Thank you for visiting my blog, this is mostly about me and my cycling as you can probably guess from the title, but hopefully it will provide a bit more than just that and be thoroughly entertaining too.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Last Post

As the title suggests, this will be my last post, but only on this format as later on today I will be releasing a whole different platform for the public to view my various adventures and races; one that is a lot more interactive, greater in scope and more professional too. This post will be a summary of my last few races in Brittany, my time there and what my immediate future holds for me, so sit back and enjoy the credits.

My last couple of races were just as hard as all the other ones throughout the year and even though I got o.k. results, 18th in one, 22nd in the very last one, I knew I was capable of so much more, particularly the second, but I just didn't have the verve with me. Alas I left Brittany with high spirits and a new, determined outlook on what I need to achieve to get where I want to be and how; knowledge is power, but it's what you do with it that counts the most and I plan to do a lot with the massive experience my time in France has been.

I would like to thank everyone from the John Ibbotson Fund for the support, for without their funding and connections I would have never been given this opportunity. Secondly I would like to thank my landlady Marie who was an absolute legend and I can honestly say I can't wait to live with again next year. Thirdly my girlfriend and my family for their amazing love and backing. Fourthly Aprire Bicycles for the wicked machine and fifthly Seb and my team U.C.L.H. for making me feel so welcome and helping fully embrace the lifestyle and what it means to be professional. Finally the Mills Family, the biggest bunch of heroes and heroines that anyone could wish to meet who all do as much as they can for all of us English boys out there, unbelievable.

Here is a series of figures that will better explain how my season went, the numbers include the amount that also qualifies for the above category, so, for example, 5 top 10s and 7 top 15s, the latter also is inclusive of the 5 top 10s achieved:

63 races started and I failed to finish 14 with 1 being cancelled during the race due to bad weather.

2 wins and 5 podiums in Britain before I came out.

1 top 5 in France.

7 top 10s in France

13 top 15s in France

20 top 20s in France

27 top 30s in France

So, out of half the races I started, with 55 being raced in France, I will be in first 30 riders half the time and nearly half the time 'get a placing' i.e. in the top 20 so it shows that I am pretty consistent, especially given the range of types of courses we race in France and that I am not that far off from being extremely competitive at the business end of the race. Hopefully next year I will not have the bad luck and injury problems that I have had this year, it can only get better, especially now that I will be professional for the first time this winter and will have a proper professional structure.

For this Winter and next year I will be sponsored by a number of different companies, chief amongst which will be Elite Cycling and Paul Mill who runs the company, I can't wait to be trained by such a renowned coaching set-up and I am really looking forward to seeing what I can really achieve now with them.

I will also continue to receive the backing of Aprire Bicycles, with me riding their new Vincenza, Strada Hand-Built Wheels and their newly released wheels, Maxifuel will be providing me with the nutritional support I need, Salice will be protecting my eyes and C Originals will be protecting my head.

Finally the John Ibbotson Fund will stop running after next year and so I will be one of the last riders on this fantastic project sadly, but I will endeavour to make sure the Fund goes out on a high and I continue to be a great ambassador for the cause and CRY. Thanks to all of them for continuing to support me next year.

I will be joining up with the same team as I rode for this year, U.C.L.H., at least for the first part of the season as if my Spring campaign goes according to plan then hopefully I will be on a bigger and better team come July, but we will see.

Thanks to everyone for reading, the kind words and general morale-boosting, it means an awful lot and I can't wait to shoe everyone that it was not wasted. Check-out my new blog/website here at http://joshlawless1990.wix.com/joshlawlesscycling where all my new stuff will be on. I will be leaving this up for a week now then taking this blog down.

Keep riding!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Topsy Turvy

I decided on this title for want of a better phrase as these last 2 weeks have been mad in my own cycling specific terms as well as what has been occurring; a new element has been discovered, track was merely the sideshow to the field events for once with Isinbayeva winning the pole vault and then pole vaulting into a mire of ignorance and excuses, and the Syrian Civil War has now seen the introduction of chemical weapons. Not only that there was the Ashes victory, Marquez continuing to grow into the legend that he has been widely tipped to be (just a shame he couldn't dance for the next 10 years with Simoncelli) and it's been 50 years since the 'I Have A Dream' speech. Wow!

