I never thought I would say the words “I’m going to miss Belgium”. Yes, there it is everyone, I have grown to like this small country we foreigners (I think it is a cycling thing) refer to as the “arm pit of Europe”.
10 Points for Belgium
Maybe it is the fact that I’m no longer professional and when it is cold I can pick and choose if I want to ride outside. I don’t have to worry about getting on the wind trainer (my most hated thing EVER) anymore. Instead I find myself in some cute cafe in the centre of Bruges sipping on a flavoured latte (something I never used to do) and nibbling on the complimentary cookie they always seem to give here. That’s some serious points right there, anything sweet and free is about 10 points in my books.
On the topic of food, I LOVE the bread here. Back home in Australia, unless my mum is baking bread, I don’t really opt for it. However here in Belgium I have become a big fan of the old loaf of bread, I am officially converted.
It’s a boyfriend-thing
You may be thinking why is it that I am living in Belgium for the moment if I am no longer a bike racer? If you don’t follow professional cycling you, about half the season is run in Northern Europe for both the men and women. The spring classics are some the most exciting races of the year. Winning Tour of Flanders is like winning the World Championships. I’m merely a spectator now, having retired in January of this year, I found myself drawn back to Europe for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, setting life up in Australia would be easy enough, as I have the support network of family and friends, plus, I speak the language (always a bonus). That would be the easy way, and for me, the unsatisfying “way” at this point in my life.
The past 5 years I have learnt to make Europe home, spending the majority of my time in Girona, Spain with my best friend and still pro, Carlee Taylor. So again why Belgium and not Spain? Well you see like all Hollywood movies, there is a boy involved, and yeah you guessed it, he is a Belgian guy, and I love him. Originally only a two week visit to see Hannes, turned into I am staying for good, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make this work.
Things I took for granted before
Chatting with my former teammate Gracie Elvin, a known lover of Belgium, we came to the conclusion that bike racers don’t like Belgium for a few reasons.
- It’s bloody cold in the spring, it’s wet and it’s windy. Coming from Aussie summer, that is a hard pill to swallow.
- The racing is freaking hard! So combined with the cold and wet, you have some of the hardest races of the year, where crashing or having a mechanical is sometimes inevitable when racing on narrow roads again 150 others.
- You fly in and out and don’t actually get to enjoy all the cute little towns, the old architecture or the yummy chocolate and delicious beers. You’re here to sit in a hotel room, rest, carbo load and race. No time for the finer things in life.
Now retired and no longer racing, I’ve grown to love the countryside, the quiet, small farm roads, the tractors who move over and give me a wave as I head on by (slowly these days). I love the fact that the people here are so into cycling, and it is just so cycling friendly.
Steaming Hot Waffles
I’ve had the pleasure with riding all over the Flemish side of the country, from Bruges, to Iper even to the Dutch and French borders. I’ve let myself enjoy the frites, the waffles and the chocolate that come with the coffee here. As a pro racer I never deprived myself if I wanted something, I was just wary how that would impact on my weight. And I admit, I still struggle with it now, however I’m trying to learn about the simple pleasures in life, and appreciate them for what they are. For example, it is ok to go for a bike ride and not smash myself, and then stop for a steaming hot waffle from the local bakery, and not be starving by the time I arrive home.
With only a few days remaining in Belgium, I am feeling a bit sad to leave, and at the same time very excited about the upcoming adventures that await. I’ll be traveling to Spain to help host a women’s camp alongside StrongHer for a couple of weeks. So stay tuned for my next blog in the Spanish sun!