After the Summer break, a lot of Danish races has been cancelled, so I decided to go Belgium on my own for racing and get experience with the bigger peloton (women only!) and the higher speed. Here is how it went 🙂
My first race in Belgium was an experience. I had only been sleeping around five hours, and travelling for seven hours, when reaching the town for the race three hours before the start. I didn’t know anything, so I had to find out how to register etc.
The course was around five kilometers long, had two short hills and only one real corner, but riders were braking ALL THE TIME. Like full stop braking. I didn’t like it, so I stayed in the back of the peloton with a “security distance”.
The course took us through the town center with lots of spectators which was awesome. There were to sections with a kind of cobbles, that didn’t feel too good to ride on, but it was surprisingly where I could use my strength and take some places further up the group. But, it also made bottles jump out of their cages making me have to elude a few times.
We were 116 riders and I was surprised that no one crashed. I had to close a few gaps in between, but I managed to get home with the bunch without being able to do the sprint though.
It was a fast race with an average speed of 39 km/h over 93 kilometers and faster than our normal races in Denmark, but I had no problem following, so I guess I’m stronger than last year. Nice to know 😉
After the race I drove to my Airbnb. But first I had to go to the supermarket. I wasn’t aware of the clock and when I parked the car the supermarket was closing in less than 10 minutes, so I only had time to buy bananas and an ice coffee. I figured I could shop in the morning.
I was very hungry, so I bought some take-away before going to the accommodation. When I arrived, the key to the house was not in the key box. I didn’t believe it! It was 20:30 and I was so tired.
I waited an hour and then someone opened the door for me. But the room wasn’t cleaned from the previous guest and everything was very dirty and there was a smell of smoking. Yikes!
I waited another 1,5 hours for someone to come and clean the room and bring me a key. It was 23:00 before I could go to bed. The room was still dirty though and the bathroom and kitchen also, so I decided to find something else the next day.
I was tired, stressed and not motivated this morning because of the night before. Also, the supermarkets were closed on Sundays, so I had to eat breakfast at Starbucks.
This race was more like a Danish race. A long lap of 15,5 kilometers and we had to do six of them. The start was surprisingly slow, but that was perfect for me, since I’m a slow starter and always need to get my legs warmed up in the race.
The course was technical with a lot of obstacles, narrow roads and corners. Something happened in the middle of the bunch half through the first lap and a big crash went on in front of me (yes, I was in the back again) so to avoid it I jumped to the sidewalk – phew, that was close! Another small crash happened and a few ‘how-did-they-not-crash’ incidents, so a very nervous day on the bike.
The big crash took out maybe half the peloton, including the ones being caught behind it, so I was lucky to be able to pass and regroup with the front.
Then the pace went up and at one point an attack happened in a technical part with crosswind afterwards, so someone further up the line couldn’t hold on to the wheel and then I had to close a really big gap. I managed, but I used a lot of energy on it.
Several times I tried to go to the front, but it was difficult with the narrow roads and corners all the time. I could only do it on the bigger roads in headwind. I did go to the front once, taking a lead, but when I went a little back and was surrounded of riders trying to get my position I didn’t like it and decided to stay in the back. I could “easily” hang on in the back, but it was just a waste of energy that I could have used racing in front.
It was a very hot day but I didn’t have anyone to give me bottles along the course, so I rode with two big bottles and I still had to save in the end even though it took less than 2,5 hours to race 93 kilometers.
Most of the other riders had people to give them bottles and I guess there are no rules of when and where to give them (in Denmark we have feeding zones for that which is safer, I think). I never knew when people were taking a bottle and often they lost it and it rolled on the road. I had to avoid a few of them and that is not a funny game.
After the race I returned the key for my Airbnb and drove to a house where to Swedish and one Italian rider were living. They had an extra bed I could borrow. SO NICE!! We went out for dinner in the evening with two Belgians too and it was really good to be social instead of sad and alone in a dirty room. I was happy again 🙂
I slept 10 hours!! Hallelujah guess I needed it 😊 I slept much better than last night and I was very happy to be in a much nicer place with some sweet girls, so my motivation was back, and the stress gone.
Unfortunately, I woke up to rain, so I was thinking of a good excuse not race. It had been a while, since I rode in the rain, so I didn’t feel like racing in rain at all. Luckily it cleared up in the afternoon and off I went.
The race started at 15:00 and was a circuit of only three kilometers. We were around 40 riders, so a small peloton but with some fast women from UCI teams, U23 champions and former champions.
It was mostly dry weather with some short showers and a little wind. The first lap was a “dead lap” and then we had to stop at the finish line before the race could start. I was amazed about the number of spectators and it was like there was a little town festival going on with Tivoli and stuff. Awesome!
The race went off full gas and I tried to hang on, but my back wheel felt weird and after slipping a few times I didn’t quite trust it so I took it a bit too easy in the corners. That meant that I had to use a lot of energy on closing gaps. There were also a lot of attacks, so a few times I had to close very big gaps, when someone attacked after a corner. I kept thinking I couldn’t do it, but I kept getting back to the bunch.
At one point I thought that I might as well die trying to escape than closing gaps, so I made one attack that didn’t last long, but at least I tried.
After 1,5 hours on the limit, closing one gap after another, I was out of drinks and out of power. Another gap had to be closed, but I had no more left in the tank, so instead of mission impossible, I decided to save energy for tomorrow’s race and called it the day after 60 kilometers in the hurt box.
I hate to DNF (Did Not Finish) but I wouldn’t have caught the group and would probably have been pulled out of the race in the end anyway. At least I was one of the last to let go of the decimated group to finish the race.
The last race of my little Belgium tour was a bit different than the others. The course was less than three kilometers but had a long cobbles section (and this time the real cobbles) and a section with gravel. Both sections had a 90 degrees corner, so it was a question of technique and positioning.
I was motivated to do good, but then I did the course before the start and thinking of riding on the cobbles and gravel in a big bunch was a bit frightening, so I talked myself a bit down and said to myself it would be okay to DNF because of the difficult course. Never do that! Because what happened? I did another DNF, of course. Stupid.
The lap had a wide and long road before the first corner, but I failed to fight for a position in front and was in the back from the beginning. The peloton with around 60 riders was stretched out long because of narrow roads and corners, so it was difficult to get back to the bunch, when we finally hit the wide road again.
I managed to get back a few times, but then I thought I had a puncture and used too much time on checking instead of just continuing the chase. Sometimes I don’t know if it is just in my head, when I’m not motivated or looking for a way out, that I think everything is wrong with the bike.
After that it was game over and I couldn’t catch the group again. I could ride 40 minutes and then I was pulled out of the race. Annoyed at myself, but another learning.
I am back home in Denmark now, but I already feel like going back to Belgium and race more. I want to be able to do the positioning battle and the lack of races in Denmark makes it difficult to learn. But, my piggy bank is not endless, so I must choose my travels with care.