Not only that, but we have lost some outstanding cultural and historical heavyweight in Sir David Frost and Seamus Heaney, the former I urge any and everyone to watch the infamous interviews he conducted with Nixon and these can be found readily available on Youtube. As for the latter, I have rather sadly not read many of his literary works, but one of the one's I have read and adore over most others is his translation of Beowulf.

My first 2 races I did after the injury were rubbish and I had to pull out after half an hour due to my hamstring still being quite sore, they were at Locmiquelic and Meslan, both 2/3 races. the Next races were 3 1/2/3 races over 4 days and all part of the same trophy series, though they were the third, fourth and fifth ones of the series. On the first one none of us did as well as hoped as it was very tactical with a small, but good quality field. However the next race there were about 140 racers and I managed to get 8th! A great result and me and George were the perfect foil for each other, I don't really know how I managed it to be honest as I wasn't feeling great during the first hour, but as the race continued I felt better and better, it also helped the course suited me to the ground.

Me driving up the hill at Locmiquelic

Me at Meslan, but I don't know why I'm grinning like a Great White here. Maybe it's because I really do like the taste of latic.

The next race was very hilly and the break went from the gun, however over the next couple of laps we drew the gap back (there were 19 laps for the whole race) however I got stuck behind a couple of big boys on the hill when the front group grew to about 25 riders and sailed away. I tried to get across, but to no avail especially as everyone in the peloton was quite happy to chase me down and follow me everywhere. I therefore began to get quite angry with the peloton and began attacking out sheer frustration as that day I felt really strong, but it just shows you what bike racing is really like; no matter what you can still do well with bad legs and rubbish with bad legs.

Me attacking during the first race of 3

Following that I had the G.P. Plouay Amateurs race on Saturday which was brutal. 15km loops, 10 times, sadly I did 2 in the front group before being properly shelled, I continued doing the rest of the race in a small group till we were pulled out, I did 110km of the race. It was not too bad the circuit, but for the steep gravelly start of the cat.4 climb at the back of the circuit that topped out with 4km to go. That buried a lot of good people.

Now all I have left is a few more races before I head back to Blighty, which I'm looking forward just so that I can sort out what I am going to do this Winter as well as next year. At the moment, with regards to teams next year, there seem to be a couple of options, but nothing is done until it's signed as we all know from transfer deadline day. I will let you all know as soon as anything remotely interesting about my situation changes for this Winter and next year, it's really exciting information that I have, but can not divulge at this time.

I hope everyone is still hanging in there and racing strong as well as having a lovely Summer.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Another set-back, but chins up all-round

After my birthday weekend I had two races the following week, the 1/2/3 GP Lorient, in the heart of the city on a Friday night as the race was meant to herald the beginning of the annual Inter-Celtique Festival that occurs here every year. Then Sunday was a 2/3 race and part of the series of the Roi Morvan Challenge where I was hoping not only to do well in both races, but hopefully improve my overall position in the series by doing well in the latter.

Both races were windy, but completely different courses. Lorient was flat and fast with two cobbled sections close together and not far from the finish line and this was raced 36 times giving us a grand total of 100km approx. The race was incredibly fast from the start and at about a third of the way through a front group drifted off the front, I was unable to get across, I think because of my discomfort in the saddle due to a mixture of cobbles and saddle sore, these two really aren't bed fellows. So I managed to get into the next group that was still fighting for 18th place. Gradually our group whittled down to just 8 riders and with only 3 laps to go for us, we were lapped by the lead group of 6 sadly. This is where confusion reigned as some competitors like myself went for the sprint thinking we were finishing on the same lap as the leaders and I thus got second in the sprint securing 19th place as a result or so I thought. As some people from the group continued to do another lap of the course, but it was too late for me to get back into the race so I just stopped and hoped that the organisers would rectify the situation as the last group came through to do another lap too. As it turned out from 18th place onwards the organisers just randomly assigned places and times giving me 23rd, now my rankle here is I was either 19th, thus securing more money and some points towards my first cat. license or I was a lap down on all riders and came about 34th. How the hell did they come up with 23rd? So no points and less money than I may have otherwise received, very gutting, but at least I won 10 euros.

