Sunday, August 29, 2010

My saviour the 'Rolling Pin' aka - TPTherapy!

I'm used to getting regular Massage when I'm back home.. I think there's nothing better to make you feel recharged and ready to rock.. Especially when the legs are feeling like lead! So it's one of the things I've missed most about being here in Europe. Sports Massage Therapists are few and far between it seems! As such, I've only managed to get a couple in the 8 weeks i've been here.. So in between I've had to rely on self massage and my Trigger Point Quadballer and Massage Ball that I brought with me to get me through those sore legged days.

Along my travels, my Quadballer has been affectionately nicknamed 'The Rolling Pin', and is a source of much pain and discomfort, followed immediately by much lighter feeling legs. It is used in the same manner as a foam roller, but I believe it's more effective and targetted. The kit also comes with instruction guides showing you the most effective way to provide relief and prevent sport related injuries. On the days that I'm too sore to roll properly, or if I am using it pre ride, I will use the roller on my legs lightly using my hands. On the days I've done this pre ride, I've had my best rides of the week! If only I was disciplined enough to do it every day!  :-)

So when reviewing the things that I packed for my next trip, and realising that much of the stuff I have brought with me I could have done without, this is one thing that I will never leave behind, it's been invaluable!

What is Trigger Point? Check them out here -

Monday, August 23, 2010

Belgium, then Holland! Then Belgium again!

Well I arrived in Antwerp to find that the place I'd booked to stay for 10 days was amazing! A proper 1 bedroom unit, just like one you would live in. Great big bed, comfy couch, full kitchen. Perfect. Feels good to have a 'home' like place for a while where I can fully spread out, make a mess and not have to pack again for a while! I admit I had that at Alli's in Plymouth, but it was still someone elses space.

Had a great nights sleep, and the next morning I wrote down some directions on how to get to the race for that day in De Klinge, and hoped I wouldn't get lost. Well, I did, a few times! I even had to stop and ask for directions. Street signs and directional signs for towns are very lacking here in Belgium, so you know need to know exactly where you're going! If you're in a car, I think a Sat Nav is absolutely vital.

Anyway, with 20 minutes left until sign on closed, I'd all but given up hope of finding the road I needed, and I finally came across a sign pointing me to De Klinge! I didn't know how far still to go, but I high tailed it, trying to calculate in my head how close the town needed to be for me to make it on time. With 5 minutes to spare, I rock in to Boegy's Cafe for sign on and appear to be the last one to do so. Number 111, a big field.

I knew from the ride there that it was super windy, most of the trip had been in to a stiff headwind, so knew that today would be tough. Added to the fact it was about 28-30 degrees, and i had no one to give me any bottles during the race and I'd not drank enough on the way out, it was going to make things tougher. I think I'd say it was the toughest race I've done out here in Belgium. It was a very tight twisty circuit, with every corner we came to we would almost come to a complete stop, on some 'roads' that would be considered wide footpaths, with strong crosswinds. There were wheels being dropped left, right and centre from the start and because of the narrow roads I was finding it hard to move up the pack. There were some silly crashes when we were going in a straight line, one I got caught behind that caused a fair split in the bunch, but we managed to get back on within about 5k. After that mega effort, I seemed to feel a lot better and moved around the bunch a bit easier. I ran out of water with about 25k to go, and although I tried a sneaky grab from one of the other teams, he wasn't quick enough for me to grab one. Turns out it was the someone from  the Lotto Ladies team, and he apologised after for not getting to me in time!
Anyway, another crash a couple of k from the finish almost hindered my chance of a bunch finish, but managed to get back on in time. Was super happy with the efforts for the day, as the bunch that finished seemed a fair bit smaller than the one that had started! Turns out that only 58 girls finished, an almost 50% attrition rate, and the highest one of any of the races I've done so far.

A kind local rider offered me a ride back to Antwerp, which saved me a slow 30k crawl home thankfully! A nice big dinner and off to bed as early as I could.. It's hard to sleep after these afternoon races!

The next day was the Ronde Van Gogh - Nuenen. A feature racing day with Juniors, Newcomers and Amature men racing, followed by the Womens Elite race. For this one I had to catch the train to the Belgium border nearby to where the race was, then ride 35k to the start. I made sure I was meticulous with writing down my directions this time, and got to the race hassel free! The legs felt ok at cruisy pace, if a little heavy, so just thought i'd see how I went.
Turns out most girls were preregistered for the race and had their numbers assigned, but it was ok, they let me register (for free!!) and got number 67. A quick reccy of the course showed just under 2k per lap, with very tight technical corners, and 80% of the course being on brick paving. Ok in the dry, but if the afternoon's forecast thunderstorms and rain came in, it would be trecherous.

