by Ryan Roth
Under normal circumstances, Tro Bro Leon, a UCI 1.1 race would have taken place this upcoming weekend in France and I would be getting a handful of messages asking me if I won a pig.
I did not win a pig.
In 2012, my team, SpiderTech presented by C10, started off the year in a bunch of the usual early season European races: Tour of the Med, Vuelta Andalucía and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, to name a few. It was our second season as a pro continental team and we were looking to improve on 2011, putting all the lessons learned from that inaugural year into practice. (I can recall a few race days from 2011 where I finished well before most of the field…and not in the good way.) Guillaume Boivin started racking up top-fives and top-10s. A bunch of us showed up fit and ready to fight after varying degrees of success at this higher level the previous year.
I had picked up a few top-15s in time trials, but not much beyond that. Regardless, I knew I was fitter, was handling the increased workload better and was adapting to the much more technically demanding nature of the races. I ticked off the Vuelta Andalucía in Spain, Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen in Belgium, Coppi e Bartali in Italy and then back to Belgium for the Three Days of De Panne. I finished them all, but I was on my knees with fatigue after De Panne. I spent five days riding one to one and a half hours as easy as I possibly could. I napped in the afternoon. I camped out in our Belgian logistic co-ordinator’s parents house in Kuurne and did little more than walk to the store, get some chocolate, eat said chocolate and rest. Luckily, teammates Will Routely and Ryan Anderson were there as well to help me pass the time. My next race was Scheldeprijs, where I felt OK, but still tired. I was pulled out of a race the next day to rest some more. Five more days passed with a similar routine. Ever so slowly, the fatigue started to lift. We went off to France for a trio of one-day races starting with Paris-Camembert on a Tuesday, the Grand Prix Denain on Thursday and Tro Bro Leon on Sunday.
(Note: the winner of Paris-Camembert receives his bodyweight in Camembert. Combo that with the best Breton in Tro Bro, who wins a pig, and you have a hell of a charcuterie-and-cheese board. [Sorry little piggy])
At Paris-Camembert, I knew my legs were finally coming around. At Denain, I again had good legs and was able to do some solid work for our sprinters on the front in the finale. After that we continued west toward Brittany.
The day before the race, we sat down and formulated a plan to allocate our resources as effectively as possible. The race contains roughly 24 sections of dirt, grass and gravel where flats, crashes and lost bottles are common. To perform our best, we needed to have our staff in as many places as possible to attend to whatever needs arose. Service from the cars, especially late in the race or from a poor caravan position, can be next to impossible once the race has exploded. This type of planning is crucial, so hats off to our directeur sportif Kevin Field for the attention to detail.
Early on in the race, I hit a dirt section (or as the locals call it, ribinoù) that was particularly tough and exposed to the wind. The race split up and despite the difficulty, I found myself in the front group with Will from our team, who had finished second the previous year. My recollection might be a little foggy, but I think he picked up that I was having a good day before I did. After that, things regrouped and settled down a bit.
The kilometres ticked off as we entered the final 50 km or so where most of the dirt sections are located and the real race begins. The battle for position is pretty intense going into every sector, but we had a solid team for these fights. Between Martin Gilbert, Keven Lacombe, Hugo Houle, Simon Lambert-Lemay, Pat McCarty, Guillaume, Will and me, we were usually pretty well placed. For some reason the name Jimmy Casper comes to mind here. Jimmy was an exceptional sprinter, with a Tour stage win to his name, but was near the end of his career, with most of his best wins behind him. That didn’t stop him from racing his bike. I often found myself battling with him to be in the sweet spot where you can see all the action happening, but are still getting the best draft possible.
At some point, there was an acceleration on a dirt section and I had a little issue with my chain. A group went away with Will present, while I was forced to wait for another opportunity to get across. I actually thought this was ideal as I could potentially get a free ride up to the breakaway. The reality was that the front group had representation from all the top teams, combined with the group around me appearing to lose motivation. Another rider and I eventually got away and bridged together. It was a big bullet to use, but we made it. What followed was more dirt and more attacks.
One rider got away and shot past Benoît Jarrier, who was there from the early break. I attacked as well and caught Jarrier, who stayed with me. The gap to the lone rider in front and the chase behind stabilized as the final three 5-km finishing laps approached. The gap inched out. My mind went to just surviving and snagging a podium spot. Two laps to go. Gap holding. Somewhere inside this last 10 km, the leader, a native Breton, inexplicably began to crack. Seeing this, I got a little adrenalin surge, and a little nervous, too. The gap was coming down even faster.
As we entered the last short off-road section with less than 3 km to go, we caught him. I had to assess my options quickly: Attack or wait for a sprint. Both these guys seemed pretty cooked, so I did a hard acceleration and instantly got a gap. The crazy part of all this was that I could not wrap my head around just how fast the race situation turned and went in my favour. I held on to the line, while also confirming with one of the moto drivers that I had in fact won, despite my disbelief.