Sunday, 27 April 2014

WALLONIE CUP #4 - CUESMES (MONS)

Location: Cuesmes (Mons), Belgium
Distance: 90mins

After winning Round 3 of the Wallonie Cup last weekend- where the organisers, athletes and spectators had been so kind, I committed to racing Round 4 in Cuesmes, just 100km from home. I had spent the whole week so excited about exploring another part of Belgium and secretly wanted to get some more cool action shots from the awesome photographers that seem to attend every race! Thanks guys and girls :) So after a morning rollers session watching the Cairns MTB World Cup on redbull.tv (a great way to gain motivation) I sat down to look at specifics for the day ahead, and read that the race was actually on yesterday!

Anything goes in the Honda CRV! Shower when I'm dead…
Photo courtesy 'selfie'

Shit. I had a thought that I might be able to make it to the Koga Cup in time, but I was too late for that as well. I sat around for two hours feeling like a ripe old idiot until Jarrod said that it's unlike my 'school teacher ways' to get the date wrong and that I should re-check it. Sure enough, the race started at 12:30pm… I looked at my watch- 10:45am. Well I've never moved so fast! I got dressed while Jarrod threw my bike into the Honda CRV and as I ran downstairs he asked me what the address was. My response- 'no idea, I couldn't find it on the net'.

I departed for Cuesmes, knowing I was at least headed in the right direction. Mum rang me from Australia in an attempt to direct me when I got to town, and with the help of a few local MTB'ers on a weekend cruise I found the event centre. They accepted a late entry for 'the Australian' and asked if I had my number plate, which I told them I had left at home. Truth be told I had signed it last week at Bastogne and given it to a guy who owns a bike shop in France for his 'wall of shame'. Ten euro later was lesson learnt lol

I was in for a tough day at the office
Photo courtesy Danny Zelck

So I rolled to the start while stuffing some food down my throat and straight into a cross country race. Firstly, it's not great practice to race a 120km UCI road race the day before a MTB race. And when you do, and you don't warm up, your legs won't want to join the party. In fact my head, heart and legs forgot to have the conversation where they discuss the pros and cons of such an idea and realise that it's stupid. But without stupidity, I wouldn't have been able to race such an awesome little track. It had the steepest of climbs which aren't my speciality, but was balanced out with some fast descents plus a few drops and jumps that I managed to tackle.

I even got air a few times…
Photo courtesy Ludo van der Put

For the first time in a long time I nailed the start and was happy to slide into second. I didn't know the course and I was happy to discover it for the first time on someone else's wheel. We had five laps to complete of a smoother yet more technical track than last week that would go down as my favourite so far in Europe. After 3 mins we started to climb up steady fire road and by the top I found myself keeping pace with Belgian MTB Champion Githa Michiels. Around the next corner was a short pinch and much to my dismay these types of climbs weren't 'one offs', the course was riddled with them. On the profile they were like sharp knives stabbing me in the back.

It did flatten out, but then after just 6 minutes I met my nemesis of the day. It was a near-on 3 minute climb that started off at 15% and maxed out at 25% and it seemed relentless. It started off a drag around some wooden stairs and gradually got steeper as the climb went on. I battled to the corner where it flattened out, and then looked ahead to see spectators grouped on rocks at the top. It hurt my neck to arch it that high, so you can imagine how it felt to try and ride. By the time I reached the final pinch through some loose dirt my legs were screaming and I had to resort to walking. Shame on me. Githa had climbed it like an animal, as had the girl behind which now saw me back in third.

This is another climb on the circuit that I only rode 2 of 5 times!
Photo courtesy Ludo van der Put

Things got worse for a while. I went the wrong way at some broken bunting and fell to fourth. And then washed out on a corner and slip down into a gully which saw me finish the first lap in fifth. The lead Master rider, who had started 2minutes behind, called 'track' to pass me at the 15 minute mark! I began to settle in and calm down and finally started to claw my way back. Up to fourth, then third, and eventually second. Then up another steep climb an U23 male rider knocked by handlebars and I had to walk again..back to third. When I finally got a clean run I rode into a comfortable second. I was descending well- loving being back behind the wheel of such a deadly machine, and lost all interest in trying to catch the leader, she was long gone.