Standing around before the race, I was approached by the local news crew who thought it was great that an Aussie cyclist was at their little race! I had to do an interview, which was so weird, and hoped they realised I wasn't going to be going so well!

With the course the way it was, I knew it was going to be imperative to start up the front, and was pretty happy with where I'd lined up.. Until they started calling the girls to the start line in number order. Uh Oh, #67 of 69 meant I was on the back. Shit.
As soon as we started I knew I was in big trouble. My legs were empty. Standing up out of the first corner and trying to go around an already dropped wheel, I just had nothing. within 2 laps I was off the back with a small group, of which only 1 other girl was willing to do anything. After about 10 more laps, the rain started, and when straight away a girl lost it on the corner in front of me, I knew it was time to bail. I stopped to help get her bike and bottle off the road, as she wasn't in a great way, and then started heading off again to applause! Got to the next corner 100m up and there was another girl on the deck, 2 more corners later, another stack, and it was definitely time for me to get off the course. Not worth being out there with the risk to bike and body with what I have coming up next week!
Jumped back on the bike for the treck back to the train station and hoped I knew where I was going. Things looked different in the pouring rain, but I managed to make it back to where I needed to go, and I was even dry by the time I got there! Weird weather. With 45 minutes to spare until the train, I decided that my legs were lacking because of not enough food. So a trip up to the Vending Machine market and I had some Ben & Jerry's, a Waffle & a pack of chips on hand to munch down on whilst waiting for the train. Felt better already!

Now it's time for me to get some rest and relaxation.. A super easy week, a bit of sight seeing around Belgium, I'll go check out the final TT of the Eneco Tour in Genk on Tuesday, and I'm even going to get a massage tonight, will see how that one goes! And then next Monday I'll head to Eindhoven to the race hotel for the start of the Holland Ladies Tour on Tuesday! 6 Days, 7 Stages, about 640kms. Ouch..

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Amsterdam - 24 hours of indulgence!

On the way back to Belgium, I flew in to Amsterdam. I was only going to be there for 24 hours, but several people had told me it was a must visit city, and considering I’m missing so many of these on this trip, I thought I’d make sure I could get in the ones I could.

Arriving around 6pm, I checked in to a Hostel (Yes.. A Hostel! I had to do it at least once this trip) and met the 2 guys I was to be rooming with. Nice guys from Mexico, I didn’t even get their names. Dropped the bags off, a quick bit of connectivity, and off I went to explore the city. The weather was perfect, and the city was buzzing. I was only a 5minute walk from the start of the centre of the city, on a fairly main road, which was good for finding the place when I realised I’d not taken the address with me! Wandering around for a couple of hours taking in the amazing sights and sounds of the city was awesome. People, Bikes, Boats, Cars, the city was humming.

I’m not going to go through the whole trip, but no, I didn’t make it to the Red Light District and I didn’t go in to a ‘Coffee Shop’. That will have to be something for the next trip. After a whole day of travel and then walking around for a few hours I was wiped and couldn’t last until the time when things got going. The gluttony started that night though, making myself sick on Ice Cream, followed by the next day sampling some of the local delights. There were Frites, more icecream, a pink iced waffle!!! More icecream and to finish it off, Pizza. Oh well, I should be carbo loaded for the 2 races I’m doing this weekend! Back on the bandwagon tonight when I get to Antwerp.
Frites! This time with Ketchup to keep Hughsey Happy :-)

We all know I love a Pink Iced Donut.. So how about a Pink Iced Waffle? YUMMO!
Amsterdam is a city full of Shopping, Food & “Coffee Shops”. People watching is a big pasttime like many European Cities, and boy are there enough people to watch! I think it could be my favourite city I’ve been to so far, maybe on par with Paris (outside of Melbourne of course!), but my already slightly too large waistline, and my credit card, thanked me for only spending 24 hours there.

They say the world is a small place...

After getting another stamp in the passport coming through Amsterdam Airport, and having some time to wait for my bags, I started flicking through looking at the stamps I was accumulating. I came across my first ones. Thailand - June/July 2007.

