Monday, August 16, 2010

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!

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