The Day after I arrived in Belgium we had our first race, Liege la Glieze, a UCI 2.1 in the Belgian Ardennes. The goal of the race was to get in some more European racing before worlds and test out how our legs felt. Our team consisted of five riders, all of which are good friends and great bike racers.
Stage one was a 97km road race with two KOM’s (King of the Mountain Sprints), Nathan got off the front in a small group after 20km and managed to win the first KOM. By the time the second KOM rolled around Nathan was back in the pack and the group was all together. Coming into the final 10km of the race as one big peloton we tried to organize at eh front in order to set up a lead-out train for Gavin and Jacob. With 4km remaining Lawson hit the front and kept the pace high, after him I took over and brought the race within 2km’s of the finish. When I pulled off I realized that I was the last US rider at the front, so I eased up and then things got dicey. I dropped back into 10th wheel with Jacob and Gavin both right around me, but then things went south. Two French riders clipped bars and took each other out right in front of all of us. I was able to squeeze through but Gavin and Jacob were forced off the road and into a gravel driveway but made it back onto the road going into 700 meters to go. By then things at eh front had started to go fast and we did what we could to stay in the front. Gavin finished 11th, myself 21st and Jacob not too far behind me, Nathan and Lawson were both stuck behind the crash and just rolled in but got the same time do to the 3km rule.
Stage two A was a team time trial an event that we were sure we could and should win. For a TTT the course was rather hilly and the frequent changes in directions didn’t play into our favor as we hadn’t practiced this discipline before. We started of fast and were passing the kilometers quickly despite our inefficiency. However, once we hit 6km to go the eggs began to crack; Nathan was the first to fall off the surging pace, followed by Jacob 4kms after. I was forced to dig deep as we had only three riders left and the time for the team was taken from the time of the third rider. Lawson and Gavin did more than their share of the work to lead us over the final 2kms of the course and when we finished we had posted a new fastest time by 18 seconds. Nathan and Jacob rolled in soon after and both did an awesome job helping us post a fast time. Out time was fast but not fast enough, the French national team finished a few minutes after us and took 24 seconds out of us over the 12km course. They went on to win the stage and take the yellow jersey; Lawson however got the white jersey for the best young rider.
Stage two B was in the afternoon following the TTT. Nathan put himself in the early move and racked up some KOM points and became the virtual leader of that classification on the road. Heading towards the finishing 20km of the race Nathans group of 15 still lingered off the front by around a minute. Then a move came from the pack of another 10 riders trying to bridge across, I saw that none of the other Americans were in the move so I went and with one Italian rider rode to the group of 10 then up to Nathans group making it a lead group of 25. When I got to the lead group two riders had already escaped off the front and were gaining time, I tried various times to get away but the French team rode smart and followed my every move. Two more riders got away and the remainder of our group came in as a sprint. Lawson and Gavin finished a minute behind and another group of 25, Jacob abandoned the race after a bee sting in his foot, which was plaguing him all week.
Stage three was the final and queen stage, seven KOMs and the weather made it all the more epic. Off and on down pour rains with low fog made what I thought would be miserable into an awesome stage. Going into the stage Nathan had the KOM jersey, Lawson was second in the best young rider and I was fourth overall on GC, so the plan was to keep what we had and improve on the others. The stage was hard but everyone on our team is riding strong right now so nothing fazed us. Nathan acquired points on the first three KOMs solidifying his win of that classification, and the rider leading Lawson in the best young rider dropped out for some unknown reason, as well did the 3rd place French rider on GC. Going in the final 20 km again the race heated up. The yellow jersey crashed and the team in 2nd on GC went to the front and began to hammer. The yellow never caught back on and didn’t finish the race, so all of the sudden I found myself in 2nd in on GC. A group of 4 riders then went up the road with the new virtual leader, and I called upon Gavin and Lawson to help me bring it back. Both guys did an awesome job, but Lawson flatted in the last 10 km so Nathan helped him to chase back on all while Gavin was driving our group in pursuit of the 4 leaders. We never caught the leaders but remained close enough to retain my 2nd overall by 4 seconds, and thanks to Nathan Lawson won the white jersey by a mere 6 seconds.
It was a very successful race for the team 2 out of the 3 jerseys, 2nd on GC and both Gavin and Jacob have good legs and are ready for Moscow.