Last week saw my junior career come to an end, as I raced the Junior World Road Race Championships in Florence. I was delighted to be named as a part of the four man GB squad; which also included Tao Geoghegan Hart, Matt Gibson, and James Knox.
The icing on the cake was when I spoke to Stephen from Dolan Bikes on the phone and he mentioned that they'd be sending me a new bike for the Worlds. I couldn't believe it when this beauty arrived..
I flew out to Pisa last Tuesday ahead of the race on Saturday. I got my first opportunity to ride the course on Thursday, as the roads were closed in order for riders to recce the circuit.
I had a good idea of what the course profile looked like before heading out to Italy, but it's always difficult to know how it will ride. The circuit was a little tougher than I had expected. Although the roads were great, I thought the course was pretty technical, with some tight bends to negotiate. Two laps of the circuit gave us a pretty good idea of what to expect come race day.
I began to feel a little nervous on Friday evening when we sat down for our pre-race meeting with ODP coach Matt Winston. The plan was that we'd work for Tao as team leader, and commit to positioning him as well as possible on the final lap, especially as we turned onto the Via Salviati for the final time.
We headed to bed pretty early, ahead of the 8:30 start on Saturday.
Race day had arrived, and 140km lay ahead of us. We headed to the start in Montecatini. It was a novelty heading to the start in the Team Sky campervan. We did the usual team presentation, ahead of the gear-check (my last ever!) and lined up on the start-line.
The race set off at a quick pace, before settling down when the breakaway eventually formed. It went on to gain 5 minutes by the time we got to the circuit around Florence. With the break still 4 minutes ahead with four laps remaining, James Knox & myself started doing turns on the front in order to keep the break under control. We brought the time gap down 55 seconds in the space of a lap, however it was at this point that Tao had his mechanical.
It was a real shame that Tao's chain broke on one of the ascents of Via Salviati, meaning that he had to run the remainder of the climb and wait for a neutral bike. Unfortunately this was the end of his race. I started to suffer with around 45km to go, having gone fairly deep alongside James on front earlier on in the race.
I stayed in the wheels and tried to recover as much as I could. It proved quite challenging with the circuit being as lumpy as it was, without any real respite. With two laps to go, the pace picked up as the French set a strong tempo. The front group was no more than 50 riders at this point. I had to dig deep just to stay up there, but went over the finish line in the front group with only 1 lap remaining.
It was at this point that I started to suffer with cramp. Apart from the Junior Paris-Roubaix which I raced at the start of the season, this was my longest race of the year by quite a bit. I got distanced from the leaders around 750m from the summit of the Fiesole but managed to chase back on on the descent. Unfortunately the same happened on the Via Salviati, as I really started to hurt.
I chased hard on the descent back into Florence and got across to the front group with 2km to go. By this point, Mathieu Van der Poel (Holland) had already made his winning move, breaking away on the Via Salviati. I sat in the wheels, biding my time ahead of the sprint. The group started to fragment as the pace lifted in an attempt to bring back Van der Poel. I jumped from group to group, finding myself in fifth or sixth position with 300 metres to go. The sprint opened up, and I went on to finish in seventh place.
Although initially disappointed not to have made the podium, I think I can be fairly happy with the result knowing that I left everything on the road. The race capped off a successful season for myself and a great way end to my junior career. Race result:
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) 3-33-14
2. Mads Pedersen (Denmark) @ 3 secs
3. Iltjan Nika (Albania) "
4. Logan Owen (USA) "
5. Lorenzo Rota (Italy) "
6. Lucas Eriksson (Sweden) "
7. Scott Davies (Great Britain) "
8. Artem Nych (Russia) "
9. Sergey Shemyakin (Kazakhstan) "
10. Benjamin Brkic (Austria) all same time "
Not only was it my last race as a junior, but also my last as a member of the Olympic Development Programme. I've had a great year on the ODP this year, having learnt a lot, and having had some amazing experiences, whilst making so many new friends along the way. I owe a big thank you to Matt Winston for the support & opportunities he's given me this season. Sincere thanks also to Martyn Ashfield (GB Mechanic) & Rachel Murray (GB Soigneur) for all of their help too. I'm going to miss being a part of the ODP next season, however I'm sure as one door closes another will open.
I'm also very grateful to Welsh Cycling for the support & opportunities they've given me this year. Sadly, my time on the Welsh Junior Programme has also come to an end. I'm especially thankful to Michael Heaven who has coached me for the past 2 years, putting up with so many of my late night texts and emails, ha! I've thoroughly enjoyed all of the training camps & race trips with the Welsh team this year. I'm now looking forward to seeing what next season brings.
Lastly, I'd like to say a massive thank you to all of my sponsors for supporting me this year. I'm especially grateful to Dolan Bikes for providing me with some great bikes this year. I've really enjoyed riding the Ares SL this season, and would recommend it to anyone. Stephen, Terry and all Dolan staff have been so kind & generous to me this year, and I really appreciate it. I can't thank them enough.
Thanks for taking the time to read,