Over a deer then over to Israel. My leap from Autumn to Spring.
After a confident finish to his junior years, Codicote based rider Toby Miles had big hopes and motivation for pre-season training and emerge from a perpetual faux-hibernation armed to move forward. What he didn't bank on was the appearance of a 120kg deer on his line during a November peak power effort in the country lanes of Hertfordshire! The resulting tussle left Toby with a pelvis injury which took some fortitude and many hours of rehabilitation to repair. It took a huge chunk of his winter to get back much of his fitness, so when the opportunity came to help send one of our Elevation riders out to the middle east to a team we support we knew 100% we wanted Toby to go.
We asked Toby to recap his first journey to the middle east to race for us.
Last week I finished the prestigious Arad Tour in the Israeli desert with the Elevation Coaching supported Team Sila, who is based in Tel Aviv, where I began my thrilling Middle Eastern adventure.
Tel Aviv is a two-hour drive from Arad and walking through the city streets at night, I noted a relaxed atmosphere. While not notably friendly, everyone seemed comfortable and the intensity of other cities wasn’t present.
That was the opposite of the chaotic roads just a few feet away.
The next morning, a day before the start of the race, I ventured onto those roads with Ronen Chernyak, a Team Sila teammate and Tel Aviv resident, for a ride.
Each junction felt unnervingly hit and miss, I pulled away from each one not totally sure it was safe. There was just too much of everything to watch out for.
Apparently, the relationship between cyclists and drivers in Tel Aviv is even worse than in England but thankfully I didn’t experience that. Though I would trust it’s true, the impatience on those streets was intense.
It wasn’t long before we escaped into the Yarkon Park, a large public park that features a one-mile snaking bike path. It’s where city residents do most of their training, with the limited countryside roads more than 50-minutes away through more hectic junctions.
I realised how lucky I am to have such a huge choice of roads in Hertfordshire. Not just a narrow, less than four-minute, twisty, congested bike path. It looks less than ideal for intervals.
Later that day we travelled south through the varied countryside of Israel, to the desert city of Arad.
The Tour of Arad 2018 was a two day, three stage race. It featured a 75-minute, UK style criterium on Stage 1A, a 12-mile mass start mountain-climb on Stage 1B, before a testing 95-mile Stage 2 featuring tough climbs.
The forecast was brutal for the race, with 34-degree temperatures at 4 pm, when the second stage would start. Thankfully, Stage 1A started early, in cooler conditions.
The racers were a similar standard to that of a Regional A race in the UK, with a few riders that could be Cat 1 or Elite. However, almost all of them were slower through the corners and wanted more space in the bunch than me.
On the long roundabout turns, I was able to pass many riders on the outside, while native juniors hopped onto the inside of the curb and lost places every lap.
The higher standard riders were mainly from the Israel Cycling Academy’s under-23 development squad, and they controlled the crit.
The early start did nothing to prevent the dryness, and I had to sip my drink constantly. I felt very strong but fatigued faster than I would in the UK, mostly as it was 25-degrees hotter than my last race, which had been held in the snow.
Team Sila manager and another Elevation coached rider, Boris Tsukerman, crashed on a poorly swept off-camber turn with five laps to go after riding strong all race. Boris grated most of the skin on his leg but charged back to the bunch a lap later.
The ‘Academy’s’ lead-out was ferocious and they won on the double speed-bump blighted final 100-meters. I moved up too late for a top-10 but was happy to finish safely in the first group, along with teammates Dmitry, Boris and Ronen, despite the crash.
Many were dropped.
With seven-hours between stages, we rolled down to a cafe before some stretching and rest as the heat ratcheted up.
To reach the start of Stage 1B, we had to descend the way we’d climb, down from Arad to a hikers campsite deep in the desert.
The descent was spectacular, with good road surface and miles of rolling desert to look at. We rolled into the campsite and sheltered from the sun, with no warm-up roads.
We began on steep slopes, and my legs felt seized after standing around for 30-minutes. The pace was hard from the start and riders dropped like flies. I started slipping off the back after just five-minutes and went deep into the red on the first hard section.
The climb rose in sections, with short, sharp descents and flat road in-between. I heaved over the first crest and chewed the stem until I caught a bigger group in front, earning the opportunity to let my legs settle.
On another flat section, I went to the front and drove, a mistake as I should have been preparing for the next hard section. I cracked on the 20-percent slopes, swinging to the top as I suffered in the heat I’m so unfamiliar with.
I couldn’t spit in the dry conditions, drinking did nothing to rinse my mouth. I finished dry as a bone, not dripping with sweat. It was a superb if excruciating, experience.
Unfortunately, there would be no experience the next day. We woke at 4 am, with the sun still not up but the heat lingering, to drive to the shores of the Dead Sea for the start of Stage 2.
As we prepared, sand flew into our eyes, blown by extreme winds that lifted our bikes in the air when we held them up. It was too much, but I was desperate to start the epic stage.
My heart sank as the organisers spoke Hebrew to my teammates, shaking their heads. We went for a short spin afterwards, feeling like spare parts, with all our anticipation and excitement just left there, untapped.
We were leaning hard into the winds even at 10-mph. It would have been madness to start the race.
Team Sila returned to Tel Aviv that afternoon with a fourth place on GC thanks to guest rider Dmitry Puzanov, behind an all Israel Cycling Academy swept the podium. Ronen finished 16th, Boris, fighting through horrible road-rash from the first stage, finished 23rd. I was 35th, gutted at being robbed the chance of a final stage comeback, but buzzing after an incredible experience.
The comeback will have to wait a year when I hope to return to the fantastic country. For this trip, thanks to my family for supporting me, Boris for his immense hospitality and the opportunity itself, to Ronen for showing me around TLV and to Team Sila’s sponsors for funding.