Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tour Feminin Krasna Lipa

The race I was most looking forward to getting a start in this year was Krasna Lipa. It was the first international race I did on my last trip, and it didn't go anywhere near as well as I would have liked that time, so I wanted to go back and redeem myself! Last time I had a melt down on Day 3, so I was looking to first and foremost make it to the end of the tour.

After a few teams that I was lined up for fell through, I finally got my confirmed start with a club team from Norway called CK Victoria. Also racing on this team were some friends from back home in Aus Jo Hogan and Emma Mackie, so I was really looking forward to the week!
Team CK Victoria

 The 3 of us drove across Germany in to Czech the day before the race. Taking our time and enjoying the sunshine, we arrived at our accommodation Wednesday evening and met the team we would be racing with. A great bunch of chicks, even if understanding their names was rather difficult at first! Norwegian appears to be a very hard language to get your ears around.

On to the racing! I knew things would be difficult back in my first big tour, with bunches of 120+ girls all fighting to be up the front, but I just accepted that and tried to bit by bit work on improving my positioning.

On the first day I felt ok, but not great. Probably a lot of nerves combined with the rather warm/humid weather made me feel like that. By the time the race got to the final climb - the infamous 'Vapenka' Climb which was my nemesis last time around! - I was still with the main bunch, but my positioning was shocking. Unfortunately I got tailed off the front bunch behind some dropped wheels and didn't have the legs to go around. With a 2.5k fast downhill run in to the finish from here, I ended up in the 2nd bunch only about 30 seconds down. A major improvement! My team mate Jo Hogan set herself up nicely and managed 7th on the stage, and with some bonus seconds in a Sprint Prime was sitting 5th on GC. I wish I could say I helped with this, but all I can claim is giving her some water after she lost a bottle!

Day 2 was another couple of times over 'Vapenka' as a part of a loop. With sprint primes and bonus seconds up for grabs just after the hill, the goal was to help Jo get these. First lap I found some balls and managed to make my way to the front in time for the climb, and held it. With Emma's help, we kept the pace up leading in to the climb, and Jo managed 2nd in the sprint after. Second lap I faltered again and found myself mid pack and unable to move up on the narrow roads. I held on to the bunch though and finished at the back after a tight and technical last few kms. Jo moved up thanks to her sprint bonuses and was now 4th on GC!
Rolling to the start of Stage 2

Day 3.. The Double Day. In the morning was a road trip in to Poland for an 18km ITT, followed by going back to Czech for an afternoon Road Race. The TT just plain sucked. I tried to push, but really had nothing. I guess it was an improvement from last time, where I came DFL.. but still. Onward and upward to the Road stage! Jo lost a few places on GC because of not having her TT bike, but we figured the tour was still redeemable!

Hiding out from the lightening storm before Stage 4
5 minutes after we got to the start of the PM stage, the heavens opened and it started bucketing down. Lightening and Thunder crashing overhead, we all too shelter in the hotel nearby hoping that they would cancel the stage! In the end they delayed the start by 45 minutes, and cut our race one lap short, so it would only be 74k. Lining up on the start line in the rain, with only the occasional thunder clap, I took solace in the fact that I was shorter than a few in the bunch, so I wouldn't be the one hit by lightening! 3 Laps of 21k, the course profile basically looked like it was uphill for the first half, and downhill for the 2nd. As soon as we got going, I realised I felt great. I was even a little more comfortable in the bunch, although the wet roads killed that a little. After the first couple of climbs, I found myself easily up near the front and so tried to maintain that. Sitting on the front to keep the pace high felt like the safest option for me and to help Jo, so that's what I did.. Until I came in to a corner near the end of the first lap a little too quick and the bike slid out from underneath me. Yep.. Here I am, on the front because I didn't feel safe in the bunch, and I took myself out. MUPPET.

Picking myself up and assessing the damage, just some skin off, and the chain, so I managed to shake off the shock and get going again, but the Coms were being really strict on the cars helping people back to the bunch, so I was on my own. I got tantalizingly close, but couldn't quite make it, and once I joined with a small group who were off the back I decided to save the legs for tomorrow.

