Sunday, 16 September 2012

Euro Racing

Finally have a bit of time on the hands in between biking, travelling and uni ( or as Americans would say, ‘School’) so getting onto an update.

As the US season was coming to a quick end in August, I made a swift decision to jet on over to Europe to get the most out of the 2012 season. I definitely wasn’t ready to call it a year so am very glad I opted for this choice!

I finished my US season on a good note, winning the Fast & Furious Criterium, Pleasanton, California. Awesome day on the bikes for Vanderkitten and although was a bit sad being my last US race with VK for 2012, was thrilled at how the race panned out and my team mates efforts in getting me the Win.

Following Pleasanton I had a few weeks to train it up in the Bay area with plenty of tough days in the saddle and lots of Bay group rides to help keep the hurt up.!

Mid August I was on a plane and headed for Amsterdam...and what a trip! I arrived at Schipol after a pretty cruisy flight – that was all fine but then there was catching the train with bike box, bag and other ‘crap’. Definitely tested out my ‘guns’ (*muscles)  getting on each train. After a bit of a journey and one book later I made it to Maastricht where I was met by friendly Aussies Mat Hayman, Kym Shirley and their gorgeous wee toddler Harper, good friends of my Aussie director, Jono.

I’ve had a great time staying with these guys. They’ve been such a big help and super welcoming + Harper is pretty top entertainment on a day to day basis. Also, loving the Aussie (also Kiwi) summer Barbecues – no shrimp on the Barbie yet though...

I had just over a week to get over the old jet lag and get into gear for my first big Euro Tour for 2012, The Lotto Decca UCI 2.2 in Belgium where I would be guest riding for Dutch cycling team Boretti-Ulysses; 3 days of fun...

We arrived the night before the Tour to our accommodation; guess you would call it a hostel but kind of reminded me of camp with the bunk beds, communal bathrooms and the food! Here I got to meet part of the team; Director, Frits Dickhout, handy man Edwin, Swedish gals; Sara Olssen and Johanna Nillson, Irish/Brit Lauren Creamer and Brit Tamina Oliver + very helpful partner Steve. Joining us later would be Miss Penny Rowson and Hannah Walker - both English girls. (A Dutch team with no Dutch riders)! I was very glad to arrive to good company and friendly team mates. No one was too impressed with night one pre race dinner however...a lovely Belgian dish of sausages, gravy and Spinach mash (green slop)! 

Day 1 was a bit of a surprise – 158 starters! I knew what to expect as I’ve seen it and done it before in 2010 when I spent part of the season racing for Dutch team, SwaboLadies. It’s full gas from the gun and doesn’t stop! No dilly dallying around with these girls that’s for sure!

The race was flat as a pancake and the winds were up there so I knew it’d be quick.
As soon as we set off it all started coming back to me – the elbows were out everywhere, the fight for that wheel and the dash to get into position was on – CHAOS to say the least!
I had to take a wee breather and get myself together after the first few km. From then I switched that ‘worry’ trigger and 'what the heck am I doing here'! off in my head and got right on in there with them.

I was feeling great, on fire even, so got into aggressive mode and started flying some attacks and following moves. A few may have been silly or pointless but I was in the position where there was nothing to lose so why not go for it...After multiple tries I got myself into a break of 5 or 6 riders. We only stayed away for just under a lap of the race. Luckily I still felt pretty strong and managed to hold it together. After over 100km the sprint to the finish was just pure craziness! Girls tapping butts and elbowing all over the show – I got out of it and gassed into the wind up the left – bit too much energy expended but was happy to finish SAFE in 13th.

From day one it only got better and after another flat day into big winds, on a fairly technical course I came in 6th. Big name Kirsten Wild won her second consecutive stage and held the GC lead. I moved into 2nd in the young rider classification and with one day to go knew I’d have to step up my game.

The final day was definitely last but not least. A tough course set to ride twice up the paved side of the MUUR (a famous Belgian climb) and twice up the cobbled side + 5 x up a nasty cobbled drive including the finish...PAIN CAVE!

