It’s that time of the year again. Where you feel the spring in the air but still the winter isn’t gone. It’s when the people in Belgium start their conversations about cycling instead of the weather. The TV shows commercials about bikes, Belgian beer and Tom Boonen. It’s the time of the first spring classic: ‘Omloop het Nieuwsblad’!!!
On team training camp I heard for the first time that I was selected for classic number one of the season. It’s so exciting to hear but at the same time very scary too. As a Belgian rider it’s a privilege to be able to start in a classic. We were born with cycling. Even though my family had no links with bike racing, every big race had been watched on television. And it’s like that in most of the Belgian houses. We have a heart for it. It’s a part of Belgian history and makes hero’s of every finisher, “Flandriens” with a French word.
With 3 weeks to go, there’s still enough time to do some serious training efforts to work on the details. But at the same time most of the work in winter is done and there is not a lot you can change on your form of the moment. The week after training camp is a time to recover. To give your body the chance to get in a better shape. It’s nice because it means a lot of chilling out. I use this time to do administration from out of my couch, catch up with household shores, see my friends. I do this because I know that the time that is coming will be pretty busy.
8 Days before D-day I did the second lactate test of my season. It’s a check-up of how much stronger I got since the last test right after the rest period. If I made progression in aerobe and anaerobe capacity. In other words, if my base is big enough (which you get by doing heaps of extensive endurance training or simply put, by doing a lot of kilometres on a slow pace) and how my body reacts on high intensity intervals. My results? They were pretty good. I got a lot stronger but should do my extensive endurance training sessions a bit slower otherwise I could get in trouble in the second half of the season. “But no worries, this can be corrected”, the coach said. We’re on schedule working towards the classics and most of all towards the TT nationals, my first big goal.
Because this is only my fifth cycling season, I still lack heaps and heaps of race experience. To be 4,5 months out of competition, doesn’t work in my advantage. Immediately starting with such a big race as ‘Omloop het Nieuwsblad’, means a lot of stress to me. Because I know this is a nervous race and I don’t have the best of technical skills. To eliminate a big part of the pressure, I drove to the other side of the country to do a recon of the famous cobbles, hills and narrow country roads. Luckily I found a victim to come with me. It makes me feel a bit more on my ease. Arriving there in the ‘heart of cycling’ as we call this Flemish region, the first nerves kicked in. But everything went really well. It was the perfect last hard training before the race. I expected tired legs the day right after my test but even the cobbles couldn’t stop me. I guess the adrenaline rushing through my veins had something to do with it too.
5 Days left to recover from the last hard training efforts the week before, eat well and prepare my race bags. Seems like a lot of time but it also isn’t. The weather changed from bright and sunny to rain all day every day. I wanted to do my training sessions exactly as planned. It’s my autistic side showing and it makes me feel more calm in my head. My father was that week’s victim with a role as a motor pacer. The poor man had to survive hours in the cold, wind and rain with 3 flats included. The whole winter I never had one flat tyre but I ask my dad to come along and I get 3. “No panic, stay calm”, I made myself repeat in my head. Then a hilly session on day -4 and a sprint training on day -3.
Training is done, check!
With 3 massage sessions in that last week, my muscles got the best treatment. To give my body enough energy I did some carbo loading. At the start of my last week before the race, I usually eat low fat and almost carb free. The last 2 days before the race my diet is all about carbs, carbs and carbs. Not too much all at once bot spread out over the days. I love eating so this is pretty amusing. Especially the pancakes are my favourite!
Recovery & food: check!
Pack that bag!
The second last day before a race, is a rest day. Perfect to get everything done that must be done before leaving home. Massage/ shop for food/ make sure the clothes I need are clean, that kind of stuff. It’s also the perfect time to prepare my race bag. A task I always put off until the last minute of the day. Procrastinating is one of my bad habits that didn’t survive my new year’s resolutions. It takes me ages to make sure I took everything I need. It’s freakin’ Belgium. Even the weather man often gets surprised by the Belgian climate. Basically you need to be prepared for ALL kinds of weather, ALL! Which means Isabelle always takes way too much luggage. It got to be in my genes. I remember my Grandmother always carrying half of her wardrobe in her suitcase(s).
Race bag: check!
One last recovery ride with some ‘leg openers’ (sprints) at the last day before D-day and I am officially ready to race. All the ‘controllables’ are under control, as I say. From now on luck has to be on my side.
Let’s hit the road, Jack. Time to drive to the hotel to see my team for the second time this year. How exciting!!!