While other team riders were competing in the Tour Series in Redditch and the Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix, Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes had also sent six riders with a penchant for hills and climbing to the Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour.
This UCI 2.2 Europe Tour race is held in the French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes which is on the south-eastern border of the country and has Lyon, the second largest city in France, as its capital.
The 2019 edition of the race took place between 9th to 12th May and consisted of 4 stages covering 650km in total.
Although the race title includes the word ‘Alpes’, the parcours didn’t include any Tour de France-type monster alpine climbs, but rather a multitude of hills and medium mountains with the highest peak being the Col de la Luere on stage three topping out at 762 metres.
The four stages ranged between 146 and 172km in distance, contained between two and nine categorised climbs, and had a total of 1850 to 2850 metres climbing to be tackled each day.
Climbs were typically between 1 to 3km in length with average gradients between 5% and 8%.
However the 172km ‘Queen’ stage three included two climbs of 9km in length with vertical gains of up 400 metres.
The six starters were Ryan Christensen, Callum Macleod, Dan Pearson, Louis Rose-Davies, Max Stedman and Ollie Wood. The competition included two UCI Pro Continental teams, the Dutch Wanty-Gobert and the Spanish Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, as well as a host of UCI Continental teams from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Each stage commenced with the usual scrap to get into the day’s breakaway group, but with no team strong enough to police the field, these scraps continued for an hour or more until a break finally did get clear.
Christensen got into an early break on stage one, but it was a subsequent break by three riders, Claudio Imhof (AKROS-Thomus), Matthias Krizek (Team Felbermayr-Simplon Wels) and Sander Andersen (BHS-Almeborg-Bornholm) that gained a lead that peaked at over six minutes.
The rest of the peloton made some inroads into this lead in the last hour of the day, but these three riders still finished with a lead of four minutes having also swallowed up all the time bonuses available on route.
Although reduced by a minute, this was a lead that was never seriously challenged over the following three stages with the Austrian, Krizek taking the overall General Classification followed by the Swiss, Imhof and the Dane, Andersen.
So what was the fate of the Canyon dhb p/p Bloor Homes riders?
After pulling out of the Tour de Yorkshire at the half-way point due to sickness, a recovered Pearson made his mark on the biggest climb of the Queen stage bursting out of the peloton and bridging across to the day’s break by the summit of the Col de la Luere.
Pearson bagged a number of KOM points along the way and had the honour of wearing the plum-coloured KOM jersey on stage four though this was only ‘borrowed’ as Krizek had already sealed the KOM award.
Pearson’s efforts gave him 10th place on the day and left him in 12th place on GC at the end of stage three.
After a couple of days illness after the Tour de Yorkshire, Stedman found his sprinting legs finishing in 5th (2nd in the bunch) on stage one and 6th on stage two.
In recognition of the 5th place, Stedman wore the light-blue Sprints leader jersey on stage two, though this was also ‘borrowed’ from Krizek.
On stage three Stedman bridged across to Pearson’s group but faded at the top of the last significant climb of the day and fell back to the chasing peloton.
Coming into stage four, Pearson needed to gain seven seconds in order to break into the Top 10 on GC.
Pearson and Stedman worked hard to get into a six-man breakaway with the intention of picking up bonus seconds from the three intermediate sprints. Pearson managed to attain two third places in these sprints but ultimately this was not sufficient to make up the time delta to the top 10.
They were brought back into the reduced pursuing peloton before the finish recording 26th and 24th on the stage respectively, with Pearson finishing a tantalising 11th place on GC with Stedman 43 seconds adrift in 18th place.
Following his promising performances in hilly under 23 races in Italy during April, Macleod performed commendably in his first senior level stage race finishing in 65th place on GC.
Rose-Davies retired after stage one with injury, Christensen pulled out after stage two through illness and following his hard work into the strong northerly cross-winds. Wood was outside of the time limit as he approached the end of stage four, though all riders were able to make valuable contributions before they withdrew.
The Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes team finished in 11th place from the 21 team competing.
This was how the race unfolded from Dan Pearson’s perspective:
“A three rider break staying away with a four minute advantage on the first stage, meant in order to win we really had to race aggressively to put a lot of pressure on the those three riders and their teams.
We tried pretty hard on stage two, attacking on the early climbs and trying to form a big split, but in the end a small break went and the leader’s team was able to control the race so it came to a reduced bunch sprint.
A lone rider managed to hang on out front with a few seconds and Max got up for a top 10 in the sprint.
The third stage had the hardest and longest climbs but there was a long way to the finish after the final climb. We knew we had to attack early if we wanted to win.
I tried on the first climb and the bunch let me go across to the break. In the end, we weren’t given a big enough time gap and a block head-wind made it difficult to stay out in front.
A big group caught me on the penultimate climb, followed by the bunch shortly after. On the final climb I managed to get into a 10-man split which held on to the finish.
On the last day, again the climbs were early with a flat finish. We tried our best to split the race on the climbs, causing a 14-man front split, but without working cohesively we couldn’t pull out a big gap.
So Max and I started attacking to split it up, we went away in a group of six and worked well, pushing our advantage out to two minutes.
Unfortunately coming into the finish circuit there were strong crosswinds and behind in the peloton they put the hammer down and a group of around 20 riders caught us going into the finishing circuits with 45km to go.
Another small group caught us after that making a lead group of about 40. Having both burned all our matches early on, it was just a case of holding on to the lead group for those final 45km.”
Tweeting after the race, Stedman stated:
“Gone DEEP, breakaway with DP today to try and grab some bonus seconds, gamble didn’t quite pay off but hey ho, have seen more gutter action in the last 2 weeks than in the last 2 years, so will now die peacefully in the hole I’ve dug”
Thanks to Simon Holt (Director Sportif), Lee Askew (team mechanic who prepared Canyon bikes impeccably) and Jodie Lloyd and Tim de Doncker (soigneurs who prepared legs and sustenance impeccably).
Hunt wheels and Maxxis tyres were rolled faultlessly on a puncture-free tour.
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman
Images 1, 2, 4: Le Sport Dauphinois
Image 3: Julie Desanlis, DirectVelo
Image 5: Grand-Ducal Cycling
Image 6: Zoe Soullard, DirectVelo