Three podiums from three starts! #dirtwiggler
Photo courtesy Filip Francois

I went through some tough mental battles on the final lap to get over those pinches. I resorted to all sorts of things including using tress to propel myself up the hill. I only walked the once, up my nemesis. To my surprise, my lap times still only varied by 23 seconds. A miracle considering how I felt. But it was another great race to add to the palmares and puts me one step closer in my preparations for my first MTB World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic- one of my last selection races for the Commonwealth Games this year in Glasgow. But my next challenge is the Elsy Jacobs Tour in Luxembourg next weekend with Wiggle Honda. On the road again..

Results: Via Cuesmes B
Garmin Edge 510: Via Strava

Saturday, 26 April 2014

EPZ OMLOOP VAN BORSELE

Start: s'Heerenhoek, The Netherlands
Finish: s'Heerenhoek, The Netherlands
Distance: 120km
Status: UCI 1.2
Team: Giorgia, Lotte, Bea, Amy, Elinor and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal and Bart

It felt like forever since I had been away with the #wigglettes at the Energiewacht Tour, the only reason I didn't go insane in Buggenhout is because it was Easter which means chocolate, and I was able to get back on my MTB for two races. I had similar plans for this weekend until I got the late call up to ride Borsele in place of Emilia who had been battling illness for two weeks. I was super motivated to race and race well. I had a big two weeks of training under the belt and with the Women's Tour closing in quickly, with only one position vacant within the squad I wanted to prove that I was worthy of it and today was my chance to do that.


After the first lap splits only 60 girls remain
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

After my weekly scope of the race preview on velofocus.com I knew the race was five laps around a wind swept circuit with a few narrow roads thrown in for good measure. It was no secret from years past that the most important part of the race was after just 3km. A 180 degree left hand bend takes you from a tail-wind highway to a cross-wind backroad and the race would be made form here. Despite lining up 35 minutes before the start gun I still found myself on the back row with fellow Australian Nettie Edmonson for company, happy to welcome her back for her first European race of the season. 


If Franky hadn't done enough to warn me of the importance on being frontline at 3km, she certainly did her job in scare tactics to convince me that it wasn't an option- I HAD to be there. So the story goes… 3km in and I was lead ten into the penultimate corner. There were multiple crashes and when the dust settled, we had just three survivors in Gio, Bea and myself. The peloton had been reduced from 170 down to 60 and those that missed the move never saw the front again. As damning as that may sound, such is the nature of Dutch racing and it's half the reason I have fallen in love with it so quickly.


Looking after Gio incase her legs change their mind
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

I won't reflect too much on covering 'this attack' and 'that break' because it was an ever changing day. Gio had made it clear pre-race that her legs weren't good and on a few occasions took me to the front so that I could make my mark. But I couldn't help but feel guilty for that and helped her out in return when we were starting to fall too far back. I tried to spend most of the day in the echelon but it was obvious that the wind wasn't quite right, the impetus wasn't there, and the stretches of road weren't long enough in the right direction to cause a proper 'split' in the peloton. Instead a few breakaways were formed and the narrow roads allowed some block tactics, but even representation from every team didn't drive our nine person break up the road. Teams didn't just want a rider up the road, they wanted their #1 rider.

One lap to go..
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

My legs hadn't felt great all day. I spun them out on the rollers this morning but I knew they were tired and I just hoped they would behave. They were still doing the talking when it mattered, but to make up for any shortfall I tried to follow the right wheels, today my pick was Gracie Elvin (Orica). We had been in a 9-woman mid-race break together and she was keen to make it stick so I decided to keep my eye on her. As we came through for one lap to go it was Specialized who were shooting bullet after buller off the front, but when the canon fired with 20km to go they were the only ones to miss it. Ellen van Dijk (Boels Dolmans) and Annamiek Van Vleuten (Rabo Liv) were the aggressors, and as their team-mates rallied to block the narrow road ahead, Gracie and I managed to find our way through the cross fire.

Part of a 15-woman breakaway in the final 20kms
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen
It took a group of 7 swapping off to reach the two leaders, including Aussie Chloe Hosking (Hitec-Products). I looked around to see that we had three in a nine-rider break and it made me reflect on just how strong the Australian contingent of riders in Europe is becoming. As the kilometres counted down to single digits there was no haste in the roll-through. A few riders were waiting for their team leaders and not surprisingly a strong group bridged the gap to swell our numbers to 15. I felt pressure free as we passed three kms to go, knowing that I had no responsibility to chase a move and if I was sneaky enough and fast enough, I could perhaps claim an unexpected podium here. Two kms to go and I was in the drops, more than ready to…puncture!

