Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lotto Belisol Ladies Tour - Part 2!

Day three of the Lotto Belisol Tour was what I was most looking forward to - as most of you know...I like flat races :)  And this race was pannekoeken (pancake) flat.  We completed 115km in 2 hours and 15 minutes - wow!  This race was all about positioning - moving up on the side walk (and Shoni getting stuck over there from construction haha), pushing through the middle of the pack and getting yelled at from again - non English speaking Angry girls haha - basically finding any way possible to make it to the front.  Shoni got the second flat for the team and was on T.V. due to her amazing mid race wheel change capabilities, and managed to get back on on the fastest lap.  I was able to be at the front for a lot of the race and went with several moves, but nothing stuck.  By the end of the race, I was so determined to get a high finishing place, and if the finish line was 500 meters sooner I would have own the race hahaha - but it wasn't, so I ended up 45th in the sprint of 131 girls.  I think it is one of those thing that you really have to get used to - and know that you will probably sprint 3 or 4 times before getting to the actual finish line.  Hopefully I can figure it out a bit better for our next bunch finish.  We made it home in time to make an amazing team dinner.  When Shoni and her hubby Will get their cookbook sorted out - make sure you make her Caesar Salad - AMAZEBALLS!  

the back of team Canada's Van - packed full...even has a washing machine

Stage 3 - having a lot of fun!
Day four was to be the most epic of days for us yet.  After trying to figure out the race profile all week - we learned that we were to race up the infamous Kapel Muur 3 times... 3 times!!!  The first time was up a more direct way, the next two were up the full cobbled, insanely steep hill - you know the one you see Fabian Cancellara dominate in the tour de Flanders - and the last time was up it half way to the top of the town.  Grrrreaaaaaat.  Not my idea of a fun day - but with Cappuccinos waiting for us in a cafe with 2 hours before the start, I developed an excitement to race.  Michel was the angel who ordered us the coffees - which were the best coffee's I have ever had...and they came with a very strong digestif ;)  We let Sean take care of those for us haha.
Sean having his alcoholic treat, and me loving my coffee :)

I am not going to lie - I was pretty sure I was not going to make it to the end of todays race.  The time cut was 10 minutes - so if you are 10 minutes behind the leaders you are cut - and 10 minutes is not very long over a 3 hour race.  I decided to race as hard as I could for as long as I could (duh!?) - and managed to go with a bunch of moves on the first lap of 40 km, and even lead the pack up one of the hills on the circuit (I hope someone got a pic of that because that needed to be documented to be believed hahaha).  We suddenly turned a sharp corner and BAM we were on cobbles climbing at least a 10% grade (it gets to over 20%).  And as soon as I thought we were going to have some relieve from the pain - we turned another corner, and another corner - going up and up and the cobbles kept getting worse and worse.  The street was lined with cheering fans - some even offering a push.  I lost contact with the front group but managed to get into the second group with the rest of my team mates.  This was a success in its self for me - I honestly did not think I would make it up with anyone.  Then came the second and third laps - and I did it!  I stayed with my team mates along with 20 or 30 other girls.  All the while keeping the front group in view.  We were so close - in the caravan - for most of the race.  It was only on the last time up the muur that my legs exploded and I couldn't chase back on again.  I had to ride the last 20 km by myself unfortunately - but managed to still finish within the 10 minute rule!  Not bad.  It may not seem that big of a feat on paper - but it gave me so much confidence to know that I can do things I originally didn't think I could.  Vero was aiming for a really good day - and unfortunately got a flat on the middle of the first climb - rode the whole way up on a flat - and most of the way down.  We all offered her our wheels but she was such a team player that she waited for the car and chased back on to the main group on her own (the cars arn't allowed up the muur because its so steep and narrow - so they meet us on the other side).  BUt we all knew that she would have been up with the top girls over the Muur - she is literally an energizer bunny on climbs.  40 more girls didn't finish todays stage - and Team Canada was one of the only teams to finish with all the riders who started. WOO HOO!

