Monday, September 20, 2010

Holland Ladies Tour

Well.. It's time to write about the Tour!

The Tour details - 6 Days, 7 Stages & about 640kms of racing - All of it set to be at Warp Speed
I was racing with a team I met at the Krasna Lipa, the Rapha Condor team, which was really exciting as they're a great bunch of people which always makes things so much easier!
I had no goals for this race other than to finish the tour, and gain as much experience as possbile. Even though I'd travelled a fair bit in the preceeding couple of months, as was just training and racing ad hoc without being on a program from the Coach, I was confident my short stint in Belgium meant I was as ready as I could be for the Tour. But still, when you rock up to the Race Hotel and the HTC & Cervelo team Buses are lined up outside, you really get nervous! Even a quick glance at the start list caused butterflies when you realised that at least 5 out of the currently ranked top 10 Women Cyclists were going to be there!
In all, there were 29 teams and about 170 riders entered. I was glad for the Belgium experience, because this was massive and as Holland racing is renowned for being on Flat, Fast, Cobbled and always with Cross Winds, it helped to have a little idea of what I was getting myself in for!

So after a few accommodation dramas were sorted out, it was time for Day 1.

Van Gogh Village - Nuenen - 112.2kms.

After gorging ourselves and preparing some extra food to steal from the best Hotel breakfast buffet ever, we set off. Due to a little misdirection, we ended up getting to the start just in time for our team presentation. It meant for a very nervous start as I'd barely had time to do a 10 minute warm up before I realised that 90% of the Peloton had already lined up to start. This set the precedent for the following few days that you had to be on the start 30 minutes before take off, or you were on the back.

Even from the Nuetral start, things were sketchy and I knew that getting up near the front would be a wise move. As I'm finding is the norm in the womens bunch, there was too much unnecessary brake slamming and the typical elastic band effect from taking off again at high speed, which wears the legs out! Even so, I was still with the main bunch though the first section, and then still with just over 20k to go. Unfortunately, this is when one of the many silly accidents happened, and it was right in front of me with no where for me to go. I jumped straight back up and realising everything was in working order set to chase back on with the others, but the bike was hooked on another girl who seemed to be in pretty bad shape. Once we'd untangled, I set off and tried to stick with one of the Team USA girls to chase back on, but unfortunately this was just as the bunch ramped things up to chase down the breakaway and I never made it back to the pack. Finished with a group of 5 or 6 a few minutes off the leaders. Was pretty devestated as I really wanted to finish with the bunch, but just brushed it off and looked forward to redemption the next day. The beauty of having 6 days of racing, 6 opportunities to perform well!
Injury report - just a few bruises and a bit of a scratch to the nose thankfully!
The team faired pretty badly, with Charlotte also coming down in the same accident as I did, but she ended up at the local Hospital that night getting stitches in her stomach. She was tough though and started the next days race!
Cobble report - 1 nasty section we had to do 3 times that was several k's long, but thankfully had some smoother bricked section on the edge. Although still not fun when everyone wants to be on the smooth part and it's strung out!

Stage 2 - Leende - 107kms

After lots of food the night before, and another awesome breaky buffet, I was ready to line up for the 2nd stage. I was hopeful that the bunch would be a little less jittery than the day before and that I could keep it rubber side down! It wasn't to be though, and things were again sketchy, and I did have a little off. This time I got back on the bunch real quick and all was good. The legs were feeling good and I was gaining a little in confidence. This tour had the hardest bunches to move around in. I really felt my lack of experience here, and struggled to get anywhere past about half way up the bunch. It made things harder for me as it meant that if someone ahead dropped the wheel, we were left working to get back on! In the end I can only blame myself for not being further up the bunch and avoiding that stuff happening, but I guess that will come with more practice and experience.
Today's stage was brutal. It had to have been about half the stage was cobbled (which wasn't reported in the race manual!!), in the same manner as yesterdays stage. If you line up 150 bikes all in a row, that's what it looked like. We were strung out for hundreds of metres and of course there were cross winds!There were a few recurring wheel droppers making life difficult. Everytime we got around them, once things bunched up they seemed to be in front of me again!
This time I was positive I'd finish with the bunch, and until 3.1k to go, I was. And then then inevitable silly accident happened and split the peloton in to about 5 or 6 bunches, all who finished seperately and never rejoined. If the accident had of happened 150m later, we all would have been given bunch time, but no.. it wasn't to be.
Another minute or so lost, but moved up a few places on GC which was exciting. Still nothing to write home about, but it was improvement!