Me and my group on the cobbles over the G.P. Lorient

On Sunday, the race was a 2/3, short, sharp race of only 88km, but very hilly as in that time we amassed a mile of vertical ascension. The finish line was on a hill, but one had a very fast downhill before it so you could smash up the whole climb in the sprint in 53x11. The race kept on splitting apart and coming back together, I didn't do especially well at the start, but I believe my stamina is probably my greatest strength, George managed to get away in a group of 5 and I managed to get away from the yellow jersey with another. George got 4th and I got 8th, me and my escape companion were caugght by two other guys at the foot of the climb and they managed to carry that momentum around me, I was a bit gutted to miss out on 6th, but I won another 10 euros. Also my result put me into 10th place in the series overall, only 20 points shy of 5th place, so hopefully I can break into the top 7 or more by the end of the series.

Me attacking the yellow jersey at the hilly race

Not too bad a weekend, but I was hoping for me, however this week was meant to be exceptionally busy and with me finding form, leaned up, I was planning to win one of the four races I was going to be contesting this week. Thursday night, began and ended at Corcaneau, where, on a technical, I was really keen to do well, due to the many English on holiday there at the moment and to justify the good sensations I have been feeling recently as well as to properly bury any last, lingering doubts about my right knee after my injury.

Unfortunately the dead turn on the course was to prove my undoing as with a third of the race gone, the break began to form, of which I was in, but going into the dead turn someone stuck there front wheel between my rear wheel and rear mech, causing the rear hanger to shear in half and the rear dérailleur to go into my rear wheel. I subsequently fell off my bike fortunately not bringing anyone down in the process. Sadly though, even with my bike being fixed in a day by Stefan the mechanic in our local bike shop, I will not be riding the planned three races today, tomorrow and Monday, one of which I felt I was sure to win. Instead I will be sitting on my bum again resting my left hamstring, as I managed to pull that in the process of coming off my bike at Concarneau.

Obviously I am very gutted, but at the same time not too disheartened as my hamstring feels much improved from yesterday already and I believe I will be fine for next weekend's race, but I needed this little strain like a whole in the head and my aspirations to reach my first cat. license have taken a bit of a blow now. However if I am consistent still in the last few races and win one then it is still possible to reach it, if not, then I would have come close, which I suppose is an achievement in itself considering the trouble I have had this year with my knee. I'm cheering myself up though with my plans for racing over here next year and a lot of good things seem to be slipping into place, hopefully they do so that I can really show people how good I am properly, next year as well as in the last few weeks of this season.

I hope you are all well and racing is going swimmingly, I shall see a lot of you quite soon, in about 5/6 weeks I think, so until my next post, enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Birthday weekend

Thank you to everyone who made my 23rd special with the cards, messages and gifts, it was lovely and unfortunately this year though I had to settle, for once, not to race on my birthday, but do an easy cycle instead as I was meant to be competing in three races on the bounce over the weekend and Monday. Unfortunately there was a mix-up with transport arrangements so I just did Saturday, a 1/2/3 race and Monday, a 2/3 race.

Saturday's race was part of a big series, the majority of which I would not be doing, but quite a few decent riders and teams were and as it was the fourth in the series, many teams had some jerseys and places to protect or go for. Similarly to Bannalec it made for a very tactical race, but the difference being that this was a higher standard race, on a vastly different course, with less people. Only 60 started, in very heavy rain and the course was very fast and rolling with lots of high hedges and little corners all the way round the circuit thus making it difficult to see even 10 seconds up the road. 22 laps of 5.5km were to be completed with a 800m 5% hill just after the finish the really noteworthy feature of the course.

The race gradually got whittled down to about 35 people and I was feeling great, but I did too much work in the middle laps that really put pay to my chances of a top 10 as when George attacked the last time up the hill and got across the small gap with 5 others to a group of 6, I was not really able to follow the move. I ended just getting back in contact with 300m to go to the finish, but obviously being positioned so far back in this group and with 3 further away, I finished 19th. Not bad, but certainly should have been better.

