It had been a slightly longer break than initially planned for Seb, at the back end of the season. It had taken Seb a little while to get over a lingering illness and he understandably wanted to overcome it and be back in top shape and ready to tackle the final races of the season. First up at the weekend was the Salamina Island S2 Three-Day Stage Race, just off the coast of Athens.
Seb – “I might have been able to come back a week earlier in Portugal, but I decided to play it on the safe side and ensure that my mind was completely prepared. Confidence for me, comes from preparation and going in to the stage race at the weekend; I was really happy with where things were. In fact in my training, I was actually putting out the highest numbers I’d had all year.”
Hamish and Seb raced on Salamina last year, when it was back-to-back XCO races, so it was familiar terrain to return to. With the significant number of UCI World Ranking points up for grabs, and a number of countries globe trotting before next year’s Olympics, a truly World class field made its way to the Mediterranean island.
Stage 1 – 5.5km Time-Trial
The race kicked off with a time-trial late in the afternoon. One lap all out around what would be the XCO track the following day.
Seb – “I was pretty twitchy before the start. I think it was a combination of having not raced for a few weeks and also hanging around for the majority of the day. Way too much time to get nervous!”
Getting his campaign off to a solid start, Seb took 19th position. The blistering fast pace of France’s Stephane Tempier put him in to the leader’s jersey at the end of day 1.
“I made a mistake on the first descent and washed out in a corner, which was extremely frustrating. In a 12 minute wonder lap any mistake is going to cost you, and it did. I also discovered that a number of the other racers were taking some “interesting” lines on the course. It was clear where the organisers routed the track, yet there were plenty of corners being cut. With such a quality field and small time gaps, this was disappointing to see.”
Stage 2 – 7 x 5.5km XCO
“I learnt my lesson from the day before. Ride the lines the others are taking, and be on an even playing field! I had a reasonable start from the fourth row, but didn’t quite get high enough as we hit the singletrack, and the field spread out.”
The lead group formed on the tight trails, with Seb getting caught on the wrong side of the split. He made a massive effort on lap 2 to bridge the gap and got within touching distance.
“I was so close to making the junction on the first climb of the second lap, but just couldn’t quite get on the wheel. I also paid a little for that effort and took another lap to come back round. Still, I rode strongly on the climbs and tidy on the descent to take 12th for the stage.”
The result was good enough to move Seb up in to 13th on the general classification going in to the final day’s racing.
Stage 3 – 32km Point-to-Point
Stage 3, on paper looked like the Queen stage of the race. After an 8km neutralised section from the town centre, the profile immediately kicked up in to a steep 5km climb, making its way over the mountain to drop down in to where the previous two stages had been held.
“The roll out was suitably nervous. If you put mountain bikers in to a peloton on the road and then try and control the speed with a car, it is nearly always a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, I was able to keep myself positioned well at the front. When the flag dropped and the road turned skywards, I moved right to the pointy end and the lead group of 6 riders.”
Seb remained in the lead pack for the majority of the stage before starting to feel the heat in the final 30 minutes. He still held on to take an impressive 9th, close behind some of the World’s “big guns.” He averaged an almost ridiculous 22.5km/h for the day, on a course which included 1000m of climbing.
“It was nice to end the race on a high and finish 12th on the GC. I often seem to get better with each day when in a stage race; I think I get in to a groove and also recover well.
I can take a lot away from this weekend of racing. I rode well and was really not too far away from some very good riders. I believe it’s only a small fraction I need to find to start winning at the very highest level, and that gives me so much motivation.”