I wasn’t as alert today and didn't make the very early race break that went clear with around ten riders. I missed it but wasn’t too worried as Kirsten and the other main GC contenders were still back in the peleton. After several times up the Muur the field had really shred and the gap to the break was thinning down. I was definitely suffering but really dug deep to hang in there with the leading chase.

On the final lap we at last caught the break after AA-Drink nailed it on the front to get Kirsten back up there.
Once we caught them, attacks were flying from all directions and without team mates there it made it a bit tough to pick the right one. I went with multiple moves to go for the stage win but in the end missed the winning move of Ellen Van Dyk (Specialized Lululemon), Liesbeth DeVocht (Rabobank) and Lisa B (Specialized Lululemon). Although disappointed to miss this, my main goal was to snatch the young riders classification. I ended up winning the bunch kick up the final cobbles to take 4th on the stage and the young riders class + moved into 5th in the overall general classification. Was stoked to say the least! Big ups to Ellen Van Dyk and team Specialized Lululemon for taking the win. Very impressive team work.

Post Lotto Decca it was back to Belgium – a shift to Mat and Kym’s sweet new pad, some down time and training around Limburg. I also got some great news that I’d been given the nod to race the World champs road race - so definitely made my week! 

Next big Tour to check off was the Tour de L’Ardeche. Another UCI tour but this time South of France. We kicked off things with a pretty epic 12 hour drive in the Boretti team car. The car trip began early so involved little chat and a lot of ‘beauty sleep’ for us girls; myself, Sara and Johanna! The Swedish 'beats' were yet to come out!

We arrived to a beautiful Ardeche sunset where I met new team mate and total character Marjetka Conradi and her bif who was a great help all week, Mark. We then rolled out for a quick spin into the sunset before settling in for the week at our highly rated holiday camp ground – definitely an up grade from Lotto Decca!!

From left: Johanna, Penny, Marjetka, me and Sara

Just a quick recap on how the tour went down...
Ardeche began with a quick wee 2.4km prologue and this was only just the beginning of a whole lot of pain and suffering! Following the prologue the tour consisted of 6 stages over 5 days including one double day with a quick but technical ITT.

The first few days wern’t fantastic for me, I had some bad luck with missing a very early break (around 5km in)! on stage one that was pretty much the ‘winning move’ of the whole tour! So all GC hopes were put away following that but gave me a good incentive to really go for the stages.
Good lesson learnt !! Be alert and race ready from the word go!!

Stage 3  I got caught behind a bugger of a crash just coming into the first big 15km climb of the day – so spent a lot of time chasing, including down the crazy fun 20km decent!

Each day got better from here. Coming into stage 4’s crazy 128km day I was a bit apprehensive. The profile was off the charts crazy! All UP/DOWN – no kidding! I really didn’t no how I’d get on and after the last few days my moral was a little low.


The stage began at the base, (yes right at the base) of a lovely 10km climb – JOY!
I’m usually one to take a while to get into a race so wasn’t surprised to feel crappy in the first few km. To have every rider around you scrambling for a wheel to get into position and UPhill was a real challenge and kind of got the better of me mentally. I took a deep few breaths though and chilled out a bit and after a few km got myself into a good rhythm. This really seemed to work out and I ended up feeling great up the climb and working my way back up to the second group just behind the leading group of prestigious climbers including the likes of Emma Pooley and Ashleigh Moolman.

From climb one it was do or die. On this stage you not only had to climb ok but you needed to be able to descend. Following each epic climb came an almost as epic descent. FUN but had to be mentally alert 24/7!

After  a lot of hard work and some great chasing with the Lotto Belisol girls we at long last caught the leaders. At this point we’d climbed over 45km and I was absolutely smashed. Nonetheless I was thrilled to have caught them and knew If  I could hang in there til the finish I’d have a good shot at the stage. So I got some gels in, refuelled and got the head functioning again! I managed to hold on and coming into the last flat 10k (only flat of the stage)! I felt strong. Attacks were going to try and take the stage and I went with a few moves – was a bit challenging again having no team mates to help cover but I felt confident I could go with a few and still be ok if it came to a sprint.
Coming into the final few km I found Joelle Numainville's (top Canadian sprinter & all round classy rider) wheel and tried to hold it through the chaos. I got a bit caught up coming into the final km and ended up going pretty early. Was very pleased to hold it to finish 3rd in the stage though and take my first European UCI podium placing on a stage.

