You couldn’t be mistaken for what country you were in today at the start of Stage 2 of the Lotto Belisol Tour. It was grey, cool, windy and gusts of rain were stinging our faces as if to warn us of the crazy race ahead. We covered 9 laps of a 12.2km course starting and finishing in the town of Angreau in the Wollonie region of Belgium. Though sprinter Kirsten Wild took the win in a bunch sprint, it was a tough day on the road and was open for anyone to take advantage of the course and conditions. Our team rode really well and aggressively and we could tell that we put a lot of pressure on the other strong teams. Emma was a close 2nd and showed that she is still on great form.
It was a relatively late start at 3pm and I was actually shivering on the start line! It feels like a long time ago that I was cold, but I remember how terribly freezing our Spring season was and then shivered a little less. I was lucky to be able to start on the front line because of my national jersey as we knew it was going to be a hard race from the gun. I wore a “capeletto” underneath my helmet and had cut the top out of it so I wasn’t too hot. I find these cycling caps help enormously when it’s raining as they protect your eyes from the rain and the dirty water that flies off rider’s rear wheels. It is miserable when you are not only wet and cold but can’t see as well!
It was raining and the roads were wet and slippery in the first few laps. We were trying to stay quiet and watch for attacks in the first two laps before beginning our offensive race plan. There were a few attacks from other teams but we were all well positioned and not in danger of missing anything. Once we began the 3rd lap I found a good opportunity to make my first attack. I was brought back fairly quickly but I knew the bunch now had the taste of what was to make up the remainder of the race. As a team we probably made the most attacks, but there were plenty of other riders trying to have a good go too. Jessie and Loes picked lots of good moments to attack, Emma was always strong and attacked on the small uphills and Nettie also did a great job in the first half of the race and even braved going back to the car for bidons. I found some more good moments and even had a good breakaway going over the cobbles! Unfortunately we lost Gu early on as she was caught behind a few crashes and could never catch up to the main bunch.
The rain eased for the middle majority of the race but once we came into the bell lap it was coming down again hard and the roads began to flood. There were moments where I felt like I had a flat tire because of how slippery the roads were. The course was technical enough that you had to always be near the front to stay out of trouble. The corners were not too tight but there were plenty of cracks in the road (including the ever-feared death valleys in the middle!) and there were two cobbled sections: one small narrow section before the main climb and one other about 4km from the finish that was a bit longer (the same section we had to cover in the TTT). All these factors to concentrate on, plus our plan to attack lots and hurt the other teams, made the race go very quickly.
Lululemon was defending their lead and making sure no threatening riders were getting away so none of us got very far even with a good small group to work with. Although it was frustrating to not get away it was also encouraging to us that we could tell they and other teams were getting tired. My legs felt pretty bad all day but I knew that others were hurting too and that our efforts could pay off in the next two days. I died on the last lap and dragged my bike along the last 10km on the back of the main bunch. I tried to make it back to the front to help Emma but my legs weren’t in agreement!
We are tired but happy after a tough day of racing. Looking at my bike computer data I saw that it really was a hard day and that made me feel better about feeling the sting in my legs from the TTT the day before. It was clear that we put some good pressure on the other main teams and I think the next two days will be very exciting racing. Stay tuned!