I went into the Junior Tour of Assen, my first European stage race, with few expectations and unsure of my form, after missing a large block of the season to exams and school work.
Day 1 consisted of a short and technical 2km prologue, containing an 800m stretch of pavé. I knew this would probably suit my style of riding so was looking forward to see how I would fare. I posted a time of 2:31.98, provisionally good enough for 7th place and by the time all riders had come in, 11th overall, just 6 seconds down on the winner. The time gaps were all very close but I was happy with my race and was surprised at how good the legs were feeling.
Day 2 was the crit stage, 30 laps of a twisty 1.8km circuit around the centre of Assen. After being gridded near the back of 90 riders I worked my way towards the front of the race before any splits broke the race apart. Riders were constantly attacking but no one gained more than 15 seconds on the bunch, which was averaging 45 kmh. With one lap to go it was all back together but I found myself getting swamped by riders on each side. The peloton slowed and the yellow jersey jumped away, quickly getting a gap. I knew this would be the winning move so kicked and bridged up to the leader. Glancing round I saw we had a gap and just 1km to go, so powered on past the yellow jersey.
Coming into the final straight I knew I had done it – my first win of the season in my first road race abroad! With a 2 second gap on the chasing peloton as well as a 10 second time bonus for the win I thought I had scraped into the yellow jersey, although when the results were published that evening I was 2nd on GC, with the same time as the leader just 0.07s down from the prologue. Couldn’t get much closer!
Stage 3 was the queen stage – the 95km Klassieker included a 1.7km section of cobbles as well as flat, exposed roads, prone to strong cross winds. The first hour was fairly uneventful as I managed to stay near the front of the 90 strong peloton. I was well placed for the cobbled sector as I thought there would be a split in the bunch, however it wasn’t until after that a break went. A group of 10 or so riders, containing some serious GC contenders established a 30 second lead in the closing hour of the race. Some strong turns from Frank Moore (CCH) saw them eventually pulled back but a counter attack from Liam Davies (Catford CC), who was 4th on GC, just 3 seconds down, saw him go up the road.
An untimely crash with 10km to go saw me chasing back through the cars and my first taste of road rash this year. I launched a counter attack and was joined by another British rider but our gap was nullified as we were sent the wrong way at a roundabout. Another chase and I was back in the peloton. I scraped an 8th place in the bunch kick 5km later but with 2 riders up the road I lost time on GC. I was fairly content with the day, however, as I was still highly placed overall and wasn’t feeling too bad after my crash.
Thursday was the ITT over 13km. I knew this would be my weakest stage so was hoping to limit my time losses to the other GC contenders. The course was flat and very windy, with long exposed stretches of road. I rode well, producing a power PB however still managed to lose 1:36 to the winner, who stormed around the course in 16:55. 23rd on the stage put me down to 18th overall with 2 stages remaining.
I had been told that the first crit stage would be the toughest, although for me it was the Stage 5 Omloop. 62km of open roads with strong cross winds split the peloton within the first 5km. I was well placed and made the first echelon of 12 on the road. We rode strongly together and pulled out a significant gap on the chasing groups, which had also splintered. Coming into the final stages of the race people stopped pulling turns and the pace slowed.
We were – for the second time that week – sent the wrong way at a junction and with 3km to go the chase group had closed to 10 seconds. We held them off though and I grabbed 8th in the sprint as well as a few precious bonus seconds meaning I was back up to 10th overall on GC. By far the toughest stage but I was happy to have made the split and gained some time overall.
The last stage was another, shorter crit around the campsite in Assen. With green jersey points up for grabs every other lap the pace was frantic and the small roads made it hard to move up. I struggled with positioning in the last lap but salvaged an 11th in the sprint and more importantly didn’t lose any time to anyone around me in GC, finishing the week off with 10th overall.
It’s fair to say that my first experience of road racing abroad was a success with a stage win and 10th overall in the general classification.
Some strong riding from British riders saw us take 3 stage wins and the overall win. I would not have been able to do it without the help from the guys at Pedal Power or the support from Torq Fitness, Merida Bikes, Hudson Teamwear or Morgan Blue, so a big thank you to them. I’ll definitely be back for more European racing next year but for now I’m looking forward to finishing the season strongly with divisional champs in late August and the Jeff Schils Memorial RR in September.