It was my first ever trip overseas and I went with my best mate Mel. Things were so different back then! We didn’t take laptops with us, we didn’t have iPhones, Twitter didn’t exist and we hadn’t actually even heard of Facebook! We learnt about it on that trip though and signed up straight away.. Was that the beginning of my need to be constantly connected?

Back then if you wanted to share your photo’s with friends, you did it after you were home. Catching up, telling stories and reliving the adventure. Now, as long as I’ve got WiFi signal I can put a quick photo up from my phone, or post daily updates when I’ve put them all on my computer. Travellers specifically look for hotels, motels, hostels that have free wifi so they can be connected with Family and friends. Skype wasn’t around, and you had to buy a calling card or fork out mega bucks for roaming charges if you wanted to check in with him. Now you can log in and call anyone in any place in the world free, provided they’re online of course!

So yeah, they say the world is a small place, but it was a lot bigger a few years ago when I embarked on my first adventure..

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Well, in Aus, it's called Creeping..
Whilst my new British friends call it Hanging..
And I've just been informed that the Irish call is Swinging..
I'm sure the Italians, Belgiuns, French & Spanish all have different words for it too, but I can't understand them to tell you!

Whatever you call it, you know it means your legs are nailed and you're set to ride Groupetto. Even if it is just the Tuesday night 'YOGI' bunch ride!

Oh and dissappointingly, no more Cornish Cream Tea stops.. Didn't have time in Princetown, and we're not allowed to stop on non recovery days  :(  I will have to just wait for Holland and the Stroopwafel I've been told I mustn't miss out on!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Cornish Cream Tea

Well a snap decision on the way to Belgium had me travelling, post race block, to Plymouth with Alli, for a week or so of being able to settle down, unpack my bag, and get in some solid training.

Plymouth is an amazing training area, and it's easy to see how she's so good at hills. All roads are either up, or down. Basically every 60-70k's you cover, you do about 1000m in elevation. Not something my little legs are used to, and exactly what they need!

My introduction to the Cornish Cream Tea began after a quick Ferry Ride to Cornwall for an easy spin in the afternoon sunshine. We stopped in a town called Seaton at the Cafe on the Beach, and I almost drooled on the plate someone walked past me with that had a scone with amazing cream and jam on it! That was it, I had to have one.

A fresh warm scone, a big dollop of Clotted Cornish Cream, and some strawberry jam, and I was in heaven. Washed down with a big mug of sweet Black Team, and the package was complete.

And so began my new tradition of the mid ride Cornish Cream Tea. So far I've had 2, with the first one being best. Blackpool Sands, although 'Organic Home Made', were dry and dissappointing. Although I must admit they got me 60k home when my legs were like lead! One of the girls didn't believe I would be able to eat both Scones and still make it home without puking, but she clearly doesn't know me  :-)

Tomorrow we journey to Princetown where I've been assured the Scones are delicious.. We will see! Report to follow..

Belgium and Beyond!

Well over a week of being sick finally came to an end on Wednesday evening.. Which was thankful because on Thursday the road trip to Oudenaarde in Belgium began for a 5 night stay to have a crack at some Belgiun Kermesses!

The trip took us on the Ferry from Dover, so I got to see the White Cliffs of Dover! The whole trip was uneventful and we arrived safe and sound to the Camp site where we were staying in a Trekkershutten.. We guessed this meant Trekkers Hut! Arriving we found there to be no utensils or crockery, so our plan of cooking dinner went out the window and we headed in to town to find some food to fuel us for the next days race!
Was a late night to bed, but with the knowledge that the race didn't start till 5pm.

First race was the 105km Flanders Cup race in Erondogem. Even the name of the race was scary with images of all the Flanders locals out to take points in the race. Thankfully, the Holland Hills Classic and the Sparkassen Giro were on that weekend, so the field was a little smaller than it normally would be and only about 60 girls racing.
The weather was warm and quite muggy, and unusually for belgium there were a couple of little pinch hills and an uphill drag to the finish. I lined up on the start really nervous! Apart from the attempt at racing the previous weekend, I'd done nothing of this speed or intensity since Czech a month earlier! Oh well, the goal was to finish one lap, and then assess as each lap went on. 4 x 15k Loops, and then 5 x 9k loops was the order of the day, and it was fast! Attack after attack, chase after chase, until finally a small break of 7 went away. I didn't even want to look at the speedo sometimes, but when it's strung out in a chase, you just have to and 50 was often seen! I made it to the end of the first lap and realised I had a chance of at least making it to the end of the first 4 laps, so just focused on the wheel in front. Feeling pretty comfortable in the bunch and moving around the bunch, making my way up near the front.. I couldn't stop myself from smiling! This was so much fun! And so different from any racing I'd experienced before. After the big loop, we hit the smaller loop and as soon as we were turned a different way, it was quickly on to my first experience of Real Cobbles. Wow. Bit of an uphill drag, and real big bumps of cobbles for a few hundred metres, it was loose hands on the bars, big gear, and just get through it. I found it not to be too bad and found myself moving up places on this section quite easily! One of the things I noticed about cobbles though, you come off it feeling like you have a flat tyre! I actually checked after each time!

