Monday, 22 May 2017

Tour du Maroc 2017

After less than a week at home it was time to head off to Morocco for the Tour du Maroc, a UCI 2.2 over 10 days covering 1538km. The race was focused in the north of the country.
I had to fly in the day before on an afternoon flight landing at 8.30pm, it took 2 hours to get through passport control due to the length of the que. After I got outside the race were meant to pick me up but there was no sign of them after looking for around an 30 minutes I bumped into a staff member from another team and we decided to get a taxi to the hotel in Casablanca. What I thought was going to be a simple travel turn out to be the opposite. I eventually got to the hotel at midnight, not the best time with the race starting that day.
Stage 1 started Tour du Maroc off with a 150km stage. the weather conditions were warm and windy with cross winds in the final 30km. The race was on from the start with moves going for the first 80 or 90km then a move went with my team mate in. Groups tried to get away I tried following some missing the ones the got away and bridged to the break. With United Health Care the main team of the race missing the split I thought that they would pull it back but they tried to late and 30 guys finished 5 minutes up on the peleton.

Stage 2 was 151km mainly head wind with times of cross winds. The team plan was to ride at the front and make sure we didn't miss any splits. The times it split in the cross winds we were in the front group each time and avoided the crashes as well. The day ended in a bunch sprint. I tried going alone with 3km to go but was caught with 1km to go and rolled in with the bunch.

Stage 3 a 153km day with 2 categorized climbs, the race started in fast tail wind the turn into hard cross winds I wasn't concentrating in the tail winds and just before the cross winds started I found myself at the back of the bunch. The bunch split into bits and I was able to work my way up to second group and avoid all the crashes. The group never caught the front group for the rest of the day. it was game over and the group became the groupetto finishing over 10 minutes down on the winner. Now I was well out of GC my DS Sean said to race how I like racing best. Telling me to get in breaks and ride aggressively but smart.

Stage 4 the queen stage of the tour covering 190km with over 3500m of elevation. The whole stage was head wind and very demanding. I was Aggressive from the start getting in a number of moves which failed. Then a move went that looked promising so I attack and bridged across, only for it to be brought back a few km later. After around 35 hard km a group got a way on a gravel descent with most the main teams represented, so on the next up hill I attacked again bridging the gap with a big effort over 5km. When I got to the break I was well in the red and the terrain of the stage wasn't letting up which meant it was hard to recover due to the short hard climbs where the break was riding at over 400 watts up them. It took me around 10km to recover and feel comfortable with the pace. I knew it was going to be a long day in the saddle, the break had no one up there in GC so it looked good for the break to stick but on the main climb of the day 3 rider made it across to the break. One of the riders that bridged what the Moroccan that rides for UAE Emirates World Tour Team. With 2 more classified climbs to go before the flatter final 60km. On the climbs the pace was now much higher with some top quality climbers present. On the 2nd last climb I was distanced by the break with 2 other rider. We kept riding to make it over the final climb before the remainder of the peleton caught us. By this point there were only men ahead of us. The Direct Energy feeder team were controlling the reduced peleton of around 25 riders. They were riding but the gap to the 6 leaders was over 11 minutes with 60km to go. I managed to hang in the this group and was active in the final 5km to try get a top 10 finish. The final 3km was short steep climbs and descents I was unable to get away and finished in the group.

