It’s been a while since I last posted so this is going to be a big one. Feel free to skip parts.
We are more than half way through August and now I have a breather after a busy month in July. Way too much of a breather for my liking, but more on that disappointment later…
It was satisfying to finally post some results on the board in the tour of Thuringen, Germany which I raced with the Australian national team. I knew it was a tour that was going to really suit my racing style, having raced there 2 years ago. Technical and narrow roads that were lumpy – but with climbs of the shorter, sharper type. Throw in some challenging weather conditions and some sketchy pave and it’s very much a tour for the tough women. Dave has already provided you with a great summary of how the race panned out for the Aussie team and myself, so I won’t go into the details again. Only to say that I came away from the race tired but happy that I was showing some strong form.
Following Germany, I hitched a ride with the Australian team for the long road trip to Sweden for the next World Cup. We decided to break things up a little by visiting Denmark’s World Championships road and time trial courses.
Copenhagen is a really pretty and very bike friendly city. It has an extensive bike paths and a road-side system of bike lanes for commuters. The problem was that, as cyclists, it was where by law we had to ride. Sure, we were able to sight the time trial course which takes in the city’s main spectacles and tourist attractions (even passing the palace) but it was a little challenging with full daytime traffic and bad weather to really test the course out.
The following day we checked out the road course – a little distance from the city centre and on much quieter roads. It was already well signposted and quite a contrast to the previous 3 World Championships I have competed in. Almost completely flat – well, 2 little ‘hills’ and a nice 900m drag to the finish. ( I struggle to call it a climb!) We rode 3 laps and were able to get quite a good feel for things. It will be a very fast course with potential for a strung out peleton on many sections. Here’s hoping I will be offered a spot on the team. Team announcements won’t be until mid September, closer to the event which takes place on September 24th.
I finished up July with two World Cups in Sweden. The first was a team time trial. I have to admit that with the various teams that I have time trialled with in the past, I haven’t had the most positive experiences. I have often walked away disappointed that due to differing goals and expectations of the race, the team hasn’t truly clicked and individuals have put in differing levels of commitment and effort. However, today’s race was a different story. The team was composed of Josie and Mel – both track pursuitist extraordinaires, Robyn and Ashleigh – our strong South Africans, the ever reliable Cathy and myself. We rehearsed the course a few days before, established an order that was going to maximise our strengths and went out and gave our best. Our ‘best’ was 9th out of the 22 teams. A decent result, given the lack of any team practice for this event.
A few days later was the World Cup road race. I was feeling quite tired following a heavy block of racing but knew that I could hold it together for one final hit out before a break.
It is an incredibly technical course, with bunch positioning of critical importance if you are to have any chance of being part of the action. For more than half of each lap the peloton was strung out. With attacks going off the front, particularly before the 300 m climb each lap, riders down the back were losing contact with the bunch after only a few laps. I maintained good position and after a warm up of 3 laps was starting to feel better.
It is important to remain mentally focused in a race of this technicality and really put in on the line to ‘sprint’ for the corners and sections where the peloton thins out. Unfortunately, I let this focus drop slightly and drifted back to mid-peloton when the decisive group of 7 riders formed, just before the climb. I was annoyed to not have made the selection as it looked likely to succeed as it contained several Dutchies from differing teams who were working well together.
Back in the peloton it was a cat and mouse game between Emma Johansson and Marianne Vos and with Annemeik Van Vleuten in the break up ahead, it was looking very good for Marianne and her team, Nederland Bloeit. Vleuten ended up taking the win and is back in the World Cup series jersey.
The peloton of 40 odd riders were sprinting for 7th place and it was madness. Not only were there some tight corners leading into the finish but they were spotted with road furniture – signs, median strips, thick poles. After being smacked and pushed around throughout the race by a certain rider, and then finding myself near her again coming into the finish, I decided my life was more valuable and drifted further back in the final sprint to ensure I stayed on the bike.
Fast forward to this week… I am currently spending several days in Belgium, doing some regional races. The great thing about Belgium is that there are races almost every weekend during the season. One can participate without a team – just turn up with a licence and you’re set to go. Since Sweden, I had had 10 days without racing (way too long for me!) and decided that doing three races over a 5-day visit to Belgium would be a good idea to get the heart, lungs and legs firing again.
I’ve been staying in Aalst at the Lotto team house. It’s a bit of a squeeze with 5 of us at the moment - 4 South Africans and myself. Fortunately we all get along! In addition, the latest rain and high humidity has meant a major outbreak of mosquitoes. Every night before bed we were turning the rooms upside down on the hunt for any that have made it into the dark crevices and corners of our attic space. The little pests have interrupted our sleep for 3 nights and various sprays and repellants have seemed to do very little to dent the mozzie population. Our walls looks like a mini war zone – there are streaks of blood all over the walls!
I raced both days last weekend. The first race, in Heusden, the Flemish part of Belgium was a kermesse of 95km. It’s fairly flat racing and doing a course of 5.2km 18 times can get a little tedious unless there is some action happening. I was keen for a break all day, wanting to finish the race exhausted after the lack of racing. I was in a couple in the first half but nothing stuck for more than half a lap. My team mate, Ludivine made the decisive break with 6 laps remaining and managed to pull off 2nd. Once the break had gone, it was a fairly pedestrian pace in the peloton and it acted as my cool down.
