Friday, April 17, 2015

The Moment of Truth or “Let’s see how the Winter Training pays off”

Liam in Aix with the Trophee SITEC for winning the Criterium de Hiver race series
The 2015 season has started off fast and furious.  It seems that we go from relaxed off-season riding to full bore racing earlier and earlier each year.  Liam has moved up to the Cadet (called Nieuwelingen in Belgium and Holland) 15/16-year-old cycling category.  Liam is 14 years old and will turn 15 in July, making him one of the younger riders in the category.  The racing has suddenly become longer, harder, and more tactical.  The competition is tough.  The races have on average 80 to 90 riders, and all these kids want to win.  This is what Liam has been looking forward to since we moved to Europe, and, now - that the moment has arrived - he is really thriving on the competition.

We had an idea of how it would be.  Last year Liam was able to watch some of the cadet races. In those races, a first year cadet with amazing talent named Andrea Mifsud was dominating. If Andrea was able to get away the group was hardly ever able to catch him. Liam called Andrea “the beast” and he had an incredible respect for what he could do on a bike. It wasn’t only Liam that recognized this talent. Vélo Magazine did a spread on Andrea as the possible future of French cycling.  In fact, the Mifsud family is recognized here in France for their endurance capacities. Andrea comes from a line of Professional cyclists, free divers, and World Record breath holders. In 2009, Stephan Mifsud set the world record for static apnea (breath holding). He was able to hold his breath for 11 minutes and 35 seconds.  So, needless to say, Andrea has the genes to back up his athletic drive.  We knew that as a second year cadet, Andrea was going to be even tougher than he was last year.

 Last year 2014 - Andrea(Cadet) and Liam(Minime) in the Yellow Jerseys of the Tour de Var
Liam loves to rise to a challenge, so back in October we laid out a comprehensive training plan for the upcoming season.  Liam raced in a few cyclocross events in the fall and early winter, including the Cup de France.  Those races were his only training he did at a high intensity.  All other riding and training was easy effort level. He also threw in a lot of Fall mountain biking and cross training.  By December, the plan was to start increasing the biking mileage in order to lay a good endurance base, which would serve as the foundation for the season ahead.  By the end of the year we headed into our 3rd Festive 500.  This is an event organized by Strava in which riders are challenged to ride 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Years Eve.  We used these long days in the saddle to reflect on the past season and to further refine the goals for the season ahead.  By mid-January / early February we started to up the training intensity by riding with the Juniors 17/18 year olds of our club, and also participating in some winter criterium races organized by the AVC Aix Vélo Club.  Despite the lack of intensity in training, Liam had some terrific form going into the winter criterium series and ended up winning the series and the Trophee SITEC in the process.  After the winter Crit series, we rolled straight into two French Cycling Federation (FFC) “selection” training camps.  One of these camps was on the road and the other was on the velodrome.  Both camps played a large role in which riders were selected to compete on the inter-regional teams for the year.  Liam was selected for both the track and road inter-regional teams – really impressive for a first year cadet! And, Bam, just like that, the first big goal of the season was accomplished. 

Putting in some winter Festive Miles with friends Rich and Justin
The official racing season started in March.  The opening races of the two biggest Tours in our region -the Tour de Côte d’Azur and the Tour de Les Bouches du Rhone- were held on the first two Sundays of the Month.  The races had more than 80 riders in them, and Liam was racing against Andrea “the man killing giant” Mifsud for the first time as a Cadet.  This was the moment of truth – to see how all that winter riding would pay off.