Monday was a 2/3 at Berne, part of the Roi Morvan series and it was a hilly course where it rained heavily before and during the first part of the race. The course was essential up and down the same hill 17 times making 95km. Me, George and Hamish cycled out to it, before and after, giving me a grand total of 155km for the day. Anyway, back to the race, due to this being the halfway point during the series, again this race was, like Saturday, very tactical. I did the best probably out of the bigger blokes coming 13th, 30 seconds down on the winner, but I did far too much work in the first 2 laps of the race. About 70 started, only 30 finished.

I'm just pleased that my right knee is really improving now and coping with the increase in training recently as well as performing much better in the races and dealing with the efforts up these climbs admirably. I'm just hoping that this continues as it will be by a very small margin if I happen to miss out on my first category license for racing here in France and I would be absolutely gutted. It's a representation of your ability and would demonstrate some tangible evidence that this year really has been worth doing, obviously there are other, more existential benefits gleaned from my 8 months here, but I'm first and foremost here to cycle and get results, fundamentally to win, saying how much I've improved my tactical awareness may not cut it really.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Tour Effect

That was a great Tour de France and a fabulous advert for the sport and with quite a few deserving champions, unfortunately, even being in France, I was unable to go and watch the Tour even with 2 stages in Brittany, (well the time-trial was held on contested ground between Brittany and Normandy) but nonetheless I was still touched by the Tour. This is because since I began road racing seriously, more and more friends, family and acquaintances have got increasingly involved in cycling for a number of reasons and with le Tour. This has only increased with old school friends contacting me saying not only have they been affected by the stunning images and deeds on T.V., but have been inspired in some part by my own journey over here in France to take up cycling. Not only to commute between places, but to maybe race and generally take the whole cycling experience much more seriously.

Obviously I would just like to say how incredibly humbled I am by such feelings and honesty, but fundamentally it shows how our actions, no matter how minor they seem, really can resonate and how our own selfish actions can influence others, but in a positive manner. The recent success British Cycling has experienced recently provides plenty of fertile ground, but with me getting an increase in interest and  support from more and more distant people also demonstrates the power of mass media. Ultimately I wish this to lead to more national televised coverage of cycling and instead of ITV4 showing more Minder, why don't they have the Clasica San Sebastien, the last hour of the Tour of Poland? You get the idea. Thank you to everyone for the recent support and hopefully you will all fall in love with cycling as much as I have.

I said in the last blog about my problems with the heat and now these problems should be increasing eradicated as in the past couple of weeks I have lost 3.5kg, I plan on losing the same amount again, not only to deal with the heat, but climb better. My weight has become a real issue, not only because it usually is, but with me being incapacitated with tendonitis for so long, I know that it is more than likely not to be muscle. I have now started cautiously training again as I don't want to suffer a relapse like Brian Badonde which will help with me to lost weight, build muscle and control the weight.

Now on to the racing, both were 2/3/J races, one on Friday night, one on Saturday afternoon with both having about 85 competitors. Friday night was 38 lap fast, flat circuit and there was a bit of wind, there was also a lot of money up for grabs and with primes, points and prizes every lap the race was always going to be fast, there was a UCHL rider in every break and I was feeling good, then with 9 laps to go a tornado (as the French press referred to it) hit our race causing trees to be uprooted on the circuit and visibility to be greatly reduced. It was cancelled, hopefully it will be held at a later date as they could not give the majority of the money away for overall classification, sprint classification and points classification, I managed to win 5 euros. Unfortunately the weather ruined my Garmin and I was unable to use the next day as it had not dried out.

The next day was held in sweltering conditions on a tough circuit with 14 laps and three short, steep climbs, two were next to each other and the last one was where the finish was on top of. Towards the end of the first lap a group of 10 went clear, then 3 laps later a big group got clear and across the gap to the first group, which I happened to be in, then another little group of 6 joined us. Basically the field had been split in half, but I was dying in the heat at the back doing nothing, all I had was the energy to sprint. Gradually more and more people were dropped by the front group leaving about 25 riders, at the bell 5 or 6 got away and finished just in front of the rest of us, me team-mate Stephane did a wonderful job to try and set-up the sprint up the hill for me, but I launched my sprint between 50 metres and 80 metres too early. So with 50 metres to go, coming 6th or 7th I died and ended up finishing 17th. Rubbish!!!!