absolutely suffering the last time up the Muur

the amazing Vero - and me in the background

After the race - we packed up quickly and had a celebratory feast at home.  All the stores close really early here - so we had about 5 minutes to get groceries on the way home - and in my haste I grabbed the worst bottle of wine I (and we) have every tasted, and a huge bag of potato chips - excellent food for athletes.  Thank goodness the other girls had real food in the fridge - and we spent the rest of the evening laughing, dancing and having a great time.  This race would not have been nearly as awesome as it was without the rest of the girls on the team.
Finishing stage 4, very tired but so happy

After a long season with a lot of ups and downs this has definitely been the highlight of my year.  With the loss of my coach and mentor in the spring I had a hard time managing my training and my motivation.  My fitness was never where I knew it could be and I struggled with never gaining any confidence from my racing.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to race with the National Team, and I can't believe that in such a short time I was able to re-light the fire that used to burn so bright in side of me. 
racing with the pros

Next up is a relatively easy week - a Kermess on the weekend - and then off to Nice, France for Les Jeux de Francophonie.

Lotto Belisol Ladies Tour - Best race yet!

 The Lotto Belisol Ladies Tour was the first race we competed in over here in Belgium.  The five of us riding for Team Canada didn't know each other very well at the start of the week - but we have become amazing friends and huge fans of one another.  The team was made up of Anika Todd - the amazing TTer, Annie Forman-Mackey - yet another amazing TTer, Veronique Fortin - insane hill climber, Shoni Laxon - fellow TRT team mate and power house and myself - a lover of European racing. 

Although a few of us have raced in Europe before - it had either been a while or we had never done a race of this caliber before.  The Lotto Belisol Tour has the best women from all over the world racing for 4 days though the hilly and treacherous Belgian landscape. 

the team before our TTT
For the first two days of racing we stayed in a Sport Hall with 3 other teams - or as we originally called it - a prison.  When we arrived - we were greeted with plastic covered pillows and mattresses in a room of 5 bunk beds...eek!! I was worried we might have to share our room with another team - but thankfully we each got 2 bunks - like princesses :)  And we eventually got bedding - so our initial shock of staying in a cell was replaced with nervousness and anticipation for the race. 

team presentation - Vero,Shoni, Anika, Anie, and me!
On the day before the race there was a team presentation in Geeraardsbergen (sp?) - which is the town where stage 4 finishes.  The whole team got to go on the podium - in full kit - and smiled for pictures.  We found out that one person from each team had to answer questions while up there - and I told everyone EXPLICITLY that I did NOT want to be the person to do so.  My boyfriend always makes fun of me for answering everything with "ummm i don't know *insert giggles*".  So of course - "Sarah...flemish flemish flemish...Sarah...flemish flemish" came from the announcer.  I was the chosen one haha.  He asked me silly questions like do you like Belgium or Canada better, and what is Canada's most popular sport.  I tried to be very pro Canada - and use the word "umm" as little as possible haha.

Me getting called to answer questions
The first stage was a TTT - Team Time Trial.  Seeing as I was racing with very good TTers - I was pretty nervous.  Not only was I nervous about my fitness compared to the others - but I was delegated as the "loud mouth" - as in I was to yell if we needed to switch up rotation or if anything started to not work so well.  Well - I used my designation a little earlier then expected.  There was a steep climb about 2 minutes into the race - and I wasn't able to stay glued to the wheel infront of me - subsequently getting myself and Shoni dropped.  I yelled, and swore ( I paniced!) and yelled again - but because of our super matchy Canada TT helmets no one herd a thing.  Eventually Denise, who was following in the team car, honked so much that the girls figured out that my butt was not hooked onto their train yet.  Once we got going again Anika got an unfortunate flat - and again, no one knew until we were being honked at.  She insanely TTed back on, and after some confusion we got going - yet again.  And to finish off - we ended up taking a wrong turn with about 1km to go due to a marshal taking what seemed to be a beer break ahhh!  In any case - we managed to overcome all of our mess-ups and were only a few minutes behind the winning time - which isn't too bad if you also factor in no TT equipment and 2 less riders then on those of the bigger teams.