Top 10 (minus Jo) on the Podium
Day 4.. After a pretty crappy nights sleep due to my left side being too sore to sleep on, it was time for the last stage. Thankfully the sun was back out and we were set to have a nice day! The road were a bit damp, so I was a bit of a pansy in the corners, but thankfully my legs felt good again so I was looking forward to the stage! A 50k loop with 2 QOMs, and then 3 laps of the 'Vapenka' climb again.. GC was close in the top 10, so it was going to be an active day. 20k in to the stage, whilst the bunch was strung out, I clipped a big stone and had a sinking feeling.. sure enough, puncture. So, last time I punctured in a race it was in Aus.. Automatically I've gone to the left. BIG NO! Service from the right! Arg! So, by the time I got that sorted out and got going again, the bunch were long gone. Same as yesterday.. Chased and chased, made it back to Groupetto and that was it for the day. At least it was a lovely day for a training ride! We had a nice little bunch with a couple of girls from England from the For Viored team who were nice to chat to, and we made our way around the course and finished together. Tour complete! Jo rode awesome and made her way back up to 10th on GC
Jo and Meike with the 10th place Trophy

After the tour was done, it was time to go back to the Penzion Liberta with Meike for a well earned celebratory meal and glass of Red Wine! Then the next day it was back in to the car for the journey home to Dortmund! Racking up the k's in the car over here, that's for sure!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Belgium - Race 2

So after Steenokerzeel I drove to Roubaix to my accommodation for the night. Typical of Belgium it went from 28 degrees and sunny, to 17 and raining on my trip there. I was pretty excited that I would have the whole morning the next day to explore and visit the famous Velodrome, so had a makeshift dinner and went to bed.

Heading off in the morning for my adventure, i'd forgotten about how lax the French were with labeling roads. And so many u-turns and detours later, I made it to my destination and proceeded to cut a couple of hotlaps of the track. It was pretty damn cool being there and can only imagine what it's like when the race is on! It was concrete and bumpy, so I can't think it'd be nice to race an actual track race there, but they were building a new Velodrome just around the corner. After some happy snaps I headed off, content with the mornings activities.

Then it was time to get in to race mode again! Todays race was in Zwevegem, south Belgium. I wasn't too sure how I was feeling, and the wind was up, so I decided to start with no expectations (and a lot of caffeine in my system!). On tap today was 20 something laps of about 3.5k. Primes every 2 laps from 3 to 21, and then the finish! The course was pretty standard, bumpy, cobbled, but fairly wide roads which makes moving around easier.

Todays major presence was from the Lotto Belisol ladies team, with Topsport only having 1 rider. Sengers Ladies were also present, and a lot of the faces I remembered from the day before were there. That was good, because it also meant I had an idea of which wheels to be near/away from!

With the wind up, it was always going to be a harder race. Lots of time spent in the gutter! An early break went about 20k in, and managed to stay away for about 30k. Sengers missed it so had to chase, and them along with a couple of other girls brought the break back. I helped out a little, but was struggling in the headwind section and knew I had to conserve a bit if I was going to make it to the end. More attacks came after they were brought back, and I just tried to make sure I went with anything that looked threatening. By 60k I thought I was done.. So broke out the emergency TORQ Banoffee and within 5 minutes I came good. Rocket Fuel!

It was perfect timing as a break of 5 went up the road, and I managed to get in the chasing bunch of 10 or so. We worked to get across, and this unded up being the winning break! So given that I was feeling ok again, I worked a bit to help make sure it stayed away. I knew the move was coming from the eventual winner. But missed it. Just over a lap to go she launched solo and managed to hold off the bunch. About 500m later I had a go at getting across to her, but when I turned in to the headwind section I went backwards and was picked up by the chasing pack a short time later.
More attacks went and a couple got away to take the minor podium placings, but by then it was all I could do to hang on to the end! I sprinted as best I could, and managed 11th over the line. So close to the top 10 that I would have loved to have got, but a massive improvement than on last time I was here! And it leaves some more room to move up too :-)

After the race it was straight back in to the car for the 3hr road trip back to Germany! Great recovery.... Nothing like lollies, chips and a protein shake as a post race meal whilst cramped up in the car!