Chloe Hosking overcomes Kirsten Wild to take victory
Photo courtesy Sportfoto.nl

It was both ironic and uncanny that I punctured today. It was actually our first team puncture for the year that wasn't on cobbles and Jarrod felt personally responsible. We had team car number one, so after the bunch came flying past and I was pushed off by the neutral spares they came alongside me. I said a few things that I won't repeat publicly, but Jarrod could only sit in the back seat with his mouth open, speechless. I had been so excited about racing on the new Campagnolo Bora 35's and bragging about our Vittoria Corsa CX (gum wall) tyres but the truth is that it's just unlucky. Shit happens. I would not have won the race, but it would have been nice just to try. I caught back to the bunch and finished 32nd. The only thing that can heal this wound is rubbing dirt in it tomorrow on the MTB :)

Results: Via Cyclingdatabase
Garmin 510: Via Strava
Race Video: Via Hans Verbeek

Monday, 21 April 2014

RABOBANK PAASBIKE

Location: Nieuwkuijk, The Netherlands
Distance: 90min
Status: UCI Class 2

Oh how I have missed this. The nervous twitching on the start line. The dust in my burning lungs. Lactic legs returning you to your saddle as you try to punch over another climb. Skipping over roots and coasting on berms before rocketting down man-made gardens embedded with stone. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and I am a true believer. This weekend I have fallen in love again with MTB'ing and wonder why the rest of the world lives in such denial..

After yesterday my body was ruined. I had skipped lunch, hunger flatted, cramped while working the clutch in the Honda Civic on the way home, and finally crawled into bed in all sorts of pain (after a blog of course). Acute pain I can handle, but yesterday saw the first signs of my chronic back injury returning to haunt me. The pain got worse overnight and I woke up wondering if I would even race today. I thought of the Commonwealth Games, dragged myself out of bed and jumped on the rollers while watching repeats of the Pietermaritzburg World Cup to keep me motivated- and once again my legs felt amazing.. go figure!

Forgot to pack the short sleeve jersey - what a novice!
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

Today was a good day because Jarrod was able to come and watch. He had fallen asleep in the Wiggle Honda team car the day before so I hoped that my race would excite him enough to at least stay awake! Bart Hazen, team photographer and friend had come along to celebrate Easter Monday with us and take some happy snaps for my collection. They were joined by Anton Vos while I lined up front row, with 40 girls eagerly waiting behind, and his cheeky comments made me laugh: 'You have to win today because my sister won here last year' he said with a smirk. I echoed back 'There are a lot of things that your sister has won that I can't even dream of!'

This was as technical as it got today - baby steps..
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

The mood was set. Team vans lined the start area and spectators scurried around the course. Jarrod last words 'nail the start' ringing in my ear. So here I was, going for hole-shot, where Jarrod had promised that if I was first to the corner, he wouldn't be disappointed if I pulled out on the second corner lol This time I was fifth- shit! We were completing a start loop before six laps of a 4.8km circuit and lets just say the first start loop wasn't my friend. I was 13th when I next saw Jarrod and I knew it wasn't good enough. The first half of the course stepped into smooth tight single-track. It wound around trees, into berms, across roots and the few technical sections were quite sedate. Minimal climbing sounds great at first, but this means no descending, which basically means no recovery. The second half of the lap opened up onto short stints of road and grassland where passing was made easy.

Breaking the elastic - off in chase of the leader..
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

I desperately needed these passing opportunities to make my way through the field. Up ahead a group of four was forming with Anne Terpstra, Annafleur Kalvenhaar, Laura Turpijn and Annemarie Worst building a lead. But by the time I reached the tail end of them, Terpstra had already made her move. The Dutch National XCO Champion rocketed to a 20 second lead and was never to be seen again. The battle for minor places forged on though. I towed Kalvenhaar and Turpijn around for two laps before attacking at the one hour mark. This put me into the red but did the job it was meant to. I was holding second place behind Terpstra who was a consistent top 10 finisher in the U23 World Cups last year- riding with her is no walk in the park so catching her would require a Usain Bolt sprint in the park!

