So picking up where I left off: I travelled back home after Besseges for some rest and had planned to be at home for the next two weeks, but in cycling, things always change! I got a call the day after I got home and was offered a place in the team travelling to the Algarve in Portugal, as one of the riders was sick.
The Algarve is a very high level race with some very big names riding in it, so it would have been silly to miss the opportunity. This meant that while I was at home I had to get the correct rest and not let myself wind down too much, as I would get lazy and my body would shut down. So I didn’t take any days off, just easy rides, long rides and a couple of interval sessions to keep the blood flowing.
I was at home for a week and I flew to the Algarve on the 13th with the race due to start the next day. I was very surprised at the amount of people travelling to the Algarve. The flight was full and I found out why when we got to the other side, the weather was beautiful with blue skies and sunshine a temperature of around 20degrees – a bit of a shock from Ireland’s cold weather. The hotel was only 2km away from the airport so there was no messing around as the race started the next day. I straight away got some lunch, then out on my bike to get the legs loosened and activated for the race. Then it was back to the hotel to get showered and have a massage. The rest of the day was spent chilling – lying on my bed watching movies or having the craic with the rest of the team.
Race day came and it was time to get to work for the team – for a race like this the best way for us to ride is aggressively. This means lots of attacking and flowing to get up the road. I got up the road on the first day – there was a group in front of me, so I tried to get across and was within 15sec, but with 5 against 1 they started pulling away from me. I was stuck in no man’s land and had to wait on the bunch. Omega Pharma-Quick step were doing most of the riding at the front because Mark Cavendish was in the race and they were riding for him to win the stage. The stage was 200k it took around 5 hours to complete which in the heat meant lots of drinking and eating to keep the energy levels up. The last 5k of the stage was very quick with lots of roundabouts and crashes, there was a big crash with only 3k to go and then in the final kilometre, there was a roundabout that messed the bunch up a bit with riders going either side or getting stuck on a side, fortunately I finished in the bunch and didn’t lose any time.
The 2nd stage was just like the first, 200km, pretty flat with a break going, and Quick Step riding at the front for Cav and finishing with a bunch sprint. The 3rd stage was very hilly – up and down all day with a mountain top finish. At the start of the stage I was so aggressive and tried hard to get away but there were no groups breaking. We got to the first climb and I just about got over it with the front group after all my attacking, this climb split the bunch for a while, but then it came back together. When the bunch came together there was a Portuguese team that went to the front and completely went nuts. They rode so hard putting the bunch in a straight line for about 50k. The speed was so fast and up and down until they came to an intermediate sprint which they won. It was a crazy amount of work just for a sprint, but they won it and killed everyone in doing so. The last 40k of the stage went past the finish at the top of a steep 3k climb, then continued on round a big loop. Again the bunch was lined out and the speed was high with the teams riding at the front. I needed to get a bottle badly, but got caught out not getting back to the car as I didn’t think I would have got back, so I battled through 20k without drinking until I blew my lights, looking back on it I should have got a bottle but I have learnt my lesson the hard way.
Stage 4 was a 30k TT. Up and down. My legs were still pretty sore from the day before and I was getting a little tired from all the racing, but I went out and rode as hard as I could. Not my best TT, I need to do some work on my position and get back training on my TT bike. But I was glad to get the race in my legs and hopefully start racing in Belgium in good form.
The next couple of days were pretty full on. On Monday after the race I had to travel back to Belgium but my flight was cancelled. There was panic as the Team Presentation was the next day but luckily there was another airline flying to Belgium later, so it was a 7 hour wait in the airport, followed by a 2 hour flight to Belgium. A very long day and I can tell you I slept like a baby that night.
Tuesday I was up early and off to the Team Presentation to meet all the sponsors, lots of photo graphs, interviews and dinner. Although it’s really good to meet the sponsors, talk to them, get to know them and hear plans for the future, this was a hard day for me as I was very tired and was being asked the same questions all day!
After the Team Presentation there were a few days to relax and let my hair down. I was looking back over the last 5 weeks and I see that every week I was in a different country, which was pretty cool. On Thursday I was beginning to feel a little off, I was chesty and a little stuffed up, my first race in Belgium was going to be that Saturday. Unfortunately I had to sit this one out, my chest got worse and I had to take a few days off the bike to let my body recover. This probably wasn’t a bad thing as it has given me a little time to recover from the racing and travelling!