Well it was a long old wait but in the last month I finally got around to kicking off my race season! It actually looks like we may have managed to fit our three-week trip to Europe into the small window of fairly unrestricted travel... I'd like to pretend this was a forethought, but it was probably just luck!
In any case, having spent the best part of spring and summer in the Peaks training and with some alternative focuses, this was a chance to fit in a couple of Gran Fondos in the French Alps – both of which were new events for me.
First up was the Trilogie de Maurienne, a neat two-day with two timed climbs (Croix de Fer and the back of the Col du Mollard) on the Saturday, and the full race on the Sunday; a route which went up the Glandon, la Toussuire with a summit finish atop the sinuous Mollard. All I can say is the training paid off! Going into the final day with a 1:36 deficit on GC, I managed to distance the lead group with 45k to go, riding solo to the win and yellow jersey! Having not raced since Taiwan in October, it was an odd feeling to pin a number on again, but given I'd been producing lots of new best powers in training, I knew I had good legs. What did surprise me though was coping with the heat – while weather hadn't been bad in the Peaks, I wasn't quite prepared for high 30s! See the ride on Strava here.
Hannah and I spent the week after this exploring the Maurienne Valley, as well as the spectacular Col de la Loze in Meribel, before the following weekends race, the Cyclosportive de la Madeleine. With a week of long rides in the legs, and even higher temperatures, my expectations for this one were lower. The field was stronger too, with a few of Italy's strongest Gran Fondo riders having made the trip over – events there have been cancelled for the whole summer. The route for this really suited me though, with a huge amount of climbing, including the Croix de Fer, Col de Chaussy and finally a summit finish up the Madeleine. Long story short, I escaped the front group on the middle climb, and despite crashing twice on the descent, managed to hold the chasers off to win by around six minutes. See the ride on Strava here.
Obviously, I was pleased with these results, especially in the circumstances, but I think what really made the difference was the preparation, both mental and physical. As I've said, my numbers were good, but the endurance I've built up this year undoubtedly played a part too. It's easy to get carried away with FTP or your 20' power, but it's the combination of this with the ability to reproduce that effort over and again for hours which makes the difference. I mention the mental side too, and I really think the relaxed state of mind I've had of late (probably thanks to the lack of racing!) helped too.
The above shows just how good Ruari is at replicating his peak power, deep in to the race. A key demand to Gran Fondo events
Due to crash injuries and the ever-changing quarantine rules, I didn't race again on the trip, as intended. Instead we explored some new areas, including the classic climbs in Switzerland. I'm hoping to fit in one or two more Gran Fondos this year, so stay tuned – they're likely to be pretty late notice though as our attention remains firmly on each country's quarantine status!