Where do I even start. Last weekend … was something else. I had only heard horror stories of the classics, it was a style of racing I was yet to experience. A challenging two days of being thrown in the deep.
I kicked off the European season with Ronde Van Drenthe, a World Tour categorised event (which means it doesn’t get much harder). Renamed as Ronde Van Death it was a difficult race to start with, as I have never described myself as a classics rider. None the less I was keen to get the season underway and ready to race! With my training preparation coming together, all my hard training during the summer months paying off – physically I felt ready with my motivation found once again.
However nothing could save me from the lack of race k’s and cobbles! I had to start somewhere right…
Oh and did I mention I was also racing the Sunday? No I didn’t sorry because I didn’t know either until the team meeting on Friday afternoon. Must have been lost in translation?
Each a separate event presenting similar challenges – 2 x one-day races in the Netherlands on narrow roads, cobbles, a large field of girls and the Vamberg (a short 23% hill repeated multiple times) . By the time I got to Sunday night, my head was spinning from an overload of information.
It was exhausting constantly being on the ball – always alert for the next turn or for when the bunch would suddenly come to a halt on a straight road. In an already nervous bunch, this exacerbated my stress levels. Bodies were being thrown to the ground, it was ride or die. Teams were prepared to win at all costs to get their rider across the line in first place.
It was a difficult experience to take positives out of and in the end I managed to find a few..
So here is how my weekend went:
Let me first begin by reminding everyone (if you have forgotten) that I have signed with an Italian team, which means the chosen language among staff and riders is Italian. I do not speak Italian. This aspect can make most situations quite challenging, for example when the team director is shouting instructions through the race radio and you have no f****** clue what is going. This scenario pretty much translated into most situations… When is the team meeting? No idea. Breakfast? Who knows. To avoid nagging the girls with questions, I would have to choose my questions wisely. Like I had 5 questions-per-day-limit. For me to ’just go with the flow’ is something unnatural and foreign (my parents know much I love to ask questions!).
Travel day is always a hectic rush to get to the accommodation (usually hosted by town in the middle of nowhere) which took place the day before the race. In the back of my mind I always hope that someone will be there at the other end to collect me. Being stranded in a country is what nightmares are made of, but more on this later.
The day we arrived we only had a short amount of time to fit in a quick spin by the time we arrived at our hosted town, a bit rushed we got to presentations. It was nice to see many familiar faces and a number of Aussies in the large group of girls. We returned to our hotel and ran through logistics of race day. Needless to say not much was understood in the team meeting. I used up my five questions, got the gist and with the help from the girls- my role. It was going to be hell… I didn’t need that translated.
It was a somewhat “early race start” of 11.30am so I was keen to get sleep early, but my teammates insisted we must have espressos before bed. I politely refused and explained that I won’t sleep for at least two days if I have a double shot espresso at 11pm at night.
Race day brought sunshine and warm weather of 10degrees. A stunning day in the Netherlands! With a quality line up of riders and a large field, it was a battle for position on the narrow roads. Every corner making the riders nervous of the change in wind direction. It was a stressful start to the race and there wasn’t a moment to relax, you had to stay on the ball every-god-damn-second. I made it half way through the race until I mentally bonked. It was like I had my maximum dose of information and there was no more I could take in.
I lost contact with the main peloton and suddenly I was stranded in that shitty place between the main peloton and grupetto. Now, what did I learn from racing on the weekend? Do not EVER lose contact with the main peloton in a race in the Netherlands or if you are going to get dropped take a dutchy with you. Now I was in no mans land, alone and it gets worse… I miss a turn and stop seeing signs of the course… I’m lost. My race radio is cutting in and out as I try to make contact with the team director, “Mayday, help, I’m lost!”. To my demise I was unable to get through, even if I could…
Imagine this: lost in a country, where you don’t even know what country you are in. Am in the Netherlands or in Holland? Or is it the same thing? No phone. No map. My inner instincts kicked in and suddenly it went from racing to surviving. I decided to continue riding until the next check point – the feed zone, which according to my garmin was not far. I reached the 88km mark and now I was actually lost – there were no team vans or swannies in sight, the only form of life was two people looking to head out on a lovely Saturday afternoon drive. Until I ruined their afternoon. After explaining my situation, my new friends were more than generous to help me find my final destination. Which is in which town? I have no idea… After driving around fruitlessly, I am now lost with my new friends as we search the countryside looking for the finish line. Luckily enough we ran into a couple of policemen who pointed us in the right direction only 10km’s away (so we weren’t THAT lost).
After enduring my own adventure, we arrived in the small town just in time for the finish of my race. As I parted ways with my new friends, I apologised for ruining their lovely Saturday afternoon plans and thanked them for being so helpful. I have never been so grateful in all my life!
As I rolled to the car park where all the team vans were parked, waiting for their riders to make there way back. Desperately I searched for my team van, worried that they had already packed up and left. To my luck I found them and was greeted by Gigi with a big hug. Before I could say anything, the rest of the team rolled in behind me. After my dramatic afternoon it was like nothing had happened… The timing was impeccable. It was like my little adventure didn’t even happen.
It was quite a story for the dinner table.
Compilation of positives from racing in the Netherlands:
– More race experience
– Another learning experience of how to be resourceful and remaining calm in extreme situations
– I survived.
Later this week I am in search of hills and warmer weather. Trofeo Binda is my next race coming up on Sunday. Lucky for me the race is held around Gavirate, Italy which is where I was based for two months last year. I look forward to racing on familiar roads and make some improvements on my performance. A map might not be necessary for this race however for the following race I might pack one for just in case?