London Surrey Classic

Top class home racing!

Attack on the Embankment! (Photo: Andy Ward)

My first race on UK soil for about four years couldn’t have been a more memorable experience.

The Prudential London Surrey Classic is a 200km (uci 1.HC) race beginning at the Olympic Park in Stratford and finishing down the Mall outside Buckingham Palace. In between we would race through central London, out to the hills of Surrey before zooming straight back into Central London once more via Kingston, Putney and Wimbledon using many of the roads from the Olympic road race course. It was a big stage on which to be racing bikes and motivation was so high knowing I’d be performing in front of a lot of people.

The race started of typically fast with everyone trying to make the early breakaway, I gave it my best shot to make it as it would be good publicity for the team to be out front with the TV cameras.

Unfortunately I missed it which I was a bit pissed about, but oh well! It was so cool in that first hour, racing at break neck speed through central London with massive crowds screaming; max adrenaline.

After the break went the bunch was then absolutely dominated by what must have been ‘Hurricane’ Bertha or should I say a greatly over exaggerated rain storm. It was heavy enough rain nonetheless and for a good half hour I couldn’t really see much in front of me, it was quite impressive.

Once the rain abated the weather was decent for most of race, the only problem being the sudden downpours had turned the roads to absolute s***. Think winter UK roads, potholed, covered in debris and grit. I can remember thinking ‘Gosh, I really must arrange somewhere to train in Spain this winter when I get home’.

I had a minor crash after about 60km when we hit a bottleneck and a group of us hit the deck. I managed to leap over my bike, avoid landing on my old team mate Tom Moses, and do a version of the running man, coming to a stop just before I hurtled straight down a river bank… phew.

Unscathed and after a front wheel change I was back in the bunch soon enough but it was a sample of things to come with the wet Surrey roads taking a few victims. I spent most of the race thinking ‘Please don’t puncture, please don’t puncture’, and for the most part I managed to get away with it; thank God for continental tubs.

However I did have what must have been my customary puncture at a pretty inopportune time as I made the front split of 40 or so riders over the penultimate climb. There is nothing like that sinking feeling of making a good move in a race and then hearing that literally deflating sound of air escaping rubber. After frantically waving down a Mavic neutral service moto and perhaps using a few choice words, I was moving again. Although probably now a good 30-40 seconds behind a fast moving group in a key moment of the race… bummer.

It was then that Laurens Ten Dam passed me, probably in a similar situation and we proceeded to 2-up smash it back to the front. A few risks on a couple of descents and a couple of brutally hard turns we made it back and I was back in the race! Just unfortunate that during the time I had been chasing on the race winning break had formed.

From that point it was a case of hanging onto to the coat tails of Cannondale, Topsport and Wanty as we chased down the leaders into London. It really was cool as to race through those streets with a tailwind, lined out and crowds lining the streets. You could sense the finish was getting closer just by how the numbers of people beside the road increased.

I ended up coming in 26th not a stand out performance but one which I took a lot of heart from being able to hold my own with a lot of good riders.

It was also absolutely fantastic to have what seemed to be half my extended family at the finish cheering me on as well as some of my best mates. I barely ever have any supporters racing in some far flung places in Europe, so it was awesome to have everyone there to cheer me on! I think I was a bit unrecognisable with the amount of mud covering my face though.

After the race we started the long journey home to Belgium, surviving a very bumpy ferry crossing and getting into my bed at 4am. Sometimes it isn’t the race that is the hard part!

The following day I was racing a pro kermesse in Heusden and spent 120km smashing it in the breakaway. It is amazing how fatigue catches you up a few days later as I have just spent most of the time that I haven’t been on my bike sleeping!

The legs are definitely there, so hopefully can keep performing well over the next few weeks in a busy race schedule. There is potentially a place in a certain British stage race up for grabs…