Day two proved to be just as daunting - not only were there 2 climbs - but there was a torrential down pour and two cobbled sections that made it feel like we were riding on ice.  Being the first big pack race in Europe all year, I was pretty nervous and not as aggressive as I know I can be - and settled into a group of about 50, along with Shoni.  I can't tell you how comforting it is to have a team mate in the same group as you - when you are surrounded by non English speaking angry girls hahaha.  Over 30 people were time cut or didn't finish this stage - so having our whole team make it through was amazing.  Veronique had a break through ride getting 12th on the stage, and Annie and Anika also showed impressive strength finishing mid pack.  After we cleaned up and got somewhat dry - we were treated to the hospitality of a local family for dinner in the town where we finished - Nijlen.  When you think of Hockey Fans in Canada - that is what people in Belgium are like with cycling.  They took our picture to put on their wall, got us to sign autograph books and made us feel like the Queens of England - it was something really special.  Speaking of England - my Aunty and Uncle came out to support me today and stayed for the next two days as well!  It was so exciting to see familiar faces and have some comforting hugs.
us waiting our start time for the TTT

I also need to say a huge thank you to the Mechanic Sean, Soigneur Michel, and Coach/Directer Denise.  They were the reason we all finished - and had smiles on our faces.  Michel has a magical bag with everything you could possibly need in it, and my bike has never worked so well thanks to Sean.  

Stay tuned for recaps of day three and four...


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We look better from Behind :)

After a long summer of racing with my hometown-super supportive - amazing team Trek Red Truck Racing, I am now in Belgium racing with the Canadian National team.  I've been here all of two days and so far so fun :)  First off - all the girls are insanely nice and incredibly funny.  Vero Fortin is especially good at turning every comment into a sexual innuendo - hence the title of this blog.  It is in reference to the new Team Canada kit and our response to pushy Dutch/Belgian girls...there is also a maple leaf where one would also find a tramp stamp...if you know what I mean.  Secondly - the staff are extremely professional and easy going.  Not only do we have a manager, but a soigneur and a mechanic!!  Normally those three positions embody just one person.  Michel - the soigneur, is French, so I get to practice all my French immersion on him. 

Annie and I mowing down on a tiny Twix Bar courtesy of Aneeka

We are staying in the Canada house, which is rented out each year for months at a time by the National Cycling team.  For me, it's claim to fame is that I am staying in the same room that THE Chris Froome stayed in while training in Belgium.  Pretty neat huh! 

this is tom boonens favorite pasta :)

So far it's been pretty uneventful as racing hasn't started, but our days seem to be filled with going to the grocery store on falling apart Czechoslovakian farm bikes, and doing Team Time Trial Training for our upcoming race.   My strength has not been in Time Trials this year - so I am relying on my Team Pursuit practice from a few years ago - piece of cake hahaha.

On a backwards note - before coming here TRT had their yearly farewell BBQ in Whistler.  The ride was pretty tough for me, but the eating of delicious BBQ-ness was pretty easy - so it all worked itself out :)  My highlight on that mini adventure was meeting Rob Feenie - Iron Chef winner...I may be an addict of the Food Network. One of the perks of being on TRT is meeting cool people, most with a great sense of humour.
went downhilling with Helena before Europe!

The HUGE bike festival - Crankworks - was going on in Whistler while we were there.  SO we spent the rest of the day slope-side watching the competition and witnessing the final rider break both femurs. Bike jumping looked tempting to try before we saw that...

Any who - must get over this jet lag and work on my beauty ... sleep!

Fun in Whistler Village :)