The interesting and kind of unique aspect of cycling is that each race is very unique and you're highly at the mercy of the area you are in and what the race directors decide to throw at you.
And Europe is especially good at keeping you on your toes.
It's been a busy week with over 530km of racing plus warming up and cooling down, plus neutral starts (more on that situation later), plus three days of recovery rides. I'm kind of looking forward to the only one race we have coming up this week!
Anyway, back to Monday we had our first race in Belgium, GP de Dottignies a 1.2 race. Being 1.2 it's supposed to attract a bit of a smaller field but that definitely was not the case. There were over a 160 starters and really there were only 2 or 3 major teams missing. It went pretty decently for me...by the end anyway. There was a cobble section about 30-40km in to the 120km that I wasn't in great position for and with a heavy cross wind and everyone fighting for a spot on the narrow strip of smooth tarmac at one side there were holes opening up everywhere. At the end of it I was in a group a little bit off the front group. We ended up being able to get it moving pretty well and hit the circuits less than a minute down and caught back on 2 laps into the 11 we had to do. I had some shifting and wheel issues (free hub making a pleasant air horn noise when I stopped pedaling, making everyone less than pleasant towards me) but the group pretty much stayed together for a sprint finish.
Tuesday we had a nice recovery spin into a nearby town for coffee and then Wednesday headed out to the Netherlands for our first big block of racing. The races were all in the Drenthe region and were comprised the Ronde van Drenthe series of Drenste 8 van Dwingeloo (1.1) on Thursday, Unive Ronde van Drenthe (World Cup) on Saturday and Novilon Eurocup Ronde van Drenthe (1.1) on Sunday.
We only had about three hours to get to the race site but it turned into four after a flat tire on the autobus. No opportunity wasted though...
Our fearless leader DK leading us through a inpromptu yoga sesh....beware of nettles in industrial areas
So like I said, as cyclists our experience varies depending on the country we're in. In the case of Netherlands that means flat, narrow roads, cobbles and lots of wind. Makes racing different, hard and a lot about your positioning in the pack. No matter how strong you might be if the pack lines it out 150 girls wheel to wheel at 40-50kph and gaps start opening your race can be essentially over pretty quickly. And while the task of moving up and trying to stay in the top 20 girls may sound easy, let me tell you it isn't so. About 40 back the "washing machine" starts and you can spend forever going up and back and up and back over and over and over again with the same girls.
Anyway, the first race pretty much fit that bill. I had a lot of trouble moving up, combined with some bike issues and was behind the split when it opened and no one had enough horsepower left to close it back.
On to the World Cup on Saturday. There was a pretty stellar dinner and team presentation the night before (probably partially because it was joined with a men's pro race) that was complete with a drag queen.
Another side note about Netherlands; huge step up in food and accommodations from France where you're lucky if you can both identify what you are eating and it isn't white and you are sleeping in school dorms and are lucky if there a pillows. We were staying at a super fancy hotel with amazing breakfast and dinner buffets...makes life so much easier.
Ok World Cup, so a lot more of a show surrounding the race. That meant a very interesting "neutral" start that was supposed to be a 1/2 hour long. This is before a 140 km of racing and while it may be speed controlled by the front car that doesn't mean anything because everything is a fight for position. So we started inside the sports complex we had had dinner at the night before and rolled out of there (weird start to begin with, but nice because its a little bit warmer) and then did a little tour of town which included some people rushing a grocery store parking lot and nearly giving some old ladies just out to do their grocery shopping a heart attack...and then to top it all off into and out of a mall!! There was even a red carpet and red velvet roping leading us into the mall.
Riding through the mall
And then out to the start line to sit in the freezing cold for about fifteen minutes. Wonderful. So the race, basically was a positioning battle for the first 40km 'til the cobbles started. There was a crash maybe 2 km out from the cobbles which I was behind so that left a lot of us chasing back on. I was the first person not to make it onto the front group, but a group formed. We managed to eventually catch the 2nd group up the road once we got back onto the circuits in town after our first time up the "climb" which was a landfill hill. In the end I rolled in, in the group with a small group a minute ahead, for 37th.
Sunday's race wasn't super spectacular. The neutral start was again interesting. Parking was about a km away from the start/finish, so they lined us all up in a factory/warehouse for the start of the neutral start and took us off towards the start line. There we still had to sign in. Imagine 140 girls fighting to get onto a stage up a narrow metal staircase to sign a bristol board sized paper. I didn't go up and got someone else to sign for me but apparently people were pulling pens out of each others hands and pushing and shoving. Insanity. All to get to the start line first...for a 140km race. So for the race, got tangled up in a crash about 10km in but made it out with only a few scratches and bruises and got caught behind another couple. Made for a lot of chasing less than an hour into the race. Then I flatted with 10m left to go in to cobbles section and a large portion of the caravan had gone by, by the time I managed to get a wheel. I spent a lot of time in the caravan weaving my way back...thank god for it. But by the time I got back on the pack was lined out and there were splits starting to open up and that was about it for making it up much further. We eventually settled into a group once we were back into town and chased for about 40km but with UCI races there's a pretty short time window and by 100km in we were 6 minutes back of the main group and that was the end of the day. Looking at the results afterwards we were in a pretty big group; only 29 finished out of 160 starters.
We're back at home base in Belgium now for a week. Wednesday we're heading out to pre-ride the Fleche Wallone course and Saturday are heading to Netherlands for one race but for the most part just some down time to do a bit of training work and hopefully some school work.
Whew that was long. Sorry, doesn't even cover half the adventures that have occurred thus far though.