When you arrive at the team hotel the time starts flying. Together with my teammate Jessie we got there at 16h30. One whole evening left. But with massage, team meeting and dinner and… some good old gossip it is bedtime before you know it.
It is nice to have an hour of massage before the race. For me this is a moment where I don’t have to think about my cycling and can just close my eyes or have a chat with the soigneur. If the massage hurts, that’s a sign that your muscles are full of lactate (or the masseur is pushing way too hard). Luckily for me this wasn’t the case. I did have a bit of a pain in my knee but some kinesiotape fixed that little problem (if not physically, than mentally).
With Jessie as my roommate I have somebody living in my region to chat with. Chatting, gossiping it’s all the same but it is fun and relaxing. Cycling and racing is already taking so much time of our days. Not only during training but also everything before and after is in function of cycling. When people start talking to me, it’s about cycling. So to have a not cycling related chat almost feels like a relieve. It gives me mental peace.
As cyclists we are always hungry. Dinner at 7 is just in time to not get sugar flat. It is something to look forward to. And because we were staying in an hotel, I’m always curious about what will be on my plate. We were sharing the hotel with 2 other girls teams and a men’s team. That’s why the hotel cook was so kind to prepare us a nice dinner with enough veggies, pasta, meat or fish and rice. I was already eating tiny bits all day long so I kept it simple with a salad, rice and salmon. Fruit and yoghurt as a desert was a hard decision to make. The apple cake was looking so good….
It’s funny, even though we know all the girls from the other teams in the hotel, you just can’t help yourself to look at them as strangers and see if they look fit. We all do it and so do I. But what I don’t have is the bad habit of looking at the other’s plates. A lot of girls feel the need to do so. I just hate it. It’s like you have to pick out the food your about to eat with the approval of the judges. Luckily I don’t easily get influenced by this. I did my research and know what is good for me.
Team meeting usually is the post-dinner activity. Our team director explained us what would be the critical points in the race, how the wind would be and which task every girl got. It was my job to get the speed up before the third climb to shrink the peloton. It means less risks for crashes on the most important hill and right after. Oh dear. The nerves. Out of control. Breathe. Relax. And back to normal. I can do this. This series of thought went on and on until I finally fell asleep an hour after bedtime.
Cobbles for Breakfast or Pancakes?
7:45am Alarm. D-day!!! Weather looked grey but dry. Hurray for that. At breakfast everybody seemed fresh. A bit nervous but in the positive way. Our leading lady Lotte was making pancakes for her domestique Annelies (I think she was sucking up just a little 😉 sshhht ). White bread, cornflakes with yoghurt, banana and lots of coffee. We are ready! Time to go. Or maybe first a toilet visit. Those damn nerves…
Arriving at the start is where you feel the stress buzzing in the air. Everybody is nervous, cyclists, staff, fans. At that point it’s a matter of staying focused. To get ready in time before the start, make sure you are wearing the right clothes, take enough food, check your radio, go to the toilet one last time, pin your numbers on your jersey, breathe and go.
To wait at the start line is the part of racing I like least. Certainly at that time of the year. It’s cold and humid and you feel like you’re standing there naked. It’s a shaking bunch peloton waiting to go to the battlefield. And then finally the relieve, the moment we all have been waiting for all winter long. START!
Lara Croft, But With A Helmet
Well it’s not the official start. First a few km’s of neutralisation. For me this is a very nervous situation. The jury’s car keeps the tempo pretty slow but most of the girls already want to get to the front. Risks are taken, cursing ladies, you got to keep your eyes open and stay focused. They keep the bunch so compact that, with this slow speed, every unexpected move could easily end in a crash. At kilometre zero, the jury waved the flag (like they always do) and of we went. The speed increased immediately but it was still comfortable. It’s because we all knew when the war would really start. At the first hills…
As we got into the last kilometres before the first hill: ‘Nokerenberg’, the tempo went up. This is a climb on cobbles and every year there are crashes so everybody wants to be in the front to avoid problems. I was still in good position until an Italian girl felt the need to abruptly go from my right side to the gutter on my left side, cut me off and almost made me crash. She crashed, I didn’t but moves like that seriously piss me off. Some girls have zero respect or just lack a part of brains. It’s such a short climb that you reach the top just by pedalling a few times. No need for stupid risks. First hurdle was taken.