That afternoon we transferred to the next accommodation, a couple of hours away. It was a cool Bungalow with 3 bedrooms, kitchen and lounge. Everything we needed! Unfortunately the onsite restaurant had closed by the time we got there, so we ordered pizzas and set about demolishing them!

Stage 3 - Gieten - 106.7kms

The weather gods had stopped smiling on us today and the drizzle/rain set in before the start. This meant warming up wasn't really on the cards, so the warming spray was going to have to do the job! This time as soon as we'd signed on, we happened to be standing on the start line and girls started lining up around us. Wow! We were on the front! But in the rain.. Yuck. James gave us a brollie, and myself, Corrine & Fearny all huddled underneath whilst the other girls got soaked. Yay for us! Apparently we even managed to get on some footage that's on YouTube!! Not that it mattered, by the end of the Nuetral section I was back to where I belonged, near the back  :-)
On to the race. This was a 3 lap course, and again I was hoping things would have settled down a bit. Thankfully the wet roads seemed to make everyone a little more cautious, and I stayed on the bike for the whole race! Yay! Although i was reminded post race by Corrine that Number 3 was still to come.. Hmmm. So this was possibly the hardest, most painful race of my life. One of the girls I'd met at a local race summed it up nicely "I think I died 10 times in that race!" It was wet, there were REAL cobbles, unlike anything I've ever raced on before, there were crosswinds, and the wheel droppers were back again. As frustrating as that was, it was still my fault for not being further up front! Surprisingly, as sore tired as the legs were at the start, I think I felt the strongest I had so far during the Tour. It was just the constant bridging and working to get back on that had me dying by the end. In fact there was one particular point, about 5k from the finish, where I was gone. I was dropped and it was the end of me, I got to about 20m off the back of the group and just yelled at myself until I made my way back on. A couple of crashes in the last few k meant that although there was a big bunch of us a little way off, we all got bunch time. YES! FINALLY! Again I moved up a few more places on GC, things were looking good. Still not impressive, but getting towards top 100 was something to feel good about! hah.

Covered in Mud, but all smiles!

Dinner at the restaurant that night was amazing. The Banana Split dessert was delish  :-D And I headed off to sleep that night knowing that the next day was officially the longest I'd ever been in a race for, and that hopefully I'd improve again!

Day 4 - Diepenhiem - 97kms

Today's stage sounded nice and short after all the 100+ days! Was looking forward to having a great day. After yesterday going straight from the front to the back in the Nuetral, I decided I'd prefer to get in a bit of an extra warm up today than to stand on the start line, and I was glad. The legs were feeling surprisingly good and I was looking forward to the race. We had clear skies again which was nice, but the wind seemed to be up.

This is where things came 'crashing' to a halt for me. 15k into the stage there was one of those silly accidents where I came off the worst of all. The bunch slowed almost to a stop, I had no where to go so took a little bit of a gap, lapped wheels, girl in front moved left, bam. On my arse. Or rather, I went flying over the bars and my Head, Shoulder and Hip took the full force of the fall. I felt the hip most of all in the crash, but jumped up ready to get back on. After 2 seconds standing, I thought I should feel my shoulder, as I knew I'd hit it, and suddenly didn't feel so good. I had to sit down. The world was spinning and I was suddendly drenched in sweat. The Ambo came over and felt my shoulder, and before he said anything I just knew. I asked him not to tell me, I didn't want to know. My tour was over. My goal was shattered, along with my Collarbone.

At first it didn't hurt, so much as made me want to puke. I was nauseus, and shaking, and felt sickened when I moved and i heard the bones go 'click' as they rubbed together. When I had to get up to get in the ambulance, that's when it hurt. I felt every bump in the ride to the start to wait for another ambulance to take me to hospital. I needed something for the pain, or I needed to puke. It felt like an eternity, but was probably about 30 minutes, before I got any pain relief. Did I cry? A little. Not like cry baby crying, just those tears of pain rolling out that you can't stop. Whatever they gave me when I finally got something, wow. Within 30 seconds nothing hurt anymore. Unfortunately it only lasted 30 minutes, and by the time I was on the table in the Hospital the pain was back. Morphine jabbed in my leg did nothing.

