The Classics

A classics season isn’t a true classics season without terrible weather, crashes, punctures, gruelling races and hopefully a result in there too! My 2015 season was no different.

After Qatar, I went into the first races with the hope of making the main splits, which I missed out on last year, and then seeing what I could do from there. In Het Nieuwsblad I wasn’t in the best position when the splits started to happen but I managed to latch on to the back of the top 50 group. However luck wasn’t on my side and soon after a rider in front punctured on a corner and took me down with him. Luckily it was a soft landing and I put the crash behind me for Kuurne-Brusseels-Kuurne the next day. My legs were good and this time I used the knowledge of the roads from last year to position well on the Oude Kwaremont, making the front group of 20 riders with many favourites. Disappointingly the group didn't commit and we were caught on the finishing circuits. Despite this I was happy with my ride and it gave me confidence for the following weeks which were packed with smaller 1.1 category races in Holland and Belgium. Unfortunately though things didn't go to plan; the "Classics Gods" were against me and I had everything including crashes, punctures, mechanicals and the team missing important moves which all led to the week being a right-off.

At this point I was feeling the pressure a little bit, knowing that this was the part of the season where I was expected to perform and the chances for results in the smaller races were starting to run out. Nevertheless I hit the next races in Drenthe and Nokere with full motivation for a result, I knew I was in stronger condition than last year and I had performed well in the previous editions of these races. In Drenthe, I repeated the ride I did last year, making the front group of 5 with 80km to go. Coming on to the finishing circuits the legs came round and although there was some strong sprinters in the group, I believed I could podium, if not win the race. In the end, I lacked the confidence to open up the sprint early and managed to get boxed in. I was bitterly disappointed to finish 5th, especially after riding a great race. I think having not been in a position to win for such a long time, I didn’t believe in my sprint enough to make the first move. The following day in Drenthe I again finished 5th making a solid weekend but without the main goal of a podium. The final race of this block was Nokere Koerse, finishing up a short cobbled climb and usually decided by a bunch sprint. Knowing that this could be the last chance for a result, with only the big classics to come, I gave it everything and despite being a bit too far back in the last kilometres, I sprinted well to get 3rd.

On to the big ones...After the podium finish I felt a bit more relieved that I had some results behind me and could focus on my development in the big classics. My focus was to try and stay in the front of the race longer than last year, seeing how close I could make it to the finish. In the first race, Gent Wevelgem, the weather was horrendous with riders literally being blown of the road. It was a true Classics race and conditions which didn’t bother me. The legs felt great and I rode a smart race to stay in the front. I managed to stay with the chasing group to finish 17th. A great result considering the conditions and that only 39 riders finished. The following week in Flanders I could feel that I hadn’t fully recovered, so with the legs not quite perfect and some bad positioning, I missed the group after the Koppenberg with 35km to go. I was a little bit disappointed not to hang in longer but it was an improvement on last year and I am learning how I need to ride to make the decisive splits in the future.

My Classic's season ended with my first Paris-Roubaix, a race I have wanted to ride since getting into cycling as a kid. It was a special day and the weather couldn’t have been better. Unfortunately I punctured 3 times and despite being still in the mix with 50km to go and only 60 riders left, chasing back on to the peloton each time after puncturing, especially when the race was going flat out proved costly. In the end, I was happy to finish 69th and it gave me some confidence that with a bit more luck, I could get a decent result in the years to come.

by Paul