The Omloop het Waasland was my first race in Europe. The race started in Ghent, Belgium and consisted of 2 laps of a 25km circuit, 1 lap of a 27km circuit, and 9 laps of a 12km circuit, totalling 190km. Before the race even began, I felt a little like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz…. I definitely wasn’t in South Africa anymore!

Dorothy figured she was over the rainbow, and I had definitely arrived in my own dream land, but unlike Oz, I was in the world of UCI 1.2 racing. I was initially struck by the size of the teams. Each team had busses and trucks filled with bikes and wheels, mechanics busy setting up and fixing bikes, and soigneurs rubbing warm up oil on any legs they could find. Marco Polo was no different and everyone on the team quickly slotted in to their pre-race routines. I remained quietly stunned.

After some photos and signatures for some members of the crowd (another new experience), I went to sign on. Sign-on was another new world. Each team is presented on a podium…and that’s when it hit me…This was really the pro ranks. I watched as the mixture of pro-continental teams, such as Topsport Vlaanderen and Landbouw Krediet, were introduced along with other continental and major club teams, including An Post and Lotto Belisol U23. Yep, definitely not in South Africa anymore!

Before I knew it, the race had started and I found myself sprinting as hard as I could out of every corner and battling to avoid cobblestones. The racing style was so different from what I was used to I could hardly process that realization during the race. Every corner is a full out sprint. Every sprint is faster than the one before. The bunch was huge but it operated in the fashion of organized chaos. Jumping on and off pavements and tackling cobblestones is a lot less intimidating when you realize everyone in the bunch can handle their bike.

Of the 190km, I survived a total 100km. Although only a little over halfway, I was pleased with the effort. I walked away having learned and experienced a lot. Not only did I race on cobblestones for the first time, but holding a better bunch position will put me in a better positions for the corners. On top of technical lessons, I was also glad to have my first European race under my belt. The unfamiliar can be tough to deal with, so with my first race done I know more of what to expect in future races. Knowing where I stand makes me more settled and ready for what is to come.

I’m looking forward to our next race in the south-west Netherlands this Sunday, but I think its safe to say I will never forget my first European race.  As Dorothy said, “there’s no place like home”, but right now I’m thriving off the challenging road that lies ahead in the rest of the upcoming season. Next stop, Woensdrecht!