Antos Vos catches us after the podium
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

With two laps to go my legs were holding up, but my body felt physically exhausted. I knew I wasn't eating and drinking properly because I was so focussed on closing the gap in front and holding off the chasers behind. I just hoped that my body would hold out for the entire 90mins. I had three High-5 gels (sometimes I have up to 7) and barely a bottle to drink. Again, with World Cup practice in the forefront I pushed through to the finish line, amazed that my lap times only varied by 15 seconds! I am REALLY happy to finish second today. I was proud of my efforts yesterday and then surprised myself that I could race even harder today. It was nice to share it with Jarrod and cement my thoughts- this is exactly where I want to be :)

Results: Via Paasbike
Garmin Edge 510: Via Strava

Sunday, 20 April 2014

WALLONIE CUP #3 - BASTOGNE

Location: Bastogne, Belgium
Distance: 90mins

I have been given two weeks off the road scene with Wiggle Honda, missing Gelderland today, then Fl├Ęche, Borsele and Westoek next week (apologies for the shorthand names). At first I was disappointed because it means that Jarrod will travel to races while I stew at home in Buggenhout. But then I sat down, wrote out my program structure for the remainder of the year, and decided that this mini break is a good thing. The idea was for me to have a break from racing, but we all know I love racing far too much for that. So instead, I'm taking the opportunity to cut back on travel, amp up the training, and most importantly- return to the dirt.

No rocks to be found here, just beautiful dirt!
Photo courtesy Danny Zelck

I haven't touched my MTB since I got to Europe so it was time to dust off the cobwebs and take it for a spin- on the road.. because I don't live anywhere near MTB trails. The seat felt high and uncomfortable. My shoes felt tight with my cleats too far back. And of course I spent the whole ride trying to accomplish an 'aero' tuck. Fail. This once felt so right, so natural, and I was angry that now it didn't. I picked out my first race; the Wallonie Cup on the Belgian border, and as night fell I couldn't sleep. The idea that I would be trekking to a MTB race tomorrow, on my own, in a french speaking region, with the nickname 'compass' (for all the wrong reasons), had me so bloody excited that I didn't close my eyes until 1am… 

I trained hard through the week and should have been tired heading into the race. Instead I felt amazing in warm up as people stared at me, the sole competitor at the entire venue warming up on a stationary machine; my Tacx rollers adjusted in length to suit my 29" MTB wheel base. I looked around at the sheer number of campers and cars that flooded the grassland, amazed that this many people would ever attend a state level equivalent cross country race. Racing had already started for the day and the venue was buzzing with weekend warriors, serious racers and of course music and catering. I was immediately jealous that we couldn't reproduce this in Australia, and sad that Jarrod couldn't be there to experience it with me.

Back in the bush…
Photo courtesy of Danny Zelck

Waves of emotions tumbled at me as I was overwhelmed by it all. I lined up in my start chute and then rolled to the line when my number was called in French. I looked around at my competitors on the grid and tried to work out where the competition would come from. Nobody would know who I was and I liked that. It was nice. It reminded me of when I first starting MTB'ing and could partake for fun. But I wasn't here for fun, I was here to race. I was here to simulate a World Cup, to potentially qualify for the Commonwealth Games when the day came. I popped a High 5 gel, poised on the countdown, and sprinted for the hole-shot when the gun fired. I was soon bitterly disappointed.

Great to be back on the knobbys
Photo courtesy Danny Zelck

The 'hole-shot' refers to the rider who takes the first corner in the lead. But today that wasn't me, I was third. And then soon after that I was fifth, and that is where I would stay for the first agonisingly long 7 minutes of the race. The course was new to me but nothing I hadn't attempted before. It was predominantly rough, corregated-like single-track, and very heavy on the legs. The dirt was thick and loose and although the track flowed, it was different to what I was used to. It consisted of three decisive climbs and opened up into a paddock for the run into the finish. I bounced around all day, in and out of the saddle, trying to find a rhythm that felt 'normal'. I became better technically as the day went on and despite catching the occasional Junior male in front of me, my five laps only varied by 10 seconds through the day. An achievement in itself.

