It’s difficult to believe that it was almost 7 months ago that I opened the door to my room in Geleen. I pretty much wanted to book my flight straight home when I saw the tiny residence-style room I would be living in for over half a year. Even on my first ride, into the famous town of Valkenburg and up and over the legendary Cauberg, all I could really focus on was the overwhelming amounts of traffic furniture along the haphazard bike lanes.
I hadn’t even settled in before I lined up for my first race, one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. It wasn’t easy racing against teams that I would be watching a few weeks later in Amstel Gold and throughout the Belgian Classics calendar. As we rolled off the start onto my first stretch of cobbles I remember thinking, “try not to die.” The speed at which people move around the bunch and hop over traffic furniture and use bike lanes was hardly comprehensible. Coupled with the physical speed the guys could ride out of the corners, meant that I was cramping and limping back to the start/finish after 100km. I knew then I had a lot to learn…
The shock and excitement of the first part of the season was the easy part; I had a constant reason for not performing: I was new. To me, each race was crazy and it seemed I was making more mistakes than I was doing things right but my formgradually improved and I started to finish races, plus I got used to seeing and riding with well accomplished Pro Tour riders and teams. The constant racing was motivating and, with good weather and great training roads, I rolled in a few top 20s before my mid-season break.
After a week off, a few races, and a trip to Girona for some much needed sun, I was ready for the rest of the year. Minus one small detail…I was creeping. My poor legs met with non-stop rain, howling winds and tough races. I wasn’t getting very far. I felt like I was hitting a wall. I felt like I was making the same mistakes over and over again. As if watching the peloton ride away and disappear wasn’t depressing enough, the remainder of my afternoon was spent sitting in the team vehicle watching the race go past. Somehow these low moments have to turn into motivation to get out and train in the rain. A few of us went through this rough patch together which helped, especially when a teammate simply pointed out, if something is not working go back and change it.
That was the turning point for my season. I went back and did the thing I know best: intervals. Slowly the numbers on my Powertap moved upwards and into the PB area. With the form came progress and suddenly I wasn’t standing on the start line worrying about distance, I was looking froward to it. I was no longer happy just to finish and I set my sights further up the pack. My new approach brought me to the 3 races I am most proud of during the season, each demonstrating a different sense of improvement.
Viane was a hilly pro kermis that included cobbles, some short climbs, and a constant crosswind. I bonked hard with 32km to go, hanging on for dear life I had to ride myself back to the field on multiple occasions. Finishing a tough race under tougher conditions and in a greatly diminished bunch was an achievement that proved to myself I was progressing.
GP Thesselonki was a mountainous race in Greece where I was on the offensive. Although a weaker field than I was use to, I was able to make moves that mattered over a 5 hour day. Suffering over a 20km climb at the end for 13th, just off the back of the break, was a nice reunion with hilly terrain.
Belare was fast. You know a race is fast when the only dirty gears on your cluster are the hardest 3. I was in a break trying to cross to the leaders, comfortable among the pro-continental riders I was lapping through with. Finally, I wasn’t the guy struggling to hold the wheel and being outclassed by professional riders. I was lapping through with some “hammers,” as the guys like to say.
A European season is tough. Tough beyond anything I imagined. It’s the tough races, the weather and a relentless long season that leaves you stripped and deeply tired. As I recover in Canada, one thing keeps coming through loud and clear: that was quite a ride, in fact that was a lot of fun.