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2nd Race Report from William Heath in Europe.

May 23, 2012
Ronde Van Klein Zwitzerland

Having raced some small club races (with great success) in the week since the first big race (Ronde Van 't Zand) the scene was set for another tilt at a Dutch criterium. This time it was on a 1.1km circuit, with a long steady climb and then a fast technical descent (perhaps the closest comparable course in Perth being that of the Armadale classic). Whilst identical to the first in that it was to be raced over 80kms, this time the field in the Elite category was smaller (53 starters); owing, I was told, due to the hill making the race quite tough.
Unlike the first-come-first-serve approach of racing back home, the all important position on the line was decided by raffle, and Neil and i were lucky enough to be near the front and in the middle respectively.
Once again the pace was high but I was feeling more prepared having raced in 't Zand a week prior. The first few laps involved getting used to the corners, which one would hit at tremendous speed given the downhill, and also trying to assert your position in the pack as everyone fought to be near the front.
I was feeling good and unlike 't Zand where I was struggling all race I was able to race and not just be another number at the start. The attacks were coming thick and fast, and it's always hard to know exactly who the hitters are, and thus which moves are dangerous, when your not a local. Unfortunately by the 15km mark Neil has succumbed to a combination of illness (he had been sick all week) and an asthma attack, in the face of such high intensity and he was lapped. But by that point however there had already been serious damage done to the bunch and quite a few riders had already pulled out.
As the race continued the field began to tire and each attack would last a little bit longer and look slightly more serious. Fatiguing riders dropped wheels and gaps began to open. By the 35km mark I had ridden across to a couple of dangerous looking breaks only to be reeled back in again by the bunch. Then at about 40km in there was a much more decisive split. A 5 man break, had formed and as the bunch slowed and watched them ride off into the metaphorical sunset, a 12 man chase group quickly nipped off the front. As the remainder of the fragmented peloton floundered, I knew it was make or break and gave everything to ride solo across the now sizeable gap to the next group (I nearly didn't make it). From that point onwards the race was essentially decided. The 5 man break apparently contained nearly all of the race favourites. And whilst my group contained a few current and ex-pros (including a guy who is riding at this years Olympics in the Dutch team pursuit) we couldn't close the gap. Our bunch was working semi-cohesively, but there were just a few too many guys just sitting on and missing turns for it to work well enough to catch the motoring 5 man group up the road. Coming into the finish everyone started to look at each other and several weaker members became unhitched in the cat and mouse attacks.
Finally with 2 laps to go all hell broke loose... attacks were flying from all corners and I did my best to follow, but in the end I was left to finish with 5 others, and we were all sprinting for 8th place.
After 70+ laps up the hill I had 1000m+ elevation under the belt and the legs just wouldn't fire; leaving me to finish 9th. However with such a strong field and some prize money for my place it was not a bad day out.