Monday, August 13, 2012

Dwars door de Westhoek

After the excitment on Friday's race, there wasn't much sleep had the rest of the weekend.. But on Sunday it was time to line up to race again, this time for the UCI 1 day race Dwars door de Westhoek. This race cut 2 laps of the Schomenkleberg and Monteberg climbs in southern Belgium, and then 4 local laps which had about 800m of rough cobbles each time. I was guest riding for the Dutch team SwaboLadies, which suited me perfectly given their kit is pink 
Team Presentation
120 starters, rain, wind & cobbles. I was nervous. My positioning is getting a little better, but all of the elements combined to make me struggle today. Every time I moved up the front, I would be at the back again within 30 seconds. Less than ideal when you're going up 15% climbs on narrow laneways with people dropped wheels and having to unclip everywhere. Thankfully I managed to avoid any near misses and stay in contact with the front bunch through both laps of the hills, and so knew I'd be fine for the last half of the race.

Going up one of the climbs
After the hills were done, I misunderstood the motorbike giving time information to us, and thought there was a breakaway up the road. Turns out it was the gap between our bunch and the 2nd bunch back on the road. Yeah, not smart. Because of this, I let myself stay near the back of the bunch as the gap to what I thought was the break was really large. Had I known there wasn't a breakaway, I might have raced a little differently, but I can't change that now.
Jo had a good race, managing to get 2nd in the QOM competition by only 1 point. Unfortunately for her, she just missed out on winning a Colnago frame! She was also very active up the front, and was involved in most attacks. It's great to see her racing so strongly over here and I can only hope that I can get to that level soon! I know I've still got lots of improvement to come though, so that's a big motivation for me. More time in the Euro peloton will be a big key to that for me as I really suck at the big bunches!
Jo going for a QOM
The cobbles on each lap were vicious. Thankfully there was a slightly smooth bit down each side of them for a part of it, because by the 2nd last lap I was busting to go to the toilet and the cobbles weren't helping the situation at all!
The bunch going over some of the cobbles
Soon enough we were coming in for the final lap and so I just stayed out of the way for the sprint and rolled in at the back of our bunch. I was happy to have made it through, and will chalk it up to experience to build on!
Again a big thanks to Hans for letting me guest ride with his team, and picking Jo and I up to get to the race!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My first win!

After Krasna Lipa it was time for some well earned reco days in Germany with Jo and Emma before the next few races. On the plan was to head to Belgium again on Friday morning, race a Kermesse Friday afternoon and then Jo and I would race the Dwars door de Westhoek 1 day UCI race on the Sunday. This is the week I also discovered I don't hate coffee as much as I used to, and as long as there's plenty of sugar in it, I can actually drink it! UH OH....
Driving Glasses - only able to be worn by the person in control of the road trip vehicle
The first great start to the weekend was getting to the car rental place and picking up a brand new BMW 5 Series Station Wagon that would be our 'Team Car' for the weekend! It was an absolute blast to drive, especially through Germany on the open highways. Wow that thing could go! And it practically drove itself.
Road Trip buddies!

So we headed off in the rain to Belgium and ran in to a fair bit of traffic. By the time we actually made it to the race site it was only 45mins until race start. Quick rego, unpacked the bikes, pumped up the tires and it was time to get on the start line. Talk about cutting it fine! Todays race was in Vrasene - Beveren, and was 96km's around a 6.5k loop. Having missed out on a warm up, Jo went straight to the front and had the pace high, whilst I was still trying to find my legs! The wind was up a fair bit today, but thankfully the course was dry and no more rain came along. It was quite an attacking race, with all 3 of us making sure we were involved in anything that attempted to go. There were sprint primes for various amounts of money every lap, so many tried to get away to soak these up. The most promising move of the day happened when Jo attacked with 6 laps to go and was joined by 1 other. They got a large gap, but some strong work from a Rabobank rider and a few others within the bunch that had missed the move saw them reeled in with 3 laps to go.
Yes Pippa - Black Socks.
Talking to Emma in the bunch, she'd decided by then to have a go at the sprint at the finish, so it was up to me to counter attack. I didn't get very far though, and so thought I'd stay on the front to keep the pace high. Jo tried again on the 2nd last lap, but was quickly brought back again, which was when I found myself in an ideal position to try and get a gap leading in to the final sprint prime to at least get some cash. Attacking hard and getting a gap in to the corner, I won the prime and decided to keep going with the gap for as long as I could. The first half of the course was crosswind and headwind, so I felt like I was going no where, but the bunch appeared to not be chasing. I kept going with the thought in my head to just get to each corner, and then get to the tailwind section. A little bit of me was thinking I might actually be able to do it, but I didn't want to get too excited too soon and just kept pushing as hard as I could. Getting to the final corner and hitting the tailwind with only 500m to go, I looked back and knew that I had it. I could barely believe it, I'd finally won a road race, and on European soil no less! It was the best feeling going in to the finishing straight with time to enjoy the moment.
Standing on the podium, getting flowers and a trophy, being interviewed.. It was the real deal. Even though I still wasn't sure I believed it had happened, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.