Easing my way back into it
Photo courtesy Ludo van der Put

After 10 minutes of worrying that I was out of my league in Europe, I took a run at the leaders up a long fire-road climb. They didn't want me to pass, but I blew by at such an almightily speed that it wasn't much of a choice. I was full-gas on the roadie-type climb, and then relied on my fitness to recover from the effort through the tight single-track. After a while they were out of view and time flew through to the one hour mark. I was becoming complacent and had to remind myself that if this were a World Cup, I couldn't be complacent EVER, not for a single metre. So I pushed on and even maxed out at 187bpm on the final lap, up the final climb. I hyperventilated into the single-track that followed, but I was on a mission to get the very most out of my time on the dirt.

French beer for the winner!
Photo courtesy Pauline Delhaye

In the end I won by 6 minutes. A handy margin but comparatively speaking, all I could take from it was that I rode my heart out. I went somewhere I hadn't been in a while and wondered why I kept returning to this place. It's a dark cave where you're exhausted and vulnerable yet strong. You go deeper and darker to the point where your vision is blurred, and then you smile about it. And I dare you to wipe the smile off my face. I am so destroyed from today that I can't even imagine racing the Rabobank Paasbike tomorrow in Holland. But with UCI points up for grabs and a chance to see some more trails, no doubt I will be there to kill myself all over again.

Results: Via FCWB
Garmin Edge 510: Via Strava

Monday, 14 April 2014

ENERGIEWACHT TOUR

After competing in five one day races since I arrived, it was time to do it all again, except this time it was five days in a row. The Energiewacht Tour is a five day, six-stage, 600km week with town circuits, crosswinds and a team time-trial thrown in for good measure. Don't be fooled by it's pancake flat nature- it's no secret the gutter can hurt you more than a mountain! The best thing about this race (some would say the only good thing) is that you stay in the one accommodation for the entire tour, in Stadskanaal, Holland. All of the teams stay at the same unit style accommodation, so it gave me a chance to catch up with some of the 14 Australian's racing this week. Awesome representation!

L-R: Linda, Elinor, Me, Dani, Laura, Amy
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

DAY 1: STAGE 1

Start: Delfzijl, The Netherlands
Finish: Delfzijl, The Netherlands
Distance: 93km
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Elinor, Dani, Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal and Bart

Does Day 1 ever go to plan for a team? The orders were to watch and observe. I was coming off Flanders and the Brits off Dottignes and none of us are accustomed to racing Tours so the decision was made to ease into the race. If there was a break, let someone chase it, and if it were a sprint, Laura and I would decide between ourselves who best to work for. We were racing four laps of a 23.4km circuit that ran along the coast as it headed into town. Coastal races mean coastal winds and not surprisingly, half way through the first lap the field splintered. I found myself second group getting lost in the gutter yet again, but Laura and I were quick to jump on the train of Rabobank-Liv and Specialized riders who had missed the move and bridge to the lead group, now 30 strong.

Warming into Day 1
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

It was a battle through the crosswinds every lap but the format of the course saw the pain short-lived. Once people were aware of the danger zone the element of surprise was gone, and the section wasn't long enough to cause real damage. For the next two laps I wondered where the rest of our team were hiding.. After the stage I discovered they had all been caught behind early crashes, Dani having come down herself requiring two stitches in her knee. After an 80km chase they had made contact with 5km to go, swelling the bunch to 100 riders, just in time for Linda to bring Laura to the front for the sprint. In all the chaos I couldn't find Laura and prepared to have a bit of a gallop myself. Instead, when I rounded the corner with 800m to go I found myself joining the pile of three Mexio-Faren riders sprawled across the road. Epic fail.

Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava


DAY 2: STAGE 2

Start: Wedde, The Netherlands
Finish: Wedde, The Netherlands
Distance: 116.1km
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Elinor, Dani, Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart and Geret (second mechanic)

It was doubtful that Dani would start today. With a history of knee injuries and the Commonwealth Games looming she left the decision up to her doctor who eventually gave her the all clear. There was however another casualty looming in the shadows, with Elinor suffering a severe migraine and having to withdrawn in the early stages. And I'm not just talking pulling out- this poor girl was projectile vomitting to the point where Jarrod nearly made her walk home! There was more drama to come though, as we were extremely unprepared for a certain section of cobbles and bridges in the 40km loop that caught us unawares..