In a race like that, I always feel a bit like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, the game (but with a little less cup fill, if you know what I mean). It’s an obstacle course where you count every obstacle you survived and count down to the ones that have to come.
OK Lara, off to your job of the day
The ‘Tiegemberg’ was very much ok. I still don’t know where this one was on the course. I didn’t feel it in my legs. We all have our little ‘bible’ taped on the frame, that tells us when the difficult sections come. But for this hill I didn’t check it as I knew it shouldn’t be a problem.
As we were riding towards the most crucial point of the race, I got more worried about getting to the front. Everybody knows that you shouldn’t wait to move up in the peloton when you’re too much at the back. It’s got to be rule number one or almost. But for a girl (like me) that sometimes gets overwhelmed by the movements of the others and still isn’t quite sure about her own technical skills, this asks for a lot of energy and courage. ‘reaching goals happens outside of the comfort zone’ I once got told. So this is what I keep repeating in my head when I’m badly positioned. Crashes often happen at the back, it’s a matter of staying away of that area. It was now or never.
I love riding at the front of the bunch because it’s safe out there and it gives you the feeling of freedom. But it’s also where it’s stupid to hang around a lot. With your nose in the wind, you lose so much energy. Finding a way to stay in the belly of the first half of the peloton is an optimal situation. Not easy though. You sometimes get claustrophobic riding so close to the others. So what I try to do is to find a position more at the side where I can easily move up again to the front and get pulled backwards again. Just like a washing machine, the peloton moves in circles depending on which side the wind comes from. I was surprised about how much more trust I had found in the bunch, certainly this early at the season.
Ok Lara, off to the ‘Kluisberg’, to your job of the day. I tried to increase the speed of the bunch before that painful hill. Right in the wind, using way too much energy and knowing what was waiting there for me. A slow dead… And oh yes, I died painfully. Just before the top I saw the others passing me on by one. I know I completed my task but it really sucks, having the feeling that you are standing still and the rest is going fast. So I tried to hang on as long as possible. A fast downhill followed. With after that, a few km’s of crosswind where they increased the speed again and I got dropped…
Sh… I looked back, couldn’t see any riders coming. F… I thought my race was over
Jessie told me that you should never give up in a classic. Because everything is possible. She was right. A group passed me. I hang on to them. Lactate was coming out of my ears and the ‘Cote de trieu’ (hill) wasn’t helping. Holy doly, I had to dig deep to stick to that group of dropped riders. But I managed to recover just enough to also survive the ‘Patersberg’. That bloody hill is so steep that you easily pull your front wheel off the (damn) cobbles. And then those spectators. They see you struggle but don’t make a move to give just one little push. You just have too much pride to ask but in your head you bag for it. The frustrations of a cyclist in pain…
Those 3 hills with only about 3 km’s in between are killers. But then you know that the hardest part is over. I knew I would survive the 3 hills that were next. Perhaps I’m a bit like a diesel car. I get stronger deeper in the race on courses like this. So I started to make it my own race and tried catching as many girls as I could. How much fun that is!
Keep Pedalling Girl
The cobble sections were waiting. They sure are tough but I kinda love them. The more speed you are able to make, the less you feel them. They are like mini time trials. Just keep going hard in automatic pilot. Yihaa!
The last climb, the ‘Molenberg’ is a nasty one. Quit steep and whoever threw those stones around just like that, must have been a criminal! Because of the slow speed, you just bounce from one cobble to the other.
‘Keep on pedalling hard, girl’ I told myself. I could pass group after group and had the luck of a friendly team director taking me behind the car towards the last cobble section. A bigger group just in front of me! I had to hurt myself to get there and nearly got dropped again. I could feel my muscles getting really tired now but could recover just in time for the ‘Lange Munte’. A pretty good cobble section but with a lot of crosswind. Only about 5 girls were doing the work at the front. The others were just too dead to help or a bit lazy. I hate it to do nothing so I did my turns. Good asphalt was our reward and the sharp turn to the right gave us tail wind as a bonus. 20 Km’s on cruise control until the finish line. I made it.
It felt good but I was also disappointed at the same time. For sure you race as part of a team but secretly you also want a good result. Not always those two go well together. The season is still long, many chances to come! I look forward to the next cobbles at ‘Le Samyn’.
And now, time for massage…