637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Back on the road and back to racing

Wow. It's been a long time since I put fingers to keypad and wrote anything meaningful for my blog! Time to change all that.

For the time being I'll pass over the last Track World Championships. It was a disappointing campaign to say the least and it's still hurts t think about it. So I'll focus on something more positive for now!

I've just returned from a couple of weeks in Italy and 2 different Paracycling Cups. Both events were a combined road race and TT overall GC winner-type race. So basically they take your position int he road race and your position in the TT to determine the overall winner.

First up was the Verola Paracycling Cup. These races are both put on by he same organiser in the same area. The host towns are all based near Brescia - which is around 1 hour away from Milan. Paracycling is well supported in Italy, no doubt in small part due to Alex Zanardi who now takes part in many of these events.

So - on to the Verola Cup. First was the road race. It was help on a short town circuit. Lots of technical corners, short hills and interesting road surfaces to negotiate. I didn't realise it at first, but I had actually raced there in 2011. It was a different circuit back then but some of it was the same.

The race itself was good. For the most part it was fairly tame. Until anther rider crashed in front of me! I was held up momentarily and the bunch rode off up the road. I was stuck chasing with a couple of other riders for the next 3 laps or so. It meant I had to expend more energy than I wanted to chase back on. Nevertheless, we eventually got ourselves back in the bunch with a couple of laps still to go.

On the final lap the bunch split again slightly. I was near the back of the main group and as we headed down towards the finish I could see that I was easily going to wrap up 2nd place with only one other rider anywhere near me (up ahead). I was happy with that result so didn't chase after him.

As I rounded the final corner into the home straight, I could see the solitary rider in my category (Simon Price of GB) has slowed to a near stop short of the finish line. H e was furiously tuning the pedals over but the bike was only moving slowly. I wasn't 100% sure what was happening as my race head took over.

I jumped out of the saddle and accelerated towards Simon and the finish. I momentarily considered the option of stopping and helping Simon across the line as there was a part of me that felt he deserved to win. But I had no idea how close the 3rd place rider was behind me and didn't want to risk losing my own position. It was all happening in the blink of an eye also, so I just kept going - crossing the line ahead of Simon and taking the victory. Cheekily I raised my arms in the air as I crossed the line - after all, I don't win many road races!

It turns out Simon had dropped his chain in the final straight so was basically coasting towards the line. I didn't know that I as raced past him. I just saw he had slowed. To be fair, I've had more than my fair share of bad luck in races so it was time I had some good luck. Winning isn't just about being the best - it takes some good luck also.

The following day was the TT. It was on the same course I had raced on in 2011 so was familiar with it. Fairly flat with a couple of uphills drags, some poor road surface and a few corners to negotiate. Nothing too difficult.

I was definitely up for it. In anticipation of the poor road surfaces, I had left my 'best' wheels at home, opting instead for 2 deep section wheels with slower, but more robust tyres. It meant I would ride slower, but chances are I would actually get to the finish.

In the end, it was very tight in the top 3. I managed 2nd place in the TT by just 4 seconds. And that gave me the overall win for the weekend. A great start to my season and also meant I picked up some good Rio 2016 qualification points.

The next few days saw me travel to Milan, give a motivational talk to a small group of people, do a TV interview with Italian Sky, visit the 3T offices, and do a short, but hard ride with the owner of 3T on one of the climbs used in the Tour of Lombardy. All-in-all a good few days.

Then it was back to Brescia for the second Paracycling Cup. Once again, the road race was on a small town circuit, but this time with a stinging climb in the middl of the circuit. We'd have to go over it 10 times as well which was going to hurt.

The race started with a fast pace and it wasn't long before we hit the climb for the first time. And yes, it hurt. But lap after lap I managed to hang in there up the climb. Negotiating all the technical and fast corners with ease as well, I was starting to believe I might finish with the lead group. 

I think it was around the 5th time up the climb that I finally found myself being distanced. I'm just far too heavy to get up these hills as fast as the riders who are 10kg lighter than me! Nevertheless, I kept working and never gave up. Although distanced, I could see another rider in my category up the road ahead of me. I knew catching him would mean getting 3rd place in the race, so I kept working at pegging him back, lap after lap.

Finally, on the last lap I caught him at the top of the last climb. I think he was shocked when he turned to find me on his wheel! As he rode towards the finish, he kept sitting up, trying to get me to come around him but i just sat behind him, trying to conserve my energy.

That was a mistake. As we hit the last few corners, he accelerated out of them ahead of me getting a good gap. In the finish straight I jumped out of the saddle to try and close the gap, but ran out of road. He crossed the line ahead of me taking 3rd place. I was 4th.

2 days later it was the final TT. It was 2 laps of a pan-flat course with a few corners to negotiate, but it is the type of course I normally excel on. I was going in with my eyes on first place.

The day just never went well. I showed up late to the start town, struggled to find parking, struggled to even figure out where the start was! I wasted so much time that I didn't get to warm up properly. I basically ended up getting on my bike and riding to the start. So I was going to have to race 'cold'.

I knew within the first 30 seconds that it wasn't going to go well. My legs were already screaming and I had barely even started. The lack of a warm up was going to cost me. I had to back off to allow them to get moving or I'd never make it to the finish!

To make matters worse, after a few corners I came up on a long line of traffic. I was slowed up as I tried to figure out where to go. I DID have a lead motorcycle but it was still a bit nervy as we weaved down he centre of the road - between the line of cars moving in the same direction and dodging the oncoming cars!

Losing valuable time, matters were made worse as I messed up virtually every corner I had to go around. It wasn't my day. At all. I crossed the finish line in 4th place. A superb ride by Simon Price of GB though beating me handily.

Still - I had secured enough points to finish in 3rd place overall. Another podium finish and and more Rio 2016 points. It's great start to my road campaign and signs of good things to come.