This late winter/spring we had the opportunity to do some of the famous spring classics: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Belgium), Omloop Van Het Hageland (Belgium), La Samyn Des Dames (Belgium), Ronde Van Drenthe (Netherlands), and Drentse Acht Van Westerveld (Netherlands). These were all firsts for me. I had the experience of doing small local races in Switzerland one summer when I was 21, but I had not done any European racing since. The spring classics are notoriously challenging for their narrow roads, cobbles, wind, cold, rain, and huge field sizes.
Most Americans really struggle when they first go race in Europe and it takes awhile to understand the flow of the peloton in comparison to U.S. racing..I definitely, and unashamedly, fell into that category! I think this gives you two attitudes to go into these races: 1) the easy attitude is to judge yourself and your performance which ends with you leaving Europe discouraged or 2) the hard attitude to is go in with an open mind and challenge yourself but without too much judgement if and when you fail.
Although I finished zero races due to everything from mechanical from the cobbles to being too far back and gaps opening up in the crosswinds, I learned a ton every single race…knowledge that I get to take with me to U.S. races this year starting with Redlands in May. My reminders and take-aways were:
- Control: You can’t control the weather, random sleepless nights, getting a swollen toe, or having a mechanical in the race. I don’t get particularly nervous before races or upset when things happen, but it’s always a good reminder to just focus on the controllable things and not let the rest bother you…and if you need to let it bother you, let it bother you for 30 seconds and then move on.
- Positioning, positioning, positioning: with our wide open roads in the U.S. it’s easy to move around in the field, but it still wastes energy. I nervously was too far back in the peloton in Europe too often and with the narrow roads and high winds, multiple races ended for me when I was gapped off and unable to close it or work with others to close it.
- Challenge yourself realistically: Where I struggled, I went into each race with an open mind and tried to challenge myself to do a better job. Yesterday’s experience has no bearing on today’s possibility of success. Sometimes you have to celebrate the micro-victories. I like that our DS Mary encourages us to walk away from each experience learning something. Having teammates with more experience and great advice helps too.
- Enjoy the journey: Even if I wasn’t getting the results I wanted or even finishing, I tried to be present and enjoy the fact that I am physcially capable to participate and had the opportunity to compete at such a high level. Off the bike, it was also a blast to explore new-to-me cultures and ride in new countries!
This little nuggets are great reminders in all areas of life…whether facing a disappointing set-back at work or personally…challenge yourself, love yourself, and enjoy the journey.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing how my team does at Tour of the Gila while preparing for Redlands Bicycle Classic!