Paris to Nice...the hard way!
Well as predicted Paris-Nice was a very rude introduction back to the pro ranks over here in Europe - I had heard the stories and excluding the weather (thankfully) it more than lived up to its hype as a filthy, scrappy, beautiful and extremely hard race. Given my lead into the race I didn't make my life much easier for the week - a training diet of base kms without the top end work, any race was always going to be a bit of a shock but this combined with some jetlag and a crazy route for the race, Paris-Nice 2014 goes in my personal record books for the hardest one week race so far.
It's quite hard to describe a race like that, and from the comfort of my couch here in Spain my selective memory that is required to be a professional cyclist has started to kick in and it all seems like it wasn't so bad but then I think back to how I would get on the bus every day and exchange looks with the other boys that despite the language barrier still said "what the f**k just happened"...the first big pro tour race of the year combined with a crazy route for the race turned it into chaos! All I could think was how happy I was it was warm and sunny. I think the unselective nature of the course made it worse - it wasn't like there was a 15km berg that the climbers would get over and the sprinters ride grupetto, it was more like every rider could be in the front after a small climb or cross wind if they started the section at the front so the race for the front started somedays more than 120km from the finish. Crazy small little french roads, roundabouts, road furniture, pinch climbs and more corners than you can shake a stick at meant I was either sprinting full gas, doing a 1 min full effort or coasting into the corner, watching the guys in the front sprint out of it and bracing myself for my turn...most of the time it didnt need to be so crazy. Sometimes I think it's just tradition, everyone know Paris-Nice is a shit fight so lets fight.., but then I guess the first day was a great example of why it turned out to be so scrappy; a big pile up 20km from the finish saw a big group of us (with other GC guys ) off the back and we had Demarchi in the crash group so I pulled to try bring it back but we still lost nearly a minute and a half and GC was over like that.
I was going into the race quite relaxed with lack of race form and a course not really suited to me so I wasn't overly phased when I lost time. I just put my focus into stages and being there in the front for Damiano Caruso. The first test came on Mount Brouilly, it was a pretty brutal little climb and a lot more brutal starting 150wheels back after I got caught out from a crash. I just scampered over the top in the front group and that was the first glimps of some form for 2014 but the two of us couldn't get it together for the bunch kick, however throughout the week the team really started to work well together. By the last day I was fitter, the road was more uphill and after a few attacks on the way back into Nice it came down to a 20 man group kick, this time me and Damiano got it sorted a bit more and I got my lead out on and he held on for 4th in the stage so it was nice to see some good progression through the week.
It was probably one of the more productive weeks of racing I've had. It was always hard, all day every day and the power files agree; I just got the breakdown from the coaching staff and although most of the lines on the graph dont mean a lot to me they look dramatic! It was a race that made me fight and practice the stressful stuff that no one likes, it was nice to race with more of the guys, there were 6 Italian riders, a German and me in the team but I actually found it an awesome week off the bike. The team ran really well and with the Italians we were always going to have a laugh - one example was on stage 3... there was a break of 5 guys up the road, with team Giant Shimano chasing and 100km to go the finish. They all stopped chasing on the front for some reason and there was a few minutes where we just rolled along and a few of our boys just rolled slightly off the front having a chat - when they looked back they had a bit of a gap and just took off. There was some panic from the Giant Shimano team who got back on the front and rode full gas to shut the move down. After 5 fast minutes they still couldn't see them up the road...it was only when a Europcar rider came up and told them that the two Cannondale boys had actually hidden behind a bush 3kms back down the road and that Giant Shimano were chasing ghosts.
So in a nut shell, very hard, very stressful but productive week on all fronts. Good for the confidence - being up there in the fight every day and having the legs to be there to compete. It's still early days and I have a lot of work to do to get up to full fitness but for the first race back it was doozey.cheers