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..