we needed to be careful. Thomas and Colin were our strongest and needed to pay attention. Colin was going to wait until the circuits, Thomas was going to see how he felt and Brendan, Curtis and Jake we looking for some early moves to join.
Getting in an early move for the first year guys is good on several fronts, one, it keeps them safe in a small group, secondly, it does wonders for their confidence and lastly, if the move sticks and a small group of the race contenders jumps across and Thomas or Colin make that split, we have help. The first moves went and we were not in them. A second group joined them to make it a large group of fifteen or so and we were still not there. I was wondering why we can’t seem to be able to cover a move that big but noticed two things. First, over half the teams in the race missed the move and secondly, none of the pre race favorites made it either so it looked like it would come back. Lastly, the gap never made it to over one minute-twenty and that’s not enough to stay away as the pace picks up in the finale.
As expected, the break came back just as the bunch got to the finishing circuits. Bam, three off the front going away fast, the New Zealander and number one on the second biggest team from Belgium, the number one from the Brittany provincial team and Thomas. The three gained almost a minute quickly and the field was blowing apart on the circuits with the increase in pace and a strong wind. We lost two in small groups during the resorting. As the laps ticked off, the gap remained just under a minute and it looked like it would just stick, then the gap started to fall, fast.
With one lap to go of six km, the gap was twenty-nine seconds then twenty, then I hear that the New Zealander is away solo and the other two were caught. It was tense in the car. In the final climb, with the lone rider within spitting distance, Colin attacked. He made it until two hundred meters from the line then blew hard. In the end the new Zealander held on to win the stage but with no time gap on the field. Thomas and Colin finished in the group, at the back, and the stage was done.
We raced, we mattered today. No, we had nothing to show for it but we showed the crowds, the organization, that we came to race and we weren’t going away without a fight. We also learned some lessons, firstly, and most importantly, you race to the line. Thomas and Colin finished at the back of the bunch but in the lead group, no big deal, right? Well, yes it is. You see, there was a split in the group, only one second but that one second means the clock starts again and if you are behind, you get your time off the winner. In this case Thomas and Colin would lose six seconds and that would come back to haunt us by the end of the race. The second lesson is that Thomas is a racer. Frankie McCormack told me once that anyone can win at 100%, it’s a racer that can win at 70%. Thomas was still feeling terrible and his legs and energy system were all blocked up but he was still able to be in it and in the moves.
Hopefully Thomas will be opened up for the next stage and he and Colin can crush it in the time trial. We are only six seconds out of the lead and the race is still wide open. I’ll let you know.
Thanks for reading,