Podium after winning stage 5.
Stage 5 was 158km with 1 classified climb topping out after 48km. My legs for the first 10/15km were dead and took some getting going but with a gravel road section coming at 20km and my legs feeling slightly better I moved to the front just before this section of road. As soon as it started to turn to gravel I attacked taking 5 other riders with me. I rode flat out until the peleton had eased up a bit. The break rode hard for 10km taking the gap to 4 minutes by the bottom of the climb. I was distanced on the climb due to the pace and the previous day in my legs. Instead of going right to my limit to stay with them I used my power meter to limit the loses to them and aimed to catch back on, on the descent or the flats after the descent. I managed to catch back as soon as it flattened out after the descent. Now the break was only 5 riders and 100km to the finish with mainly head winds. We got the gap to 6 minutes 30 seconds but this started to fall rapidly when inside the final 40km. With 25km to go the gap was nearly 1 minute. Sean drove up to me just before 20km to go and said 'this is going to get caught try a long attack if you want. It's better trying something than nothing.' I said back this head wind is strong don't know if attacking this far out will work. There was only me and another rider doing big turns to try keep the gap out and just after Sean had left me, this guy pealed off the front and the speed dropped by 5kph so I decided this is the time to attack as he will be going to recover a bit and wouldn't expect an attack. I got a big gap instantly and just started riding to power as I would in a time trial. I had no idea what was going on behind me I just kept pushing on and suffering. With 5km to go I got a time check and I had 55 seconds and at this point I knew if I kept this up I was in with a good chance of the stage win. As much as I was suffering the rewards were going to be much higher. My legs were burning and I could feel them starting to fade then I saw the 1km to go sign and I looked back and couldn't see the bunch and I just went full till 200m to go then I looked back and the cars were still behind me and then I knew I had the win and with around 100m to go I started celebrating. I was so happy to take my first ever UCI win and by doing it 20km solo after 2 hard days in the break made it even better. It was a great day for the team and I was happy to deliver after all the work that's been put in. A day I will always remember.

Stage 6 a 163km on very tired legs after the previous 2 days. I was active at the front with my team mates to try get in the break myself and to try help them get in the break. Unfortunately none of the moves we got in were success full. Once the break had gone it was a day in the bunch. The break stuck and finish a few minutes ahead of the peleton.

Stage 7 was 183km and what looked to be another day for the break to stick. I tried to get in the breaks once again but wasn't able to get in the one that stuck. Spend a lot of energy in the first 40km I just sat in the bunch and then when the pace settled I was chilling at the back of the bunch enjoying the sun and ticking off another stage. The break stuck again. I showed myself near the front in the closing 5km but wasn't able to make anything of it.

Stage 8 had 2 catigorized climbs in the 150km long stage. I really wanted to get in the break this day due the the climbs and the legs not feeling great. The main reason to be in the break was to have the sliding room and steadier climbs than in the bunch. I tried really hard to be in the break but again failed. Surprisingly I managed to climb in the front group on the main climbs and stayed with the peleton until the finish.

Stage 9 the penultimate day covering 138km. My legs were gone for this stage and I was useless at the start and couldn't help my team try to get in a break. Then on the only climb of the day after 40km I was the first to get dropped, luckily I managed to stay in the convoy and make it back into the bunch after the climb. Once back in the bunch I didn't know how long I would last so I did team duties and went back for bottles and did the feeds for the team. I stayed in the peleton and finished mid bunch in the sprint.

Stage 10 the final day and last 127km of racing here in Morocco. The Moroccans tried to make it a procession until the finishing laps in Casablanca but that didn't happen. The race was full on from start to finish. After 40km I dropped back to call for the team car and then we hit cross winds. The race started to split and I was nearly last man. I managed to get up but the peleton had split and I found myself chasing back on with a group including 2 of my team mates. After a while the group gave up chasing. I sat on the front towing the group along for 5 or more kilometers before the convoy came back into sight. At this point the race commissar pulled the convoy out of the gap so we couldn't use the cars to get back in the peleton. The group started working again as they had hope we would make it back. Then a few kilometers later they stopped working again. So I went back to the front and started setting the pace again after a few kilometers my team mate Yannick started to help, the gap started to come back down and a few more people started helping and we eventually got back into the peleton by the start of the first of 6 finishing laps. I tried to stay near the front on the finishing laps so I could try a late attack, which I managed to do with 12km to go hoping if I went long they might not react as fast in shutting me down. I was wrong and the peleton shut me down fairly quickly, a move went straight after I was brought back so I followed it. This was also shut down and the race was kept as a bunch until the finish and the sprinters contested the win.

After a great 10 days of racing I had a lot to take away from it. I gain a whole lot more experience during the race. I take home a stage win and which is more than I hoped for going into the race.

Also I would like to say a massive thank you to, Sean McNicholl our DS, Peter McBride our mechanic and Leighton Bradgate our masseur and swanny. They all made this race possible and our lives as riders much easier every day.

Now it's time for some rest and an easy couple of week after a hard start to the season. My next trip away will be the start of May for a month in Sweden.

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