What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think Belgium? Three weeks ago I would have said waffles and chocolate, but I have definitely added a few more images to that.
A week after BC Superweek, I was racing in Bend, Oregon with 3 other teammates (Tara rode into the yellow leader’s jersey on the second stage and held onto it, plus snagging the QOM jersey!) and found out that I was invited to attend a Cycling Canada project in Belgium. I have wanted to race in Europe for a few years now, so you can imagine there was no other choice but to say YES!
I flew into Brussels on the 29th of July and headed to Cycling Canada in Tielt-Winge (pronounce Tilt Wing-eh). It’s a small place with a very cool staircase nearby in Vlooyberg, a little grocery store a 5-minute walk away and a bar just down the road.
The racing itinerary started that Monday with a crit in Roosendaal. Criteriums here are not like criteriums in North America. Even without considering racing tactics and style, the course is longer and the timeline is longer. So this was a 60km crit. A well said visual of the course was that someone took a piece of spaghetti and dropped it and that was the course. It zigged and zagged over speed bumps and cobbles with a 180-degree corner. I specifically mention that turn because a little over halfway through I ended up crashing. The same rules apply in that you get a free lap, so I rode to the pit and got back into the race. After a few more laps, I reached for my water bottle and noticed my frame paint was chipped. I felt the frame and sure enough, there was more than just a crack, but a jagged break.
*Note to all you folks: riding a broken carbon frame over slightly bumpy terrain is probably not advisable.
That was the end of my race that day. Cool things to note was that Rabobank, Cylance and other pro team riders were competing.
That night I started to feel a headache come on and sure enough, the next day it was still there, a pressure that didn’t feel quite right. There was also whiplash pain. In the crash I had knocked my head on the ground, but when the adrenaline is coursing it’s harder to tell at the time. This benched me, so to speak, from the next three races. I had my first taste of dry-needling treatment and listened to a lot of CBC and BBC podcasts.
Not until that Sunday did I wake up without pressure and feeling like myself again.
Monday came and I was ready to race my bike again, or at least a borrowed one. J Now we were into the kermesses, which are circuit races. The distances vary, but races range from 80-100km usually. So if you have a 5km lap, then you do 16 laps to get 80km. I can certainly say that the repeated course really means you get a feel for the flow.
The races are run in little towns and you are pretty much guaranteed that there will be at least 50 other girls there to race. The prizes aren’t big, the registration is cheap and if you return your number you get some of the money back and there are always flowers and primes (they pronounce them “prim-ees). If you wanted to, you could race every night in Belgium and Netherlands. You won’t get rich from it, but you’ll be in great shape and a more confident racer.
One interesting kermesse in Brasschat was a 2.5km circuit where we did 30 laps. A section of about 300 meters was pure cobbles. The nice kind where you can see some grass sprouting in between the rocks. The whole team was in the top-20, which meant we all raced a hot-dog (a180-degree turn at each end) elimination race. Every lap, the last one across the line was eliminated and it came down to a teammate just being shy of winning the sprint. A hard race because it’s almost like doing a standing start at each end, but fun.
I started the three weeks off on a low note, but fortunately, got to end it on a high note. The final kermesse saw us do 16 laps of 5km along roads through cornfields and a quaint little town. Three of us, a teammate plus another girl and myself, got away from the group in the first third of the race and eventually had about 3 minutes on the peloton. Sara worked her ass off for me to win that race. After two failed feeds, she grabbed a bottle for me, she worked the break hard and made sure I did as little work as possible. It worked out in the end when the other girl attacked on the final lap and I stayed on her wheel until the last 200m to sprint around her for the win!
It was a dream of mine to fly over the ocean and race and to have it become reality has been amazing! I would like to personally thank VeloNB, Sheila Colbourne and the National Capital Region Cycling Bursary. Without them, this trip would not have been possible.
Also a big thank you to coaches Jenny Trew, Chris Reid and Cameron Jennings for all the help before, during and after this project!
Soon you’ll get an idea of what I’ve been up from mid-August to mid-September, but until then don’t forget to ride your bike, eat delicious food and have a great day!