Letters Home: Racing Abroad BLOG - Innings Beginnings
The turn of the month, on the weekend of the Tour of Flanders, marked the passing of one month in my racing season and, as always, it has been a mixture of positives and negative feelings, emotions, condition and varying success.
I arrived in Belgium, delayed after English prescribed physio, in a bit of a slump after having spent 10 days off the bike with a minor knee injury, at the end of February. Despite being out of sorts mentally and physically, I was notified the night before Brussel-Zepperen, that I would be riding the brutal early season amateur race. It was hard, but harder than I expected, and I felt worse than I was expecting too.
Some lab testing confirmed that something was up, as despite showing test results of being better trained than last year, I was only able to put out 20 watts less in the test... Confused? I was too, and a bit worried as I did feel terrible. I was booked in for a blood test, but put on iron supplements in the mean time, and as luck would have it, that was apparently the root of the problem! Once semi-accidentally addressed, I felt better every day and have progressed in one month to what is now the best shape I think I’ve probably been in.
For two years I have gone to races expecting a punishing, fruitless 3 hours, getting in breakaways from time to time by following the right wheels, but with no great expectation and generally thinking, “I hope this isn’t too hard”. In the last two weeks that mentality seems to have been left behind, though. I still know that it’s going to hurt, and will more often than not come away with nothing, but I have a confidence in my capabilities that hasn’t been there before, at least not while I’ve been in Belgium.
It seems two years of hanging on has dented my tactical nous at the business end of things though, as I’ve missed the winning break in the last 2 races and walked away dissatisfied and frustrated; as clear an example as any that bike races are more often than not won by the clever, not the strong. Those that win at the highest level have so much of each that it leaves mere mortals like me in disbelief. The other undoubted key ingredient of success is confidence, something which at the moment I am on the cusp of getting a spoonful of. I know I’m capable of winning now, at least. Never before has the term “easier said than done” felt more applicable!
Due to the slow start, I’ve only notched up 5 race days so far. A little less than expected for this point in the season, but with an aim to be competitive for the whole season (as opposed to the usual crack point of August), keeping a lid on things is probably advisable for now. Once the Kermis season is in full swing I’ll start to race two or even three times a week, which will more than likely be from late May onwards, in the overcast, anti-climatic throngs of the Belgian summer.
The next two weeks bring with them two big outings for the team, and hopefully me, at Zellik-Galmaarden, and GP Roeselare, the former being a TopCompetition race and UCI 1.2 which tops the Muur twice and the Bosberg thrice, the latter a Cup of Belgium event which takes in two summits of the Kemmelberg. The next couple of races after these are both TopCompetition races, and held in the Ardennes, so perhaps not best suited. Once in the gutter, dragging myself over the cobbles of Kemmel, I will I’m sure be doubting the suitability of that terrain too! I need to get in the team first though, something which as you ascend the cycling ladder naturally becomes increasingly hard to do. With a fully fit squad, and some already taking wins, competition for spots can be quite intense.
Off the bike you can’t really help but be entertained in Belgium at this time of year with the amount of bike races on to go and watch. We’ve had a great few days out “race chasing” E3 Prijs, KBK and of course Vlaanderen’s Mooiste, The Tour of Flanders. With Flanders, when I say “chasing”, of course what I really mean is perching on the Kwaremont and turning my head between road, portable TV, and free Panos pastries, but it’s probably just as fun. The course change isn’t all bad, and I even had the blasphemous cheek to state that while filming a typically bizarre Belgian TV show on the subject when out on a team training ride.
April and May could be quite decisive then, as I seem to be at the deciding point of another peak or trough. One good result could send me off on a successful spell of racing, a few more episodes of failing to grab chances could have me down in the doldrums. One thing’s for sure, if that does happen I should probably stop reading books about cycling around the world in case I do something silly!
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