Cobbles + bridges = split
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

Amy had been lingering at the front and was SO close to making lead group. I was on her wheel when she 'popped' and she blew hard. The poor thing went front lead group to back group and played survival mode for the day. In the meantime I was hanging out on my own in lead group. It had taken a MASSIVE effort to be there, but it was to come back together before the next lap. I was caught napping the second time around and had to chase for a few kms with Linda to make contact, only for it to reform a second time. I wasn't about to screw up the third lap and worked overtime to stay at the front. The 5km leading in were quite slow so those who had left their run to the front late on the narrow roads found themselves caught out behind a crash. Linda and I made lead group of 30, attempted a lead-out, and finished in 16th and 23rd. Epic fail #2 lol

Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava


DAY 3: STAGE 3A

Start: Eelde, The Netherlands
Finish: Eelde, The Netherlands
Distance: 97.1km
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Dani, Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart and Geret (second mechanic)

Today we waited on the start line for a whole hour. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the girls were getting stuck behind early crashes every day because we were starting too far back. With state and club teams on the invite list their is a wavering level of skill in the bunch and the consequences outweigh the risks for them so today we made a concerted effort to change that. Dani was a legend. She spent the first 10km at the front of the race, and then I'm adamant that god decided he wanted a good laugh for the day so he gave the girl a puncture! Unlucky, but she fought through to the finish so that she could start the TTT with us in the afternoon.


Dani leading the way in control of the peloton
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

For the rest of us it was an easy day. The leading teams allowed Vera Koedooder of Bigla to ride off the front and gain a 2:22min advantage to take the overall lead, while the initiator of the move Chloe McConville claimed second. It was great to see a fellow Aussie 'making the race' after her recent struggles with sickness, but at the same time I didn't envy her being off the front for 65km pre TTT! We strolled along with no ambition until the final kms approached. I decided once more that I would try my hand at this sprinting thing, to get used to being in the fast-paced high-tension run to the line. I was glad I did when just outside the 3km to go marker, a crash happened. It created a few time gaps that moved me up to the top 15 overall, but more importantly I have definitely accepted this week that I am a horrendous sprinter. Epic fail #3


Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava


DAY 3: STAGE 3B

Start: Midwolda, The Netherlands
Finish: Midwolda, The Netherlands
Distance: 15.1km Team Time Trial
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Dani, Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart and Geret (second mechanic)

This was easily the most highly anticipated stage for every single girl in the team except me. For the rest of them, laying down on pursuit bars is a task they perform nearly every day, while I can barely ride in my drops these days without my back injury flaring up. I tried to take it in my stride but I couldn't resist being nervous. We barely got a warm-up in, we had no race radios, and I was given an extra-small skin-suit when I am adamant and vocal about being a small lol A Time Trial bike is uncomfortable for me at the best of times, so being on someone else's bike, with no professional set-up, and a helmet that isn't fitted to me just made me feel out of sorts to say the least.



Suicidal… Teams Time Trial
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

Having never done a TTT before I was lost. After the race I got in trouble for accelerating too fast, changing leads before the corner, changing the roll-through order, length of turns and god knows what else because I stopped listening. Linda apologised for not having explained things to me before the start but I felt pretty helpless all the same. I had missed a lot of turns and struggled to even get back on the wheel let alone worry about who's wheel I came back in on. Muscles I didn't know I used were hurting, sweat was dripping into my eyes and blinding me, then all the while all I could hear was my rapid gasping breathing in the confines of my helmet. It was horrible and I was left feeling pretty disappointed about the whole experience. We finished 8th.

Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava


DAY 4: STAGE 4

Start: Uithuizen, The Netherlands
Finish: Uithuizen, The Netherlands
Distance: 136.7km
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart and Geret (second mechanic)

It was staged to be the longest day of the tour. My legs were tired after the double stage yesterday and my confidence was a little shot as well. I tried my best to stay at the front through the washing machine effected bunch on the narrow roads. The race was set to split at some point because the cross-winds were damaging on the rough-edged roads, and teams were keen to isolate Vera to steal the yellow jersey right off her back. I missed the first two splits but was lucky the race came back together, and when the third split went I wasn't just too far back, I was 20 places behind the split. Epic fail #4


Jarrod throwing bikes off the roof so there is less to clean..
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

A massive chase was put into motion by the Norwegian National Team and Parkhotel Valkenburg, and despite the gap coming back to within 20 seconds the elastic band continued to break with the eventual winning margin 40 seconds. Little did we know that further up the road Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv) had soloed to victory and taken the leaders jersey heading into the final stage. The mood was somber in the team camper as we cleaned off the road grime and got changed. Linda and I had missed lead bunch, Laura's hesitance toward crashing was effecting her motivation, and Amy was shot after having completed her longest ride ever. We would welcome the last stage of this tour.

Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava


DAY 5: STAGE 5

Start: Veendam, The Netherlands
Finish: Veendam, The Netherlands
Distance: 104.7km
Status: UCI 2.2
Team: Amy, Laura, Linda and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart and Geret (second mechanic)


After yesterday's mistake I really wanted to make up for it today, but instead, I suffered like a dog the entire way and made hard work of a day that some people made look easy. The first ten kilometres had me on the rivet but I didn't lose the wheel. I was determined. I moved up at every opportunity and prepared for the second lap where we would face the cross winds again. The hammer went down and I held on for dear life- then the pace eased. This either means the attack was nullified, or someone had dropped a wheel. It was the latter. Linda and I bridged back to the leaders in a group of 5 but the break of 8 were well on their way...

Linda and I bridging back to the lead group
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

The breakaway group stayed away and I fought just to roll in with the bunch. I finished 22nd overall, 2:36min behind tour winner Brand. This tour was proof that not every day is sunshine and rosy as a bike rider. We have bad days, both mentally and physically, but we battle through because we strive for more. As professional athletes, the one thing we want second to winning bike races is to feel like we were a part of it, that we influenced the race in some way, and this week I didn't feel that way often enough. I feel stronger the more often I race and I know that I have come out the other side of this tour in good stead for the hectic calendar to come.

Results: Via Energiewachttour.nl

Overall: Via Energiewachttour.nl
Garmin 510: Via Strava

Monday, 7 April 2014

GP DOTTIGNIES

Start: Dottignies, The Netherlands
Finish: Dottignies, The Netherland
Distance: 131km
Status: UCI 1.2
Team: Giorgia, Emily, Dani, Laura, Lotte and Rochelle
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart

I didn’t race today and I was glad for it. My legs were sore from yesterday and this week I have a five-day tour in Holland- the Energiewacht Tour. So while I had a day of leisure the team went and dominated at the GP Dottignes. Gio took our first UCI win of the season in a bunch kick so I’m sure the celebrations at the airport hotel will go long into the night!

Gio takes our first UCI Road win of the season!
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

WORLD CUP #3- TOUR OF FLANDERS

Start: Oudenaarde, Belgium
Finish: Oudenaarde, Belgium
Distance: 140km
Status: UCI World Cup - CDM
Team: Giorgia, Lotte, Emilia, Schnitzy, Sanchis and I
Staff: Franky, Jarrod, Pascal, Bart, Kurt, Aaron +1 from Cyclevox

We had done Flanders re-con twice. The first time was three weeks ago just after my arrival in Europe and we did the final 80km. I remember having sore legs, a chaffed bum, and a massive grin on my face. I took in every cobble and every corner, following the wheel of Emily for most of the day as she spent the entirety of it on the front, so eager to take it all in. We built up to the moment when we hit the most famous of climbs, the Paterberg- a cobbled pinch of 361m, averaging 12% but maxing out at 20%. We re-lived the Men's race from 2013 where Cancellara and Sagan battled it out. Emily took on the role of Cancellara and I Sagan, fighting to the crest of the final cobble before catching our breath, laughing too each other and waiting for the girls to re-join us. At the time we didn't know if we were racing, but we enjoyed the idea of 'women' racing all the same.


Pre-Flanders course reconnaissance with Lotte
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

The second time we did course re-con was three days before race start. This time it was the final 100km and despite trying to keep my mind occupied with important corners, narrowing of roads, cobbled sections and even the wind direction, I couldn't help but dwell on the fact that my 'Cancellara' from two weeks back wouldn't be taking to the start line with me. Final selections had been made for Flanders and I found it hard to accept that some people had to miss out. Emily and the others took this in their stride, such is the nature of bike racing, and in return I made a promise to myself that I would fight to the death to make the most out of my opportunity. It was as surreal for me this first time as I'm sure it continues to be for those that race here every year. A special moment where we women have just a portion of what the men receive, and for that we are grateful. 

