Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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...


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