With 2 laps to go, Natalie one of the girls I was travelling with, timed an attack right when I was on the front, and she was able to get a nice gap to the peleton who never caught her, coming in 8th in the race! And I'm happy to report that I finished with the bunch! I couldn't believe it!

Home to get in some food and try and switch off for a good nights sleep, which is hard after a late race and too many caffeine gels!

The 2nd day's race was in Heusden, again at 5pm. The day started off ok but the clouds started rolling in during the afternoon and by the time we arrived, it had started to rain. It was a bit windy too, so this was real Belgiun racing! 2 Cobble/Paved sections in todays race, but mostly flat, everyone was pretty cautious on the tight corners and when visibility dropped almost to zero, and it was a safe, but not boring race! The girls from the Aus National team showed up, and kept things well animated.. If they weren't instigating an attack, they were right there on the wheel of it, showing what great team work is all about. The succeeded in getting 1st and 3rd, which were well deserved! I can only hope to be anywhere near as strong as these girls one day! 18 laps of a 5.2k circuit meant we all knew the course pretty well by the end and my confidence grew in the wet. I was surprised at how good my legs felt after the previous day and I wanted to have a go at being up there at the finish, but stuffed it a bit and then with the finish being on the slippery paving, I decided it wasn't worth it with my lack of sprinting ability and experience! Again, big smiles all around, this time just very wet/filthy ones! That Flemish sand is a bugger and gets everywhere!

Wasn't feeling too good the next morning, and spent most of it in bed, but managed to get myself right in time to leave for the 3rd day of racing, this time in Sint Nicklaas. It was overcast today, but thankfully stayed dry for the whole race, which was 17 x 5.3k for another 90k race.. The legs were feeling it a bit today, and I didn't like my chances of staying on, however managed to push myself through and make it to the end with the bunch again! Today was a mental challenge.. Having proven to myself over the last couple of days that I could do it, I just had to push through the dead legs and hang on.. Today was the day I knew I needed to be up the front to minimize the surges out of the tight corners, but I just couldn't get there and suffered at the back. All still racing experience and another finish under my belt!

Monday was a rest day from racing, and we were looking forward to heading out for a cruise around some of the Tour of Flanders route taking in some of the cobbles followed by a bit of time by the pool.. but I woke up feeling even worse than the day before and spent the whole day in bed unable to eat much! I figured the best thing was just to rest and hope it passed in time for the next days race! The others headed out though and seemed to have a blast! I was so jealous.

Thankfully it passed and we packed up the car and waved goodbye to the Trekkershutten and headed up to Braschaat near Antwerp for the biggest race we'd done for the weekend! Today's race had an extra bonus, that if you placed in the top 20 you did a 2nd race directly after the first, a hot dog crit where every time past the finish line, the last person was eliminated, with the winner taking home a cool 1000 Euro!
First though, we dropped in to the Tour of Flanders Museum in town in Oudenaarde which was amazing! Checking out all the footage and pictures from races gone by, it looks like such a tough race!
After arriving nice and early to the race and registering - Oh yeah, racing in Belgium only costs 3 Euro! That's less than $5! Sometimes you pay an extra 5 Euro, but get that back when you hand in your number. It's insane! And all of the races are professionally ran, with barriers, photo finish, good prize money, and spares vehicles! It's going to be tough going back to Aus and paying 4 times as much for 4 times less!
Anyway, rolling around the course warming up and to one side we spot a Cervelo kit.. No.. It can't be.. Is that Kirstin Wild?? Didn't we just see her picture in the Flanders Museum for 3rd in the most recent Womens race?? Oh god.. So the numbers grew, and the highest number I saw on the start line was 98. So 100 women, vying for 20 spots, in the rain, and with more real cobbles. It was tough. 16 times a 5k course, with about 1k of it being Cobbles! Big, bumpy, slippery cobbles.
As is the norm here, it was an agressive race, and finally a small break formed. Things were still animated in the bunch, with riders wanting to get free to secure their top 20 spot! My legs were lacking any oomph from the previous days lack of food and illness, and I even had a 'Moment'. That moment where you think you're done for and that's it, you're out of the race. But a well timed lull in the pace combined with one last spurt of effort meant I was ok, and things were better after that! I started taking the cross country route around some of the corners, getting up near the front, and generally feeling much better! Coming in to the final corner for the extra long/wide/tail wind aided finish straight, I managed to position myself well and was sitting about 4th wheel back from Kirstin Wild on the front. I thought - Wow! I had a shot here! - and as I'm apt to do, got a little too excited and came out from the wheel I was on far too early and blew with about 100m still to go. Finished somewhere top 50..