It's even more rubbish when only the first 15 gets points towards getting their license upgraded, in a 2/3 race, and I have only a month now to accumulate enough points to get upgraded to a first category rider. It certainly can be achieved, but I need not only consistency in finishing and getting points, but also I need to score a good few top 5s or even a win and that would really seal it for me.

Hopefully I can bag a few points and placings this weekend, until next time, get out on the bike as much as possible.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Apologies to my avid readers as well as my rather more casual readers on my lack of aptitude in updating my blog sooner and since I last 'put pen to paper' or as it should be known in this day and age, 'finger to little button', I have competed in 7 races finishing 6 and as they say 'when it rains...' for since my weekend in Tours I have had some ill luck and no doubt someone is taking a certain schadenfreude in it all, otherwise what would be the point?

Let's begin with the 2/3 crit at Arzon, 90km over 42 laps, small field of 45, a few primes on a course designed for me, sadly I did not do so well as I was closely marked all race, the break that went away with 32 laps remaining stayed away as the two escapees did a deal with the lead car who drafted them around the course away from the peloton. I finished a lowly 13th when I was originally hoping to win or at least podium, but I just did not quite have the legs.

That was Friday evening and Sunday's race was much better, another 2/3, but with a big field of 150 and a lot of decent teams and riders in hot conditions, lots of breaks went and came back, with me present in quite a few, when, just before the finish circuits a group of about 20 got away including myself. On the 8 laps another few bridged across the peloton and I was guilt of doing far too much work in the break as I felt reasonably good and wanted to make up for Friday's debacle. Sadly I was pretty spent with 10km to go and couldn't really follow the attacks and a group of 5 got away at the bell. One team who had 4 riders in the break were very lazy in it and then decided to risk everyone's wellbeing when they attempted to set-up their lead-out train for 6th place, I could only manage getting 14th.

My next race was a 1/2/3 race in Hennebont town centre across their infamous cobbled High Street and with 60 riders on the start line on a beautiful evening it was always going to be tough. This event was also hosted by my team, U.C.H.L., so I was especially keen to do well. I was at the front all race feeling great, but then I had a lap out as I was suffering a problem with my front wheel, went to change it to my spare front, but I could not find it! Fortunately an old bloke who had come to watch also brought an old spare pair of wheels with him and with a my new, but bombed-out wheel I was away again. Sadly a break of 12 went away on my lap out followed a lap later by a group of 7, I managed to sneak away at the end and got 19th. Disappointing, but I had managed to make the best of a bad situation.

Next was part of Roi Morvan Series where I was quite high up in the overall rankings and so was really keen to do well and was aggressive from the off, but I went too deep too early and so when the real splits occurred I was not in a physical state to respond. Unfortunately I then followed this up by panicking and tried, in vain, to solo across to the break, but blew-up as a few others came flying past me on the big main climb and managed to bridge across. This was really a slap in the face to my overall series chances as well as to the fact I thought I had improved tactically enough not to make such a amateurish error. The break was never to be seen again, I sneaked off on the last lap and grabbed 13th.

I then competed in a great crit at Plouha, again, a 2/3, but with a quality field, I had to be really on my game as there were a few good teams with 4 riders roughly and had to be careful about when to go or not. With 12 laps of the 38 remaining a group of 3 got away and held a gap of 20 seconds, we managed to catch them on the line, but they still managed to finish just in front of a large group of us numbering about 30. I believe I got a top 20, based on the numbers and most people know where they came in a race, but the organisers struggled counting and only 22 were officially marked down.

Having gained a lot of confidence from the evening crit at Plouha I was hoping to do really well this weekend, alas, I died in this heat. Both Saturday and Sunday were 1/2/3 races with a similar field line-up, unfortunately I had to give-up in the Sunday one, like the majority, after the suffering the day before, thus costing a few easy places that could have been made up on the Sunday. I managed to get 31st on Saturday, slipping away with a few others from the peloton on the last lap and winning the sprint. On Sunday, many riders suffered and were trying to be really tactical in the energy used, the latter point made me even hotter due to the boiling of my blood caused by my incandescence at the French laziness to close gaps and generally work. I then pulled up after 25 minutes and sat in the shade with a wet towel over my face for the rest of the afternoon where somehow I still managed to get a little burnt on my forehead!

