Monday, 7 April 2014


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

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

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