The following stages were just as brutal and it was all about the elite climbers. Stage 5 I decided my best bet would be to get up the road before the first big climb of the day as I knew the prestige group of climbers and GC goers would be putting the hurt on hard! Unfortunately, the break went at around 10km and I waited a little too long to get with it. I ended up going and spending a lot of effort to get up to it, catching it right at the base of a climb – not so fun!! I hit a wall hard and found myself in no mans land in the middle of the break and the peleton with another rider for over 20km. Once I knew we couldn’t catch them we decided our best bet was to push hard to get over the big 15km climb – this worked out perfectly as the small leading group caught us right at the top and most of the field had been dropped. Now all I had to do was hang in there and hope that we caught the break.

We ended up catching most of the breakaway as it fell apart but several leaders stayed away and Carla Ryan of AADrink took the stage as she went away solo . Fantastic effort on her behalf as was a tough stage and killer finish up a nasty kicker of a climb!

I managed to finish top 20 so wasn’t too bad an effort – by the finish was absolutely done though! Was very proud of all the Boretti girls making it through to the finish in good time also - great effort.

We decided to bail on the post race meal provided and opt for some delish French Pizza - SO good  & well deserved!!

The final day was just a ‘hang on for dear life’ stage for me. The profile was again very challenging with multiple very steep kicks. The legs and body were not too happy to be back on the bike !!! I managed to hang in the chase group behind the Emma Pooley group of ten riders and finish top 20 on the stage and general classification - so on a fairly good note.  To finish this tour alone was a fantastic achievement for all riders who did – Pain was definitely NOT temporary throughout as it just kept coming ;) I taught the Boretti girls the old HTFU (Harden the F**k Up) quote which I hoped helped at some points during the tour, as it usually tends to push me on a little further! 

My respect for the Tour de France riders has always been high but that respect increased a lot more after racing this tour - France sure does have some nasty climbs  and back to back constant battles up them is tough ! Much appreciated scenery POST race though that's for sure :)

We finished up the tour with a swim in the lake, a team dinner and a bit of fun – The Boretti’s were a good crew and I had a great few weeks of racing with them – so THANKS & danjewel Frits, girls, Mark, Steve and Edwin. It’s always nice racing in a relaxed, easy going environment. Great racing and a lot of fun along the way!

We made sure Frits and right hand man Mark, knew how much we appreciated their help by  setting this  up  before the last stage - it stayed on through the convoy to the end!

Now it’s been back to Belgie for some much needed R&R, some cruisy recovery rides, plenty of coffee hanging out with the Haymans, a bit of time checking out the worlds course and browsing Maastricht city.

I've just arrived last night to Valkenburg where I’ll be staying with the NZ team for the week leading up to Worlds. 
It's my Birthday today and I woke up to a nice bunch of facebook messages & emails from friends back home and Stateside - has made my day so THANKS - and what better way to spend a Bday in Europe, livin' the dream ( 'my' dream as my friend Amy would correct)! Post worlds I'll have to celebrate properly in true Euro style!

 The women's race is on this Saturday the 22nd at 2.30pm (NL) and should be live streamed for anyone keen to cheer for the kiwis! (yet to find the link...) Looking forward to it.! (Check for other info on the event).

Ciao for now or tot ziens! 


ALSO - big cheers to Jono Coulter, Vanderkitten-Focus, Lou&Dan and the Haymans + Core Builders Composite and VK team sponsors; Vanderkitten Athletics, FOCUS Bikes, Kask, Vittoria Cycling Shoes, Smith Optics, Chamois Buttr', Nuun, Kenda, JLVelo, Defeet, Rocktape &TRP. Your support is much appreciated!

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