Our youngest rider on the team Connor Swift recounts his biggest ever race as he takes on a semi-classic.
Last Sunday I did my biggest ever race at the Tro-Bro Leon – it was hard and dirty but reflecting back on the race now I wish I could do it all over again! The best race I have ever done by a million miles.
From racing with a radio for the first time, to pinching myself when I rolled out with a group containing World Tour and Pro Continental guys all around – not to mention the TV helicopters hovering overhead and broadcasting the race live on Eurosport… it was all very surreal.
It took a few minutes for everything to sink in and that I was riding in my biggest race in my career to date, but before I knew it I was looking down at my Garmin which told me I had already covered 140km!
Realising the dream of riding the Tro-Bro Leon
I can remember on the team training camps Alex Blain would talk of this race. I didn’t really know much about it or how big it actually was. He absolutely loves it!
Two months later and I was actually here, putting on my race radio and checking it worked for the first ever time – just another reminder of the environment I was in.
Being able to communicate to everyone on the road and even Mike when he is in the car is so useful. Mike would pass on information and let us know when the sectors were coming up so we didn’t need to waste energy fighting for position at the wrong times in the race.
When we first rolled out, the whole bunch was just really relaxed which is great and how race starts should be, instead of people being edgy and pushy which can cause crashes.
The neutral was pretty long and once the flag was dropped the race was on. It was a pretty fast pace on rolling roads. People were attacking off the front eager to get in the breakaway.
Around 15km into the race Alex Blain came down with another guy hitting road furniture at around 50km/h. At this point we didn’t know how bad Alex’s injuries were and luckily he had come away from the crash with nothing too serious. Due to this the team were now down to seven riders.
At the front constantly people were trying to break clear but nothing really stuck as the race was shifting pretty fast.
After 50km we hit the first off road sector. As a team we were in a decent position and maintained being near the front for the sectors all race. Some sectors were real bone shakers with massive rocks, guys were puncturing, sliding out on the gravel and crashing on some off road corners.
Because it was dry they were really dusty too and at some points you could hardly see a few bike lengths in front of where you were riding.
Blain knew this race like the back of his hand so prior to the race he had told us all where the really important stages are and that it would be important for us to be at the front at these times or else we would be out of the race.
I can remember looking down at the Garmin and 140km had gone in a flash! Time and kilometres were just ticking by rapidly and we were now approaching the final part of the 200km-long race.
By this point the bunch had already whittled down quite a lot and the sectors were starting to take their toll on the legs. Having to move round people who were dropping the wheels on sectors started to hurt the legs more.
With 40km to go Johnny and I were still in the front group on the road, however at this point Johnny unluckily punctured. Fortunately, that was the only puncture out of the whole team all day.
At 30km to go two guys had broken free and FDJ had riders on the front setting a hard pace to bring the two escapees back. At this point in the race there was hardly any rest at all. Sector after sector and they were getting harder with twists and turns and uphill sectors too.
I briefly lost contact with the front bunch on one of the sectors but I managed to get back into the group of around 30 or so guys now left at the sharp end of the race.
Approaching towards the finishing circuit the race was starting to take its toll and I was gapped again with 20km to go.
I fought hard to get back on however FDJ were going full gas to bring two riders back and more and more people were losing contact with that front group.
Mike was encouraging me in my ear to keep pushing all the way as you never know what that front bunch may do, they could crash or puncture which can change the whole race dramatically.
Ultimately I rolled over the line 33rd and had finished my first UCI 1.1 race. It was hard and dirty but reflecting back on the race now I wish I could do it all over again! The best race I have ever done by a million miles.
To sum the race up: punctures, crashes, off road sectors, dusty, dirty, hard, windy, lined out, climbs, luck and bloody good fun.