The 2014 season started with a new challenge for me, the Tour of Qatar. I’d heard a lot of stories about the race, most centring around strong winds, echelons and hours on the rivet. After the first 2 days of the race I’d realised that all the stories were true. Despite the challenges I coped well, mainly riding in the 2nd echelon and coming back to the front group to support Sam in the sprint finishes. Overall the race was a great experience and great preparation for the classics.
After a week of consolidating what I had gained from Qatar, I flew to Belgian for the start of the classics season and another 2 new races for me – Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne. I arrived a few days before the race to practice on the course and learn some of the climbs that feature in many of the Belgian classics. This is important as the races often consist of circuits and it is difficult to ensure you are in the right position for every cobbled climbs of dangerous section. Het Nieuwsblad was a tough day on the bike due to hours of rain and cold winds. My legs felt ok but I lacked a bit of experience for the crunch moments and didn’t have the power to get myself out of trouble when the race started to split. Despite narrowly missing the front group in both the weekend’s races, I was pleased with my condition and gained a lot of knowledge for future classics.
The following week I started 3 days of West Flanders with a disappointing prologue. This was worrying as I was hoping to slowly improve my condition to hit some good form by the end of March. However, the following day, I was able to use my road knowledge gained the week before to position well over the key cobbled climbs and make a strong 6 man break after the Oude Kwaremont climb. With most of the big teams represented the break could have gone to the finish but unfortunately a number of small teams chased, bringing us back as we entered the finishing circuits. My roll was then to support Blaz for the sprint but with such a technical sprint, he wasn’t able to follow me and I was left alone inside the last kilometre so went for the sprint myself finishing 3rd. I was happy with the result considering I had gone in a break and helped keep Blaz out of the wind in the last 5K. It also meant that I had good form on the road which was what I was looking for. The final day of the race ended in another bunch sprint but unfortunately I got boxed in and could only manage 8th.