      Liam on the Front in Hyeres Tour Côte d’Azur   Photo CyclingPics Freddy
The first race of the Tour de La Côte d’Azur (CDA) was in Hyeres with 15 laps of a 4k circuit.  For the first half of the race Liam was on the front setting a high Tempo.  He was trying to thin out the peloton so that he wouldn’t arrive at the finish with an 80-rider sprint.   I was watching and hoping that he wouldn’t give it too much too early, but he looked pretty comfortable.  After the lead group thinned out to 30 or 40 riders, Liam sat back and let some others start to do the work.  With about 3 laps to go Andrea broke away with three other riders.  Unfortunately, Liam wasn’t in a position to make the break.  The break had about 30 seconds on the peloton.  In the last lap Andrea dropped the other three riders.  Liam could see him in the distance, he felt pretty good and decided to go for it.  He bridged across to the three dropped riders and then set out for Andrea in the final kilometer of the race.  By the final turn with 350meters to go he somehow made it up to Andrea’s wheel.  Here he was in the first race of the season sprinting it out with “the Beast” for the win.  After the initial shock of turning and seeing Liam on his wheel, Andrea launched an incredible sprint.  Liam responded by digging even deeper than he had already done to bridge this incredible gap.  It was a race right up to the line, but, in the end, Liam didn’t have quite enough to come around Andrea for the win.  He was incredibly happy though with second place, and also the Trophee for the first place 1st year cadet.  And, Bam, just like that, the second goal of the season was accomplished with a podium finish in one of the big Tour races. 

Liam in a Sprint for the line with Andrea "the Beast" Mifsud Tour CDA  Photo Cyclingpics Freddy
The first race of the Tour de Les Bouches du Rhone (BDR) was the following weekend. This was an extremely selective 90-rider race, which took place over 10 laps of a 7k hilly course in cold, wet, and windy conditions.  After the second lap, Andrea took off.  I don’t think he wanted to risk anymore sprint finishes.  From the get go, Andrea was putting serious time into the peloton. By the fourth Tour Andrea already had more than a minute lead.  By the fifth lap a group of four, which included Liam, took off for the chase.  The group was made up of two other 2nd year cadets and Liam’s good friend Hugo Walkowiak.  Hugo is another rider with exceptional talent, and he has cycling in his DNA.  His great Uncle won the Tour de France in 1956.  The group was working very well together until Hugo got a flat with about three laps to go.  The chase group was down to three.  By the final lap it became apparent that they weren’t going to catch the “Beast”, however, they did manage to put about 4 minutes on the peloton.  Liam did the calculation and knew that if he played his cards right a podium placing was possible, and he was pretty much assured the Blue Young riders jersey of the Tour.  The finish was at the top of a very steep, 500-meter section.  At the base of the climb Liam laid it down.  He dug really deep and was able to drop both the other riders on the climb and finish in 2nd place overall in the race, and at the same time ride himself into the blue jersey of the best young rider.  He describes this race as one of the most difficult efforts he has ever done. And, Bam, just like that, more season goals accomplished with another podium finish in one of the big regional Tours and a race jersey with a lead in the young rider competition.   
Liam digging deep for 2nd Place in Tour BDR    Photo CyclingPics Freddy

Podium of the first race of the Tour BDR
It has been a great start to the 2015 season, but it has, in fact, been so busy that I have fallen behind with the race reports. I plan to cover most of the races this season on the blog.  Some big events of note have been a win in the Departmental UNSS Mountain bike championships in March, an incredible 3rd place podium at the second race of the Tour de Côte d’Azur in Monaco, and a very solid performance in the second stage (16K time trial)of the Tour de Bouches du Rhone to maintain his lead in the best young rider's competition. I'll circle back to some of of these races soon.  In the mean time a few photos from the races.
Podium in Monaco  3/29/2015- 2nd race of the Tour CDA

Working the Hills in Brignoles Tour de Var      Photo CyclingPics Freddy

Defending the Blue (Young Rider's Jersey) Aubagne TT 4/06/2015 Tour BDR Photo Sylvie Rattalino

So to answer the original question from the title of the post -- Yes! The winter training has paid some big dividends.  Liam has some terrific form at the moment. Now, the big challenge is going to be to carry this form into the season and continue to improve on it. Stay tuned...

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam reporting.