Saturday, May 18, 2013

Back to the flatlands!

Well it's hard to believe that I've been in Belgium for 2 weeks already. Time flies when you're settling in to a new place, racing, riding, and playing far too much Candy Crush..
I arrived in to Belgium on my Birthday, and the first thing I did was buy myself some Belgian Chocolate at the Airport while I waited to be picked up - "when in Rome".. as they say! It was a fairly long day, with a trip to Ikea in Gent necessary, and then going for a birthday dinner in town, pretty happy to report that the sushi in Gent is good and I can't wait to go back 
Birthday Sushi!
In terms of presents, it was a good day, getting a house to live in and our team kit having arrived finally!
Racing Knokke Heist
After a bit of a late night getting things sorted, and then a reasonably early start to get up to race Knokke Heist - Bredene, it's fair to say we were all pretty tired. But spirits were high and we were looking forward to racing in our new kit for the first time! We arrived to a reasonably nice day, but as we got ready the wind was picking up and getting colder by the minute. We knew that just 13kms in the race hit small country roads, before about 20k later hitting a 2km long cobbled section. When I heard about the cobbles I was a bit nervous.. that's the longest cobbled sector I'd ever done. 
Julie, Ann and I post Knokke Heist. Pretty happy it's over.
The race went from 0 to 50 straight away, and it turned out predictions were right, and things blowing apart in the wind on the small roads. I was tantalizingly close to making the front split, but again was just that little bit too far back. This made for a long hard chase with a small group, finally rejoining the front with about 30k left to race. A few more local laps down, nothing too eventful, and I was happy to make it to the end, as were Julie and Ann who had made the front bunch also.

The next day we were off to Sinaai for a local Kermesse. Jane wasn't well and so had decided to sit this one out, so the team for the day were Kayleigh, myself, Ann & Julie. It was lots of fun racing a bit of a shorter race with a slightly smaller bunch than we'd been in for the big races. Getting to make an impact on the race and practice bunch skills is good for the confidence. It was a good day, nice weather and a good race until 1k to go where a crash brought down Kayleigh, and got my adrenaline pumping to the max after it happened right beside me. Ann and I tried to do a bit of a lead out for Julie, but the crash made things a little hectic, and with the long straight finish, it was hard to judge when to go. Julie ended up just off the podium in 4th though, so not a bad result!
Living the 'shit covered' dream.. One of the hazards of racing in Belgium.
A few days of rest, recovery, & exploring the new training routes, and it was time to race again. This time it was 3 Kermesses back to back, in my own mini Tour of Belgium.
First was North East to Begijendijk. A flat fast course with only a couple of real corners, a break went early and almost stuck. All the girls in the team had a go at getting across to the break, with only a few groups successfully getting any advantage, although all were brought back by the end. A bit of fun and a good way to start the weekend off.
Saturday it was off to the West, over near the coast to Snaarskerke. Belgium is usually windy, but over by the coast it's worse, and this was in full force today. Winds had to have been about 60-70kph and when I hit the crosswinds I had a couple of CX moments getting blown off the road. The race split early on and thankfully Julie had made the front selection of 10-12 girls, so I got to tap around with the second bunch until our group had the final lap called a few laps early. Fair to say I was pretty happy to end the race when we did, I was kind of over the wind...
After Saturdays race the Scot's headed back to the UK to participate in our team sponsors big charity ride, the Ribbon Ride, whilst Julie and I headed back to the team house to get ready for day 3.
Training in the small amount of sun we've had!
Sunday we headed east in to the very French town of Dinant. As we got closer the terrain changed more and more, and I was so happy to see that there were hills in this race! And not just little rolling hills as we'd been told.. It seemed the course would have about 3 x 1-1.5k climbs each lap that would have to be tackled 7 times. In Belgium, that's a solid amount of climbing. Because of this, the start line was definitely less crowded, with only 39 starters at this race and quite a different set of faces from the last couple of days of flat races. Right from the gun the pace was on, with one of the local girls from Topsport Vlaanderen rocketing off up the first hill. I gave chase and was surprised at how good my legs felt given the last couple of days racing. The first lap was rather damp still, and we went down a descent at 60+kph and then had to do a hard right hand turn.. There was a point I wasn't sure I was going to stop in time! As it was only Julie and I in the race, we made sure that between the 2 of us we tried to cover everything to make sure if a move went, we were in it. Early on, a Sengers rider got away solo, and it wasn't until the 2nd last lap that a group finally got away, which even though we missed the move initially, we were able to get Julie across to it. From the break, the Wiggle Honda rider Mayuko got away solo and went on to win, with Julie sprinting to 5th.
So a good solid weekend of racing under the belt, and time for a bit of recovery this week before gearing up for next weekends Holland Hills Classic & Gooik. This week I'm going to explore the local area a bit more and do some of the famous cobble climbs from the Tour of Flanders etc! We live in a great area for training thankfully, with some hills and nice roads, now if only the sun could come out a little bit more.....

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