The Hospital was really fantastic to deal with. Xrays confirmed that I was in need of surgery, so they scheduled appointments, got me cleaned up a bit and dressed and sent me on my way with some very expensive pills and even let me steal a pillow to keep me a bit more comfortable in the car. I could have stayed in overnight, but I didn't want to be there, by myself, in a forgein hospital when I had the option of being with people I knew where we were staying.

In the end, if I had the chance to go back, not do the tour, and be unbroken, I wouldn't take it. The experience of racing with the calibre of Women that were there was something I wouldn't miss for the world. Nor would I give back the confidence gained from being beyond the point of pain, being dropped, and digging deeper than ever before and making it back.

I will be back next year. Stronger, more experienced, and more motivated than ever. I have unfinished business with you Holland Ladies Tour!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Broken Bones and Business Class

As most of you know, I came down hard in the Holland Ladies Tour a week ago and have gotten myself a busted Collarbone.. I'll do a write up on the Tour that Wasn't over the next couple of days, but for now - the Injury.
As soon as it happened I knew I wanted it dealt with at home. The break was a bad one needing surgery, and as tough as I apparently am, I wanted to have that surgery somewhere my friends and family would be, where I could go home to my bed to recover.

A call to the insurance companies emergency line had me receiving a call from the GM of Savannah Insurance assuring me they would get me sorted. They put me in contact with a local agency called SOS who could speak the language and organise everything for me, and after speaking to their Doctor to assure that I'm right to fly, I had a flight home, in Business Class, only 3 short days after the accident had happened.

This meant that I had 2 more days in Holland with the Broken bone, and I want to say a HUGE thanks to Fearny and Charlotte for playing mum and taking care of me in the Bungalow whilst the others were off racing the rest of the Tour. Without these girls I would have been in a real pickle.. I could do almost nothing for myself!

Flying business class was amazing. Having Med support at the airports was amazing. In all, had it not been so uncomfortable with the moving bones in my shoulder, I would have been in heaven! As it was, after 30 hours of travel, getting in to the limo service at Melbourne Airport was a very happy moment. I was home.

Straight to the Doctors that day to see Dr Lugg, I was then scheduled for the Op the following day. Again, all payments and everything sorted out by my insurance, I didn't have to worry about anything!
No food from 7am, op around 3ish. Ok, I can do that! Turns out the Op happened at about 6, so was struggling from lack of food and water! But it was over quick enough and I was awake just after 7. I spent a long time in post op Recovery due to struggling with the pain first,and then the meds reducing my respitory rate a bit too much, so didn't get back to my ward until 10ish. The nurse got me a sandwhich and a cup of tea, and it had to have been the best sandwhich I'd ever had! Trying to sleep was difficult as the night nurse had to take my BP and Blood Pressure hourly, but at least I wasn't in pain thanks to my Morphine Button that I could use every 10 mins!

I was discharged nice and early, and Steph came to pick me up and take me home and look after me for a few hours, cooking me the best scrambled eggs ever for lunch! And then it was time for me to pass the time and hope the pain wasn't too bad by myself.

The last couple of days have been ok. The hard part has been sleeping, that's when I wake up in pain. But today is now the 4th day since the surgery, and last night went ok and so far I've been able to move the arm a lot more and I'm even using it to type this! I figure it's a bit of rehab, using the muscles and keeping them working!

Progress should be pretty quick from here, starting Physio on Wednesday, I should be on the Ergo tomorrow to start turning the legs over, and hopefully will be back outside in the fresh air within the next 2-3 weeks! For now I'm going to have to suck it up and get over my hatred of walking, just to get my daily fix of Vit D & fresh air, hopefully i'll just combine it with catching up with people I haven't seen in ages and going for Coffee's!

Whilst it's been a disappointing end to my Euro Trip, missing seeing the Rapha girls rip it up at Tour l'Ardeche(5th Team on GC!!), 4 days on the beach in San Sebastian and doing the Ras in Ireland, it's not the end of the world. They're all things that I'll just have to make sure I schedule in to next years trip!! And it is kinda nice to be home...

But my number 1 tip on travelling O/S, whether you're racing or even just planning on riding around - Make sure you have the Cycling Australia Insurance. When I got it, I whinged about how expensive it was, but they've taken care of EVERYthing and nothing's been too much trouble. Thanks CA.