An Englishman has not been this hot since General Charles George Gordon, I really don't how Robert Clive and a like did it all. So now I trying to shed a few kilos to better adjust to this weather and another area that's going to help to is I have begun training again too, happy days, though my knee is till far from perfect.

Continue enjoying the Tour de France people and I will update on Sunday, I promise.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Palin, Pilkington and Three Men went to Tours

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with two French guys from the team Stephane and Loic at Stephane's ancestral home that is not used by his rather large family as a holiday home, no one is actual resident there that is situated just outside of Tours in the Loire Valley. Absolutely lovely, dead quiet and apples orchards all around us. The weekend comprised of three races, the first one a 1/2/3 just the otherside of Rennes with both Sunday and Monday being 2/3 races.

The race on Saturday began in horrible conditions though they soon improved and after about 40mins the day actually turned out rather nice though it did mean all of us racers did get really hot in our wet weather gear. It was a fast 3.3km loop to be completed by the 75 of us 30+ times, it has a small stretch of quite bad cobblestones and a real draggy section that was completed exposed to the elements. I made the front split everytime with Sam Allen who was also there excepted when it actually occurred after 40mins and 2 laps later the next split happened which again I missed. This was not through lack of attentiveness on my part, but from the sheer lack of training I have in my legs where in a good though small field and with the pace exceedingly high my legs just got completely burnt out. I was missing that couple of extra percent that otherwise would have meant that I would have made the first group. Anyway the race continued to split apart and I found myself out in front by myself where with a couple of laps to go I suffered the indignity of getting lapped by Sam and the front group. At least I could help Sam a bit by giving him some of my drink (see my earlier reference to wet weather gear) and he managed to pick up a brilliant third. I rolled in a bit later coming 27th, though I was mistakenly put down on the results 33rd. Only 34 finished and I was the only one from the team to finis so that's something and I felt much better for having done the race, my right knee was only ever so slightly stiff, but coped well which was a big bonus and the two weeks of enforced lay-off seemed to have done it the world of good. Unfortunately this was tempered by the fact that after a couple of laps rather than put my glasses through my jersey zip/collar, I thought I would be smart and dump them in the grass in a innocuous place near no-one where I could then go and retrieve them later. Sadly someone had taken the glasses and no-one had handed them in, so the moral of the story is kiddies always keep your belongings with unless you personally hand them to a friend or relative whom you trust!

After the race was a 120 mile to Tours and like most car journeys I slept all the way and upon waking up and arriving at the house I was met by such a typically French site I had to laugh. In the little front garden were some berry bushes, a couple of cherry trees, some strawberry plants and a pond, not filled with fish, but frogs. Stephane told me when he was younger and he visited his grandparents here he would spend all day catching and eating them. The house was pretty big, with a few mod-cons though the decor had not changed since the 1950's with some antlers in one room, lots of family pictures in the other with wallpaper with loads of deer on. With a pasta meal that night, Stephane went under the house to the vin cave where it brought up this 2002 local red.

The next day we woke up to a lovely a morning and we went into the local town, where Monday night's race was actually going to be held and went and had a big meal at a Hotel/restaurant owned by a former pro cyclist who rode for Festina. 3 courses consisting of a tomato and carrot salad followed by a plate of pasta in a butter sauce served next to an alive and kicking piece of flame-grilled steak. The latter is quite interesting to know as clearly here in France the customer is just served and how the chef and restaurant believe the food should be not the customer. Fortunately I like my steak to still be a cow mooing so I had no problem. Then we finished with some creme brulee.

