The start to the season proper is the Spring Classics, a series of races through Belgium and Holland that conjure images of harsh weather and tight cobbled roads. It’s hard (wo)man territory and good form must be accompanied by tenacity, smarts and a bit of luck.

The race to kick things off is the well known Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It begins and finishes in one of my favourite small cities, Gent. The first half of the race is uneventful on paper, but in real life can see the end of many riders hopes with fast and big crashes. These are purely caused by nerves and the over squeeze of a break lever on the ice-rink like roads. If you can survive the washing machine of 180-odd riders by then, the real pain begins with short steep climbs and more shudders on the cobbles than your puny cyclist arms can bear.

From the whistle I knew I would be in for a painful-but-not-in-a-good-way day. Until this point I was living on the hope that my good form from Aussie training would overcome the long week of travel I put myself through. As soon as I had to put pressure on the pedals to keep up in the neutral section my hopes were over. From then I tried to stay positive and focused, to firstly avoid any serious crashes and secondly to just enjoy the fact I was racing my bike in Belgium again.

I fought to the front many times and tried to help my team mates before the crucial sections ahead, but ultimately I was just a number that day who wasn’t part of the race. The first serious hill saw me with the reverse lights on and from there I just looked after myself so I could reach the finish with a small group and a semi-smile. Surprisingly the kilometres went by faster than I expected and I made it to the end with the love of my bike still intact.

My team mates all had varying levels of success and enjoyment, but overall it was a good start to our 2014 season. And by no small feat our “Miss Consistent” Emma Johansson claimed 2nd from a group of 3, after suffering mechanicals and a crash early on. She and the other Orica-AIS girls give me inspiration and motivation to work hard and keep getting better every day. I love it!

We decided to do our Tour of Flanders recon today instead of having a rest, because the weather forecast for the week looks miserable. It was sunny today and in Belgium you don’t argue with that! After 4 hours we were all tired but satisfied and happy to get the solar power charged before a big couple of weeks.

My next race is Hageland this weekend, so I have lots of time to recover properly from my travel from Aus (I arrived here last Thursday! Not the best preparation for racing within 2 days) and get my legs firing again.

Lastly, I just want to say a big thank you to all my amazing family and friends in Canberra who pushed me hard in training and who made me happy off the bike too. I left home with a big smile on my face after an awesome and eventful Aussie summer. Those tough days on the bike and the fun times off it will see me through the whole season.

The last day of a tour is always interesting. Sometimes GC can still change (not this time) and riders who haven’t had a good race have one last chance of glory. Minds are tired though and the nervous racing can get dangerous. One slip of concentration can end in scraping carbon and skin. Today was on of those days of a washing machine bunch, constant attacks and surges. Everyone spending their last tickets.

Our team had many good cracks at the tiring bunch, but the high speed and unfavourable wind conditions made sure we only saw the front for short periods of time. JMac got her money’s worth with the longest breakaway of the day but came back to us premature when her Russian companion decided to take a short cut. There was crashes, plenty of yelling and many swear words used in todays smash fest.

Today’s highlights: a baby burn-out in the rental; having a photo with a famous kidney (and her cool owner); shaking Eddy Merckx’s hand; sharing the podium with my favourite bike-riding girls; extra desert after dinner; enjoying a few hours in the most luxurious room in the hotel with my ladies.

 

Today’s ride stats:

Distance: 85km

Average Speed: 40km/hr

Average Normalised Power: 250Watts

Max Power: 996Watts

Average HR: 156bpm

Max HR: 190bpm

Calories: 1581

TSS: 156.8

Food/Water: 1.5 bidons (1 mix, 1  water), 2 gels (1 caffeinated, 1 normal).

Number of baklava consumed at dinner: I don’t want to talk about it.

 

Thanks to my wonderful team mates and awesome staff. I absolutely love how much fun we have on the road and how loud we laugh all day. It’s going to be a great year!

Racing in the desert is tough. It’s amazing that such flat roads can cause so much pain. When you get to the halfway point of the tour, legs are tired but moral is polarised. Riders who survived the first days and made front group are supercharged with confidence. Those riders left behind are full of self doubt and stress. Can you bear to push yourself and risk failure or a crash once again?

Today I decided that I belonged in the front group even though I hadn’t seen it to the end yet. I wish I had my gopro in those moments in the gutter. It’s pure warfare and chaos. You are wishing for it to end but wishing more that it lasts and you survive the elite selection. I hurt myself a lot today, but it didn’t hurt as much as missing the split in the previous days. I wasn’t just fighting for myself either. My comrades fought just as hard for me today and we “let it rain”.

Today’s highlights: More laughs at the breakfast and dinner table; nearly wetting my pants when Vale showed me her special handlebar note for Mel; forming a well oiled machine with the girls in the race all day; making the final front group (4 of us in 12) and doing what we love best: ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!; more baklava.

 

Today’s ride stats:

Distance: 93.8km

Average Speed: 38.2km/h

Max Speed: 61.4km/h

Average Normalised Power: 256Watts

Max Power: 912Watts

Average HR: 164bpm

Max HR: 194bpm

Calories: 1954

TSS: 192.7

Food/Water: 3.5 bidons (3 sports mix, 0.5 water), 2 gels (1 caffeine, 1 normal – too hard to eat today!)

Number of attacks in the last 8km: 3 (last one was very short lived into the headwind finish… KABOOM!)

Number of swear words used today: off the scale


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