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Eneco Tour

The original plan was to go to Eneco Tour in support of Tom Dumoulin’s bid for overall victory, but that changed when he was injured in the Tour. Instead, we went with a relatively open game plan. On the first three sprint stages, we’d ride for Nikias. Then after the time trial we’d see what was possible on the hilly stages.

Before this race, I’d only ever raced once in the Netherlands and 5 times in Belgium. It’s a completely different type of racing, mostly because of the never-ending road features that demand constant attention.

The first three stages were very easy on the legs until the last 45 minutes of the stage, but I finished each day mentally exhausted. I best describe it as “3-Dimensional racing.” You have to always be prepared to jump over something or leave the road altogether to avoid a crash or a median, etc. Unless you were at the front, you entered every turn ready to tackle whatever obstacles suddenly appeared in front of you. The fighting for position was exhausting.

On the first stage, I threaded three pileups at speed through a combination of pinballing off other riders and steering for any patch of open pavement (or grass) I could see.

I made it to the time trial intact on the same GC time as most of the field, and I had high hopes. It was really windy, so I focused on making myself as small as possible to make the most use of my power. My pacing was not conservative, as my form is steadily improving and I wasn’t sure what I could do for 17 minutes. As it turned out, the course was about 3km too long for the pace I chose, but I don’t regret it. I finished 28th on the day, some 45 seconds down on the stage winner. My average power for the effort was 395W, significantly lower than what Georg did to go a few seconds slower, so I was apparently more aero and/or better through the corners, so there was still encouragement to be had.

Keeping my head low in the windy conditions
Keeping my head low in the windy conditions
Punching a small hole in the wind
Punching a small hole in the wind

The final three stages couldn’t have been any more different than the first three, which were completely flat. Instead, these were non-stop punchy climbs for the whole day. I started stage 4 feeling really good, but that stopped after the first hour, when I found myself in the cars. In the past month, I’ve been doing lots of 3-5min efforts of 430-450W to simulate this race and the Canadian races I’ll be doing later, but that’s not what we were doing in the race. Instead, it was repeated hill sprints of [email protected] 480-550W…. My legs were totally zapped.

Going into the closing kilometers of the stage, the skies opened up and we were racing through a flash-flood, with flowing water across the roads, sometimes inches deep. At the speeds we were going, our stopping distance was multiple times farther than our sight distance, which was terrifying (and why the field immediately stretched to single file and exploded).

There was one nasty corner that we came into with a lot of speed. There were multiple manhole covers in the bumpy turn from a big road onto a single-lane path, and we were full on the brakes. I had the inside line on a Katusha rider, and I could see that he was going wide with a little too much speed. In an effort to keep from sliding out, he used every inch of the road but found himself struggling to stay out of the hedges that lined the road. I had enough time to see this and think, “ooh, I hope he makes it!” before his handlebar hooked the bush, flinging his back wheel around and sweeping my bike from beneath me.

I landed fully on my left side, collecting minor road rash from my ankle to my shoulder. I had bruised ribs and was sore all over, but most of all my elbow. I had smashed my funny bone so hard that my whole body was buzzing and shaking, taking me a couple of minutes to get going again. I managed to finish the stage after chasing back to the gruppetto, and then the doc assessed my wounds. Thankfully only bruised ribs and strained shoulder muscles, which would be annoying and uncomfortable, but nothing to keep me off the bike. I had one gnarly wound under my elbow, but it looked worse than it was. The small wound on the inside of my elbow didn’t look bad until we got it cleaned up, then I realized I was looking through a pencil eraser-sized hole at the good stuff underneath. The doctor chose not to stitch it because it was small and not a “clean” wound.

I started stage 6 feeling stiff and sore, but my legs were actually alright. After about half an hour, I loosened up and started to feel normal. I had no pain on the bike until I hit a bump, and then my elbow yelped at me. The problem was that we were racing on Belgian roads, which are unforgiving at best. We went through one small village with a cobbled center, which was excruciating.

Even though  my legs were okay, I chose not to start the final stage because there were 4km of cobbles in the first 20km of the race, and my elbow was just as tender as the day before. I will be taking Albert’s place in the Vattenfall Cyclassic next week, so we chose to give my body a bit more rest.

I’m still sore and covered in bruises, but it’s all slowly subsiding. My ribs only hurt a little when I take a really deep breath, my shoulder complains less as I use my arm more, and my elbow is a tiny bit more forgiving of the accidental bumps that are a part of life. I’ll be back to normal soon!