After the meal we headed to just south of Tour to a lovely little village by a creek for the 2/3 Tauxiny race, 75 competitors going round a 6.5km 16 times. The loop was really technical, exposed and undulating, a proper hardman's race however just before my warm up lap the Heaven's opened and after 3km I punctured  on the warm-up lap, luckily the race steward's car was behind putting barriers across the roads so they took me and the bike to the finish. So I had to somewhat fatefully change my rear wheel to a deep section due to the puncture. The race was run in the most apocalyptic conditions I have ever had the pleasure to ride in and within a lap the peloton was split to pieces, thanks to the weather, course and the fact 10 fell off the bikes around the lap. I made the first group which numbered at about 15, but was being reduced every lap by crashes, punctures and the difficulty of the course, unfortunately 6 laps I took a heavy tumble and brought enough guy down with me. Up to this point I had felt ok during the race and was confident of getting a top 5, but it was not to be. The crash was heavy, but fortunately I did not do much damage to either myself or my bike and so I cycled gently back to the finish, got changed and continued watching the drama unfold from the warmth of the car. A ripped gilet, shoecover with some cuts, bruises and grazes was all I got as well as some aesthetic, superficial damage to the bike and a shoe.  Only 15 finished the race with about 30 crashing out, a few abandons and some punctures, Loic managed to get 12th even though he had to cycle the last half of the final lap with a puncture. After the race we headed back to the house where I preceded to grunt a lot as the hot water cleaned my wounds and so Stephane and Loic thought to cheer me up with yet more pasta and some Alsatian beers.

The next day we headed out for an easy 30km cycle and the conditions were beautiful though a bit chilly and then back to the Festina hotel/restaurant for the same meal that we had yesterday again, not that I was complaining. After that and a little siesta we prepared ourselves for that evening's race in the town of the hotel. Stephane and his family being local legends was really keen to do well as was I after my disappointing results so far that weekend. I thought to myself what is the main difference between my recent good run of results and my mishaps over the previous two days? And only one answer presented itself, it was the fact I had not worn my Astana headband for the previous 2 days and therefore failed to channel my inner Vinokourov!

Once I put it on under my helmet I knew then I was in for a good performance though not quite to the same degree as I was hoping. The course was relative flat though the finish was on a short sharp hill that got steeper as it went up, 40 times this 2.7km route with plenty of good primes available. Alas after 2 laps I managed to get into the break, but we never got more than 25 seconds away from the peloton who kept us on a very tight leash and we never numbered more than 6 riders, ideally we needed 10 to stay away. There were a couple of guys from the same time who cleared up the primes until about halfway through the race the peloton swallowed us up. From here on out the peloton split and re-gathered itslef continually until with about 14 laps to go quite a big group went, unfortunately I was a bit hamstrung by a lot of people not willing to work to get across to this front group, but eventually I got there with 10 laps to go. With 8 laps to go on the little climb about a mile away from the finish someone dropped a wheel and couple of teams blocked anyone trying to get across. The break numbered 11 and also contained Stephane; he managed to get third and the break stayed away. With about 4 laps to go I began attacking relentlessly though I was feeling my right knee quite a bit at this point eventually I got away with Loic and two others and then Loic launched his sprint really early for 12th place, I followed and when he began dying with about 50m to go I slowed up to not wanting to roll my team-mate as at this point our other two companions seemed quite far from us, unfortunately one of them managed to nick in front and grab 12th leaving Loic with 13th place and me with 14th.

I have to say I was a little disappointed as I knew that day I could of won, what counted against me was the fact the local cycling mafia turned up and helped to split the primes and decide the race outcome amongst themselves, which made me feel a bit better about the result. After the race we had a beer at the beer tent and chatted to the locals who seemed to be very disappointed in Jonathan Tiernan-Locke's season thus far as well as saying that being a Breton is the same as being English/British or as close as a Frenchman would get to being one anyway. We then headed back to the Festina hotel where the race officials were having an after-race meal together. For 5 euros each we were also allowed into this little lock-in and eat from the buffet, but as Loic and Stephane won some prime money they paid for me. The manageress of the hotel must have taken a shine to us over the preceding days and gave us some chocolate pudding and two bottles of red wine that must have cost at least 20 euros each if bought at the restaurant!

After this we headed back to the house where we then stayed up chatting about the race, about the recent Jalabert drug revelations and the French National Champs until the early hours.

The next day we had a long drive and finally, feeling a little worse for wear, I was in the comfort of my own bed. What a great experience though and if I was to do full justice to the sights, sounds and experiences just from the weekend alone, well, this blog would be very long indeed.

I hope everyone is well and doing well in their races, until next time stay on the bike!