I am still adjusting to the concept of the races in Belgium finishing after bedtime. What was meant to be a 1.5hr drive to the race turned into 3hrs spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Not in the mood to race, I actually wasn’t too phased at the fact we arrived 45minutes before the start, (so about 20 minutes before everyone starts their frantic start line dash), it meant less time to ponder my abnormal life decisions.
Often the biggest thought for me “I hope I don’t get bored today”. See I don’t mind riding long distances, I will happily ride for 6+ hours on a nice adventure with friends, but the idea of doing the same 4-8k lap 12-20 times drives my mind a tad crazy! Despite racing a hideous criterium the day prior, my legs actually didn’t feel to bad on my 6 minute attempt to “warm-up”. Most likely that was just due to the lack of actual warm up occurring.
Bucketing with rain we headed off on our 99.6k race at 6:30pm. I managed to position myself well within the first few kilometres which can often be quite a frantic fight, but somehow by the time the narrow roads with the treacherous corners came I was washed well towards the back. In that time a small break managed to get up the road, and I was left remembering how stupid I was to be racing on carbon wheels in heavy rain, meaning that braking was a much harder task than usual. With my tyres pumped up to a solid 110psi it was perfect for minimising ground contact… just what we want in a euro downpour.
With some chasing by the stronger riders the break up the road was brought back by the third lap, not that I really knew what was going on, too busy concerned fearing for my life and trying to keep the dirt and water out of my eyes and mouth.
After a mass sprint for the first prime on lap 3 and another small group trying to get away but being unsuccessful, the bunch was all back together. I realised at this point if I wanted to attack, this would be a bloody good spot to. I was just far enough back to gain momentum needed to launch off the front, but decided against it, knowing we still had 74kms to go and that I shouldn’t pull another “Kerry move” (more of a thing that it should be).
Well that smart, rationalised thinking was short lasted. Whilst I didn’t launch a full-blown attack, I half arsed it and rode off the front anyway, 22.1kms into the race . My thinking was that it might be nice to get through the technical corners in my own space, but I hadn’t actually memorised the course yet, so I wasn’t fully comfortable yet.
While trying to bring the heart rate down from sky rocketing levels, a Doltcini Van-Eyk rider bridged across to me. Expecting the bunch to be right behind, I knew I had to jump on the wheel to ensure I wasn’t spat all the way to the back when they came roaring up to us. Sitting on, regaining some life in my lungs, I didn’t realise how quickly the gap was growing.
Back up to that max heart rate I went, realising I was with a rider whose team was the most represented in the race. This mean they would be prepared to work to prevent any attacks chasing us down. I lapped the Garmin as was fascinated to see how this would turn out, shocked when we made it to the 20min mark. I started shovelling in the Neapharma gels and bars, knowing I would need everything to recover from my initial jump and would hate to have the legs suddenly seize up and waste this lead we have gained. I knew we had to get out of sight as quickly as possible, yet save enough gas in the tank should that eventful moment occur where we are reeled in. Rolling turns we brought the lead up to 45 seconds and then a minute within a relatively short time, a nice confidence boost considering we still had over 60 kilometres still to go.
There were primes with 6 and 3 laps to go. I was so happy to just be leading the race and to give them to my breakaway companion, but she was kind enough to share it fair and square. As the laps count to go went down, I reminded myself if we maintained the gap until the last lap we would most likely be safe. So at 40k to go I said there was 30k left, and at 30k to go I told myself 20k. Time checks kept coming in between the 1 minute to 1:45min mark. Not wanting to get too ahead of myself, I just focused on maintaining a sustainable power and riding as aerodynamically as possible. Knowing I was on what has been scientifically proven to be THE fastest bike in the world, the ever-sexy Trek Madone 9.5 , I reminded myself the advantage was mine, so don’t waste it. Suddenly the carbon wheels at 110psi weren’t such a bad thing anymore :D.
Nervous the peloton might put in a bigger attack now that we were getting to the pointier end of the race, I said to Demmy we should really give it a proper effort in the second last lap. The peloton still had a lot of strong UCI riders including multiple World Champion Amy Cure of Wiggle Honda so I was never content with the gap. On the final lap I turned my head just to check the peloton weren’t in sight, only to get a fright seeing the “Road open car”, the car signifying the back of the race, allowing cars to enter the course. I had assumed the peloton had made a miraculous move to chase us down, yet in actual fact they had pulled the entire bunch at the 90km mark, with one lap to go, deciding that the gap was now too big and they would not catch us.
So then there were two…..
I had previously said that it would be incorrect for me to sprint for the win, considering just how much work the other rider had done. She was really surprised, asking me ‘oh are you not going to sprint?” I am certainly in this sport to maximise all opportunities presented to me, thus will always attempt to give my best, however I am not here to make bad ties and I recognise hard work and the difference between right and wrong.
Without Demmy I wouldn’t have been able to stay away and it felt wrong to take advantage of her.
Crossing the line I was thinking to myself that overall the race wasn’t ridiculously hard, however my legs we kind enough to remind me otherwise, starting to tremble and threatening to cramp, so I kept the pedals turning, not wanting to make a fool of myself crumbling in font of the crowds.
I am sure as I progress in this sport I will continue to gain strength and learn race strategy, ie not just giving away a win. However I am still very pleased as my best result from my 2018 European seasons was 22nd and to go to 2nd from that, I was unbelievably stoked. To be completely honest I doubt I would have had much chance trying to out sprint a professional rider who has been racing bikes for 10 years, but I guess we can find out next time!
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