Just shy of three weeks ago I flew myself out to Nice and the amazing Cote D'azur for a solo training camp in the hills and sun of Southern France. Staying with Claire and Anton Blackie for two weeks was an amazing experience and climbing some iconic climbs such as the Col de la Madone was just the riding I needed. I met some very cool people whilst out there, and most importantly, started to feel like a legit road rider again after a few months going round in circles! I did some incredibly hard riding on my own, but was also lucky enough to grab a few rides with some Pro's, including Tiffany Cromwell, Ian Stannard, G Thomas, Thor Hushovd and Gavin Mannion, pretty amazing experiences all in all...
The race consisted of four stages up and down the hills of the area, with two 'summit' finishes, a sprint stage, and another stage with one large climb in. The first stage was super chaotic and finished up a 3-4km climb, the final kilometer through a tiny village on the hillside, cobbles and flagstones all over the place. Positioning was critical and once the race hit the final climb, Germain attacked with a few kilometers to go, on the final climb. I immediately latched on his wheel and attacked when he swung off with about 900m to go, taking some momentum onto the cobbles and opening up a nice advantage that allowed me to soak up the win and enjoy the moment - the first time I have put my arms in the air in a fair while! I was super pleased with the result but soon regretted having not attacked earlier, the self-confidence in my legs not quiet there after the time away from racing.
The second stage was the 'sprint day' and the speed reflected it. We were able to take a relative back seat, still up the front of the race all day but not riding on the front, other than keeping the opposition in check on a climb mid-way through the stage. In the end Matt Gibson and I put together a leadout for Lawless and Germain, working hard in the final ten kilometers to battle the other sprint trains and position the lads up there into the super super fast final 500m. We threw some nuts shapes and were right in the mix coming into the sprint, however unfortunately Chris got swamped coming into the last 300m and the lads rolled over the line 17th and 18th - still in the money but not really the result we wanted. However a relatively chilled day was good for our overall ambitions, keeping our legs 'fresh' for the following two testing hilly days.
The final two stages went almost exactly to plan. I placed second on both stages, improving my GC lead each day. However it was as a team that we really shone, Scott moving up into second overall as other riders fell away on GC, the other lads; Germain, Matt and Chris, doing incredible jobs to keep the race under control on the flat, a far from easy task. With no radios and over one hundred and fifty ravenous guys in the bunch, the way the guys controlled each day was amazing, something I have never ever seen in Junior racing before. To be able to end up with a race panning out almost exactly how we planned was testament to the entire team and ofcourse our Manager Matt Winston, time and time again what he has forseen happening in a race has panned out down to the T. The racing on the last day, the way the bunch approach getting into the break, really reflected how much respect the field had for what we were doing - pretty cool.
In the end I won the first stage, overall, points and mountains competitions - with Scott taking second overall and GB also nabbing the team classification. We came to the race not to win, but to prepare for the World Road Race Champs, so to walk away with a bag full of jerseys is pretty special. A huge thanks to the lads, Matt and Martyn for their support - four days of adrenaline filled crazy racing in Italy was good fun and a great way to mark my first ever race in a country so rich in cycling culture!
This is a race with a huge history, something that is not lost on me, as it is fair to say I am a HUGE cycling fan! I am very pleased to have won such a cool race, my second UCI stage race win of the year. I would like to dedicate the win to Alan Rosner, a great mentor and friend of mine who died just over a year ago. Alan helped me no end to find the path I am currently on and was always around for a laugh, or bike race. I would like to think he would have loved the crazy fans and roads of this Lunigiana, much akin to the Belgian youth kermesse's he introduced me too back in 2010.
Watching our race on telly was pretty cool!
The other stages can be viewed by clicking on the 'Oradelciclismo' youtube channel.
A huge thanks to my sponsors, family, teammates and coach Matt Winston for the support. Onwards and upwards...