The following day we lined up in Puivelde, a town 40km from our team house. It was threatening rain (hey, this is Belgium) but thankfully stayed dry all race. It was a similar format to the previous day: 17 laps of a 5.3km circuit. This time however it was completely flat and the roads were generally narrower.
The race organisers aim to keep these kermesse races interesting by having sprint primes on the finish line on alternate laps, with 10 euros up for grabs each time. This encourages us to actually ‘race’ and rewards the early breakaway riders. I was again hunting for a break but, like the previous day, every move off the front was quickly shut down. With 1 lap remaining, a Dolmans and a Look Kleo Italian rider had a 20 second gap. With half a lap, I bridged across with Lensy Deboudt on my wheel. I caught the 2 riders and tried to encourage them to continue to roll turns as the peloton was bearing down on us very quickly. The Look Kleo rider had sat on us and attacked with 500m remaining. Lensy and I scrambled for her wheel and Lensy then sprinted 300m from the line. I didn’t have much left to come over her, rolling in 2nd.
There was prize money for the podium places but it is incredibly frustrating… Rather than being paid to the rider on the day the money takes a round-about route through various national cycling federations, through my team to me. This is a lengthy process and most of it gets ‘lost’ somewhere along the way, never making it to the team. So, basically, I won’t see it. Even when the cash does turn up it takes a long time in coming – on average a year. Good thing we aren’t poor cyclists struggling to make ends meet. Oh, hang on…
Yesterday we raced in Brasschaat. This is a yearly race that attracts quite a crowd and a lot of competitive riders. The first race of the day consists of another kermesse of 80km. Following this, the top 20 riders of this race then race off laps up and down the main street. Each time the finish line is passed, the rider last across the line is eliminated from the race. (Often called ‘devil take the hindmost’.) The last rider remaining pockets 1000 euro!
The kermesse was a 4km circuit with a 600m section of cobbles. These weren’t of the really brutal type that we encountered in the Spring classics in April, however were energy zapping enough by the time we were onto our 10th of the total 16 laps. The peloton generally stayed together for the first half of the race. Skil Koga and Vlanderen Topsport were aggressive and managed to collect some decent money for the sprint primes on each lap.
Into the second half of the race, the cobbles created several splits in the bunch but again regrouping would occur once they were completed. By the 2nd last lap, it was obvious to us all that we were gearing up for a big bunch sprint. The finish straight was very wide but was approached by a much narrower single lane after a tight corner littered with witches hats. I had sussed out this corner on each lap, deciding on the best line and also the importance of being in the top 5. I achieved both these aims and was in a good position as Skil Koga were driving a lead out for Suzanne de Goede. She took the win and I was pleased with my effort for 5th. Getting more patient in these situations I guess.
So I had made the top 20 selection and was racing on the main street for 1000 euros. Skil Koga had 5 riders and it was obvious they were going to be putting it all on the line again for Suzanne. Each lap, they would take turns driving the front soon after the U-turn at each end. I was coping well and my strategy was to be consistently in the first half of the bunch each time we crossed the line. The group would really spread across the road and with 10 riders remaining I really misjudged things and got caught in the second row and my wheel was last to cross the line. I was out!
Suzanne de Goede and Lisbeth de Voght were the remaining 2 riders and they put in an entertaining display of track stands on the last lap, neither wanting to be on the front. Eventually Lisbeth settled for the front spot, checking frequently over her shoulder. Suzanne jumped and Lisbeth was able to remain in front and outsprint her to take the win. She is obviously on form at the moment, having won the Belgian National time trial championship the previous day.
I am now typing from Brussels airport waiting for my flight back to Italy. Tomorrow I will head to Stelvio, a mountain in Italy at over 2000m of altitude for a 2 week training camp. At this time of year I would much rather be racing events such as Trophee d’Or and Plouay World Cup and then a little later the Tour of Ardeche in France. I have a good record in these races, winning a stage and finishing fourth in d’Or and winning Ardeche last year.
My team has not selected me for any races this month and chosen to compete in the Profile Holland Ladies tour rather than Ardeche. It’s a pity to miss races I have won in the past.
I come to Europe to race my bike and so not being able to race for such a long period is not a great situation. If I’m not racing I might as well be back at home with Dave… though, on second thoughts it is still winter in Canberra!
I travelled to Belgium in search of some racing (as I said you can enter these races without your team) and would have stayed here a little longer, competing in similar races, except the opportunity came up to join the Australian national team at a high altitude camp. Whilst I have lived for about 6 weeks at high altitude before I haven’t specifically trained up there. I decided to trial this experience for the first time and am keen to do some training with a group of Aussies.
I don’t expect internet access to be too reliable up there on the top of the world so my email and skype contact could be a little scarce. I will be back at sea level on the 1st of September, hopefully enjoying the positive physiological effects of “breathing through a straw” for 2 weeks!
Thanks for reading,