Next up is the Tour Feminin Krasna Lipa in the Czech Republic. Racing with the team CK Victoria from Norway, I'll also be on the same team as Jo and Emma which should make things pretty fun! It'll be good to catch up with a few other girls I know that are racing too!

Back to Belgium

Well I made it to Europe! First stop - Germany.

After just 2 days here, I picked up a zippy little Audi A1 from Europcar and headed cross country to hit up some Belgian Kermesse racing!
I want one. So much fun to drive!
Well there's no better way to get your race legs back than to just get out there and race..
First up was Steenokkerzeel, 16 laps of 5.5kms. Non typical weather greeted me, with a shining sun and 28 degrees! The wind was up like normal though, but would be mostly head/tail with not much crosswind action.

I met up with Jo at rego, and it was nice to see a familiar face amongst the crowd! We commented how weird it felt to be racing together again.. It was almost like being at a St Kilda crit! Just with 3 times as many girls racing.

Race numbers go back at the end of the race, and you get 5 Euro back!
After checking out the course and waiting for ages for the juniors to finish their race, we were finally underway about 45 mins late. The first attack came about 20m into the race and that's how it continued the whole time. Jo was stomping and very active up the front.. I let myself have the first few laps to get used to the bunches again and then worked on staying in a good position up front. Much easier said than done, but it's something I'll improve on with each race.

About half way through I finally felt like my legs were waking up from the flight over, and started to get a bit more active, having a go at getting off the front etc.. But nothing I was in would stick. Topsport Vlaanderen were the dominant team at the race, and nothing was let go without them in it! Eventually with 3 laps to go, a break of 2 went up the road and it looked like the one. Jo broke away from the bunch and bridged across, and it was the winning move! Unfortunately she didn't have much left for the sprint, but managed 2nd which is awesome!

I rolled in on the back of the bunch, happy to have the first one out of the way and to have felt pretty good all things considered. Looking forward to Zwevegem tomorrow!

The Tour that almost wasn't

The North West Tour.. Round 3 of the NRS. The reason I didn't go to America to race dairylands, and I almost didn't even make it to the start line!
The only reason I did was thanks to some very special people who I owe massive favours to now!! Thank you to those that helped me. You know who you are.
Once there, I believed I was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason, and I channeled that as much as I could for the 4 days. Enjoyed the racing, the company of those I'd not normally get to stay with, and focused on staying positive for the race.
So the actual race. My prologue was pretty appalling. I had nothing and was just glad it was over.. Stage 2's crit was a disaster for everyone pretty much. With a crash happening 7 minutes in to the 30 min race and then no one knowing if we were still neutral or not. At least it was safer that way because it was a very nervy bunch. All of a sudden the 3 to I sign was flashed and the race was over!
Stage 3. The queen stage with a 12k climb up to the finish. I just don't have the climbing legs yet to go with the moves, and was happy to hang on to the chase bunch until a couple of k to go. I'd have liked to have gone a bit better, but was ok with the day. Although I never want to be that cold again. It was awful.
Clear Skies for Stage 4, but geez it was COLD!

Stage 4 & 5 were very much the same as each other. Flat stages, some attacks, nothing let get much rope with Pensar Hawk reeling everything back in. The finish to Stg 5 a small break managed to get a few seconds on the main field within the last 5k and held off the charging bunch! Chloe McInosh who'd been the most aggressive all day managed a 3rd which was well deserved! I spent some solo time off the front in the middle of the race, but it was to no avail. Oh well, got to try these things! You just never know.

After the race was over it was straight back in to the car for the trip to Sydney airport and home. A very long day, but with only 72hrs until I had to fly out to Europe, there's a lot that had to get done!

Link to the YouTube video of the Tour Highlights thanks to SBS -