We began our tour in Belgium the hard way (not that there is really an easy way in cycling) with a teams time trial. We were to cover 19.75km in a point-to-point course that was unsurprisingly more technical than our race program suggested. After taking a few good lessons from the team’s performance in the TTT in Sweden last week we had quite a good race today to finish 2nd behind the uber-strong Lululemon team only 35″ behind.
Unfortunately for us we only started with 6 riders for this tour, not knowing you could start with 7. But we can give our DS Macca credit for that… he has devised a perfect race calendar for the team leading into worlds that should see everyone going their best when it counts! We quickly forgot our disadvantage and kept a positive focus on the demands of the day. All of us took our speed-machines for a run through over the course before the race so we could see the roads, corners, hills and anything else that may be deemed important (read dangerous) and practice a few crucial TTT skills to maximise our efficiency. We haven’t had much practice on the road together so it felt like a cram session before a big exam.
I was fairly nervous all day leading up to the whistle. Was I fit and strong enough? Were my skills up to scratch? I am really motivated to make the final team for the world champs and knew that this was a make or break day for my selection. I wished that I had had more opportunity to practice with my team mates in training and racing, but knew that most of us are in the same boat and just have to do the best we can.
Our practice ride over the course didn’t help my nerves! Though we were rolling through much slower than race pace I felt unconfident on my unfamiliar bike and to add this to the typical rough Belgian roads with cracks and holes everywhere plus the corners and hills… I was scared! My legs and body felt good though and I was positive that I could push my physical limits after a good block of training following my last tour.
Time went quickly from then on as we had to drive back to the start, have another quick team meeting to finalise a few decisions, get into our very tight skin suits, warm up on the ergs and then make it to the start and get our bikes checked before our start time. The rider order was to be Loes, myself, Emma, Jessie, Nettie and then Gu. The time is taken on the 4th rider to cross the finish line, but it’s good to keep everyone for as long as possible!
The course was fairly technical with lots of corners, rough surfaces and even a 300m cobbled section. From my very blurry memory I think we did a pretty good job with choosing the right lines. A TTT is much different to an individual TT because everyone has to make it safely and smoothly through all the corners. If there is any wind, you have to make sure to leave room for the riders following you and this might mean you wouldn’t take a normal “race line”. You don’t want to put your team mates into the gutter or drop them!
I pulled shorter turns and our super strong girls Loes and Emma took longer turns. It’s important not to change the speed too much to ensure everyone can maintain their threshold. If one rider is feeling a lot better then she must take a longer turn rather than surging through and hurting everyone else behind. I am still trying to find my time-trialling legs so I was in some serious pain for a lot of the ride! But I tried to remember lots of wise words from some people close to me and “embrace the pain” knowing it would be over before too long.
We lost Gu within the first 5km which was earlier than we’d hoped but she had done a good job until then. She is definitely getting stronger and stronger with each race! The rest of us rotated through fairly smoothly and by the halfway point Loes and Emma started to take their longer turns while the three of us just tried not to blow. Jessie had to skip a rotation and then we lost her with about 5km to go. It was then crucial to keep smooth so we didn’t lose any more riders. We actually lost a few seconds when there was two ambulances coming in the opposite direction on the supposedly closed road, and then had to brake a few seconds later when a car in front of us had slowed down. Then near the finish there was another vehicle stopped on the road! We all yelled very loudly to warn each other and luckily there were no accidents, but it’s not what you want to deal with when you are already concentrating on the job at hand.
Knowing it was only a short way to the finish and that I had to keep up for the team made it easier to dig deep. The wave of lactic acid had somewhat passed and though my legs were getting sore I felt more in control and dug deep over the last hill to the finish. I couldn’t have gotten out of my saddle if I tried in those last 500m on an uphill drag! I crossed the line with crossed eyes and a torrent of sweat pouring out of my helmet.
It’s hard to describe that funny feeling when you do an effort like that. The whole time in the race you are fighting with your brain and your body and questioning yourself. But when you cross that line and you know you’ve done well, you feel so happy and in love with the sport that you forget those bad thoughts and want to do it all over again. And you think to yourself “I could have gone faster!” when you truly know you were on your limits. I guess this is why we keep racing!
I am really pleased with the team’s result and also my own efforts. I know I still have much to improve on but at least I am on the right track and know that my form is definitely on schedule leading in to the ultimate weeks of the season. Now I can relax (a little) and get excited about the next three days of Belgian racing. It’s scary, fast and dangerous but I love it.