The crowds await the women on the Paterberg
Photo courtesy Velonews.com

The camper was swarmed with fans- all of them with promo cards and markers as they tried to put names to faces and steal a photo they could show off to their friends. As Pascal oiled up my legs I reflected on the course re-con, back to the final three climbs of the day- Kruisberg, Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. I knew what I had to face before these climbs, and the thought of entering the final 30k with these three still ahead instilled fear in me. I was scared for this bike race because I cared about our result. I wanted to do well, to help my team-mates, and of course if the opportunity was there- finish this prestigious bike race. A quick pedal to sign-on and a similar scene- a town square filled with thousands of spectators waiting to catch a glimpse of their idols and watch us roll out for the annual Tour of Flanders.

My face: happy - Jarrod's face: 'too cool for school'
Photo courtesy 'selfie'

I can’t remember many specifics of the race. I remember a desperate peloton, riders flooding onto bike paths, the sound of crushing carbon on a few occasions. I had this endless mantra in my head saying ‘move up’ as the first cobbled section loomed at 43km. I went in positioned 15th and was surprised when I started to struggle and fall back through the field. I liked cobbles yet in just 800m I must have lost 30 places! My heart rate had skyrocketed again and I didn’t recover before the Molenberg at 50km, instead chasing past dropped riders. The pace continued for the next three cobbled sections before we saw some relief at the 60km mark. The next 40kms were quite sedate and I was kept calm by Franky's continuous feedback on the radio regarding corners, cobbles, winds and breakaways. It was the calm before the storm and my paddles were already starting to feel heavy.

MTB star Pauline Ferrand-Prevot of Rabobank-Liv driving it on the front
Photo courtesy Velonews.com

Rabobank were the aggressors, while I focussed on eating and drinking, all the while my heart was feeling better. The race started to heat up on the Kanarieberg- 1000m avg 8%, but was set on fire with 30km to go when we hit the Kruisberg- 2500m avg 5%. I was mid-field over the 450m cobbled section at 9%, with people bridging past me and many more falling behind. I WAS too far back, but it made no difference. I suffered like anything over that bloody climb, vomiting as I raced onto the back of a small group of 6. I took some coke on board at feed and prepared for survival over the final two climbs. Gio and Lotte had made lead group, but that was due to split and when the Kwaremont arrived Ellen van Dijk (Rabobank) would find herself solo by 25sec.

Armistead and Johansson battle it out up the Paterberg
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

It was finally here. After 126kms we had reached the Kwaremont. I suffered as long as I could before losing contact with my group over the latter stages, and was left chasing on the descent to the Paterberg with two Cippolini riders. I hit the Paterberg hard to close the reducing gap. I knew it was short and I was ready to go to war. It was then that I regretted not requesting an easier gear. I had opted for a 25, maintaining that if I needed anything more I was out of the bike race. Well guess what? I was out of the bike race and I needed a 29! As I painfully battled over the cobbles the crowd yelled ‘go wiggle’. I was out of the saddle, all over the bike with god knows what sort of facial expressions, gasping for oxygen- but all I got back was the aroma of beer, smoke and frites. I knew some people had been camped here (read: partying here) for four days to watch us suffer up this climb and they certainly got their worth out of me!

Cramping in the foot and calf post-race
Photo courtesy Bart Hazen

Over the crest the cramps began. First in my left calf and then in both feet. I had done enough to get onto the back of a group of 10, including Aussie domestiques Gracie Elvin and Shara Gillow. We rolled through in an effort to get to the finish, but were honed down by a massive bunch of ? who were more than keen to sprint for 35th place. I had no intentions of sprinting as I held off cramps and came in for 59th. Lotte was our best placed finisher in 16th. I sat on the floor at the fenced off finish for 10mins, not interested in moving on until I began to get cold from a sweaty undershirt. It was a hard day. A long day. But a great day. And if I never do it again I can at least say I have finished it once, and for that I’m glad. When I rolled back to the camper to get changed it really sunk in. I was at Flanders, with Jarrod, and I had finished. Lucky me :)

Results: Via Cyclingnews
Garmin 510: Via Strava
Wiggle Honda Video: Via Cyclevox
Race Video: Via UCI Cycling