3 races in Belgium – Stacey’s 2nd blog

3 races in Belgium

If I’m perfectly honest, my first race was not at all what I was expecting. Despite having raced in Europe before, and having already been in Belgium for a week prior, I was still feeling the effects of jet-lag. I was tired, unable to push myself and get my heart rate up, and was not yet used to the cold. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t. I had only ridden my ‘cross bike a couple of times recently as prior to heading to Belgium, I was either training on the road, or doing nothing. The four-week lead up to my trip involved one week of having a cold, and three weeks of stress and minimal training as I pushed to finish my degree before leaving. Not only that, I decided to throw a super-early christmas party for my family, and pack for three-months away. When I look back on that now, I’m able to see that I wasn’t prepared, however, at the time, I just wanted to race.

The first race in Hamme – a UCI C1 race, I had a decent call-up and was starting on the third row behind some incredible riders including Sanne Cant, Katie Compton, and Ellen Noble. I’m constantly amazed by these riders and still find it hard to fathom that I get to line up in the same race as them. That said, when the lights went green to signal the start of the race, I didn’t get my foot in my pedal for a good 50 metres – something imperative for a cyclocross start. That immediately put me at the back of the field, and that is where I stayed. I felt out of my depths and struggled to push myself. Typically, in Australia I will race my heart and legs out until I have nothing left, but this race, I felt like I was just riding around the course, not racing.

That first race caused me to do a lot of reflecting. The lessons I took out of it were: get your foot in your pedal, make better decisions (such as when to run, or when to ride), push a whole lot harder, be far more aggressive (particularly at the start), be more organised and prepared, and believe in yourself.

This brought me to my next race, a UCI C1 in Hasselt. I organised everything for the race the day before. I had my kit in separate bags – race kit, start/finish line kit, course practice kit, and clothes for after. I made my food for the day, including dinner, and I wrote down my day step-by-step. I practiced my warm up, and I knew when I needed to eat, get changed, and get on the trainer. I was much better organised and felt excited for a good race. I had a great start, and a good first lap but that was just about it. The rest of the race was a hard slog – running up a sand-wall and running a long mud section felt like it was going to kill me. I lost so much time on both of those sections and was alone for majority of the race. I was looking forward to a good race but this wasn’t to be.

That led me to my third race, Zilvermeercross Mol – a UCI C2 race, where I was determined to do better than the day before in Hasselt. There was so much sand, but in course practice I noticed I was riding long sand sections that other girls weren’t. That boosted my confidence for the race. I had an amazing call up, starting on second row, and made the most of it with what was probably the best start I’ve ever done, but half-way through that lap I blew up. I went out too hard and couldn’t maintain it, and suddenly, I was at the back of the race. From a second row start, to second to last. I felt like I couldn’t pedal, I couldn’t race, I couldn’t do it. I had had enough and was ready to pull the pin. I rode the sand section coming into the pits, and ran (read: hobbled) into the pits to tell my partner Aron that I was going to pull out of the race. But just before I reached him, I noticed something – I was catching three girls ahead of me. When I felt I couldn’t continue, I was actually catching people. In that instant, a metaphorical switch in my brain flicked. I can do this. So I changed my bike, even though there was nothing wrong with the other one, in order to stick within UCI rules, and ran my way out of the pits twice as fast as I came in. The rest of the race I felt good, and I really raced. I raced hard, rode sand sections that only the top girls were riding, and gradually caught the riders in front of me. I finally had my groove back. Unfortunately, I was pulled out with one lap to go due to the 80% rule, but I was content with how I rode. It made me realise that I do have it in me, and despite these first three races not being amazing, Mol was better than Hasselt, and Hasselt was better than Hamme. Sometimes baby steps are all we need.

Until next time,
Stacey 😉

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