Arriving in Belgium
After a long double flight trip across continents it was a surreal feeling walking outside into the warm weather of Belgium, the home of Cycling. Our group was tired from travel but motivated to kick off this adventure. After settling into our little house in a small town called Brakel about 10mins out of Oudenaarde, the ten of us (Josie, Alex, Ruby, Sarah, Sophie, Catelyn, Neve, Maeve, Sam and myself) went out for an easy spin to get rid of our ‘travel legs’.
It had been a long time since I went for a ride in only my knicks and jersey and could soak up the vitamin D. The first thing I noticed about riding in Belgium was the constant bike lane and separate cycling paths where riders could be separated from the traffic, and the small sections where riders and drivers shared the road they did so with utmost respect for each other. The cycling culture obviously has an amazing impact on the country.
Shortly after arriving back to our new home, our DS and team mum Donna picked up some fresh bread which is a necessity in Belgium, especially when dipped in some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This would be the basis of many of our lunches for the remainder of the trip, and a great source of fuel for the bike.
After a few days of easy aerobic riding and once we were cleared of our jet lag, it was time to race. Our first race as a group was a local Belgium kermesse. The race was 88km and consisted of 16 5km laps of a technical course including multiple cobbled sections, tram lines and corners. Around 95 riders rocked up to the event and the pace was on from the beginning. Although I didn’t contest much in the sprint finish, the race provided much of a learning experience regarding skills and riding in an actual peloton. It was a great race to kick off our racing block!
The Final Weeks in Belgium
It had been a couple of busy but fulfilling weeks of racing, with the senior girls completing a tough BeNe tour and us younger girls finishing off a series of successful junior races. We had moved to our final accommodation of the trip; a share house minutes from the heart of Oudenaarde.
We had a couple of days to relax before a busy final week of racing. These days often started at ‘pro hours’, heading out on a ride along the local bike paths. One that we often rode was the Schelde, a road that ran along the Schelde river where cars weren’t allowed. While very flat, it offered beautiful scenery and a peaceful ride without having to worry about traffic.
The afternoons on these days were usually spent hiding from the Belgian heatwave, with several days about 35 degrees and a max of 40 degrees – Quite the change from the cold Tassie winter! I spent these days doing (little) college homework, exploring Oudenaarde and just relaxing before the next block of racing.
A highlight of these racing days was the Lierde kermesse, which poured with rain for the entire duration of the race. Some of our girls managed to get up the road and managed to stay away, with Alex and Josie picking up 1st and 3rd respectively. I was able to gain invaluable experience in the racing about bunch positioning and working as a team over these races.
After several days of racing it was time to be a tourist. A group of us visited the stunning city of Brugge. Horses would trot past as you walked, with chocolate shops and souvenir shops around every corner. We were given a short tour of the town by ex-pro Loren Rowney before heading off in small groups. We spent several hours sampling the delicious Belgian chocolate, buying presents for home and admiring the old buildings.
The next couple of days would be plagued by sickness for me, but I was lucky in that I was well enough to race the final race of the trip at Erpe-Mere. Neve and I rode the junior race before cheering the senior girls on in their road race. When we got home, we celebrated our journey with a healthy dinner of frites and mayo finished with a dessert of speculoose ice cream.
The next day it was time to pack our bags and leave Belgium behind. We took away many memories, invaluable racing experience and many overweight bags!