Stayed and finally got myself from Frieten with Mayo and watched the elimination race which was good fun, Kirstin took it out fairly comfortably! Then it was on to the long journey back to London.. With us getting in at 4am! A few hours sleep and hyperactive Alli had us back in the car and on to Plymouth where I've come to stay with her for a week to get in some hills and training! So far Plymouth is Beautiful, but it's so hilly! There's nothing flat, it's either up or down. Perfect, it's just what I need!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Giro!! Of the Essex Variety..

Well I woke up on Saturday not feeling TOO bad, so in my usual silly manner, decided to start the race.

As we arrived the drizzle set in, and it became apparent that we were going to be TTing in the pouring rain! Damn English weather!

First up was a 4 mile TT/Prologue.. 3 laps of a cicuit called Hog Hill, which was pretty nice and fast, with a bit of technical and a killer of a hill every lap. Came so close to puking, but wasn't completely shattered with the time I did. Of course would have liked a better prep and to not have been sick, but it could have gone worse. Avg Hr of 183 for the just over 10 minute effort left my face a bit pink for the next hour or so! Kara Chesworth, recently selected for the Commonwealth Games team won the TT, with Natalie Creswick who i'm staying with coming in 2nd!

Spent a few hours just chilling at the cycling centre with the other girls, eating, resting, eating and more resting, and then it was time to kit up again and warm up for the afternoon's Crit race. Held on the same circuit, just in the opposite direction, which meant we got to go up a different killer hill!
GC was close between the top 6 or so from the TT, so with 2 sprint primes & 2 hill primes both worth valuable seconds, the place was set to be on. I felt surprisingly ok for the first 20 mins of the race, but then things started to go downhill from there. With my HR through the roof again, and the leg shattering climb each lap, I lasted until about 34 mins into the hour long race before my legs just detatched themselves from my body. From then it was a solo 4 laps until a few other girls who'd been dropped earlier managed to catch up to me, and then it was just hold on with everything I had left!
Up the front of the race, the finish came down to a bunch sprint with no one being able to get away. One of the Rapha girls took the win which pushed her in to top spot on GC, with a little reshuffling of the other top GC places.

Headed home on the train to try and get a good nights sleep, and crossed my fingers that the efforts hadn't put me further into a hole of illness!

After not a great nights sleep, I got up feeling really drained. Had a very slight cough, and ummed and aaahed about starting the whole way to, and then all the way up to 30 mins before the race. Then I basically just decided - why not? And jumped on the rollers to try and warm up.
What a mistake that was!?
On the first hill in the race I blew completely and then did a couple of laps of the 10mile course with Claire and Katie from Rapha just to get a few k's in, coughing and spluttering the whole way around and generally feeling crap.
Watching the finish was fun, it was so tight that no one knew who'd taken out the overall until preso's! Anna Fischer from Max Gear ended up winning the last stage, and taking out the overall win by just 1 second to Kara, Emma from Rapha slipped from top spot down to 3rd.

Even though I had a crap weekend in racing and health terms, it was heaps of fun to be out there seeing the racing in England! It's just dissappointing I couldn't race to the level that I knew I could.

By that afternoon I'd half lost my voice, and for the past 48 hours I've been the same. I really need to learn to not do things when I'm not healthy enough to do them!! One day I'll learn I guess.

Now to make sure I get better in time for some racing in Belgium this weekend. Which I think will be an absolute disaster, but hopefully I'll come out of it a bit fitter!