Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cycling

VIXENSPORTS AND CYCLING

Join VixenSports as we follow the talent of Amanda Spratt in Cycling!! Amanda will be sharing all of her Cycling experiences right here!!

ABOUT AMANDA SPRATT

POST 160116

As I sit here typing this I have a giant Mars Bar staring at me from across the room. It’s sitting next to a shiny gold pan, a gold medal and a pretty new green and gold jersey. It’s hard to miss the writing on the front that reminds me I am Australian Champion for 2016. Yep, the year has started off pretty well! First big goal ticked.

I won the Australian Championship in 2012 as well, but I can assure you that it is just as exciting to win it a second time. My coach Gene Bates has been meticulous as always with my training in the build up to nationals and whilst there have definitely been days where I have been hating him for what I have had on my program, I’ve always known deep down that it will be good for me.

This year, for the first time ever, our race was run on the same day as the men in what was dubbed “Super Sunday”. This allowed for TV coverage of the last hour of our race as well as an increase in spectators and atmosphere out on the course.

An 8am race start meant a 5am alarm. As I sat there eating muesli and yoghurt followed by a little pasta at 5:15am I couldn’t help but smile at how amusing this situation seemed to be as I washed it all down with coffee and electrolytes. I then took to playing words with friends to take my mind off the race – I had spent the week convincing most of my team-mates to join or re-join after a hiatus … not that we really need another outlet for our competitive natures but a little healthy competition for the brain is always fun right!?

I had been trying for a few days to figure out how to score the ultimate 7 letter word against my team-mate Gracie Elvin. On Sunday morning at 6:20am I finally nailed it. I knew the mind was switched on and ready and after some good weeks of training and a successful Bay Crits I was sure my legs were ready to go as well.

As we sang along to our theme song for the day “everything is awesome” from The Lego Movie the mood was good and coffee was slowly doing its job. I packed my pockets full of Etixx bars and gels and took an extra one just for good luck. I’m known amongst the team for always carrying more than I need “just in case” and today I am happy I did!

With 2.5 laps to go, I ate my lucky gel and then attacked over the top of a move by my teammate Kat Garfoot. Ruth Corset came with me and as we turned left onto the descent there was daylight between us and the bunch. My team-mate Sarah Roy was already up the road in a breakaway with Louisa Lobigs, and although their lead got out to three minutes it had started to steadily come down as the race approached the final stages.

Kimberley Wells sprinted across to us and we made contact with the leading two to make a group of five with 16kms to go. Sarah had a great day and gave what she had left in the tank for me as we got to the final climb of the day where I attacked and got away with Ruth once again. Ruth and I raced together overseas for a couple of years so it almost felt like travelling back in time… and I am sure that if time or lungs had allowed we still would have argued over who was in fact the tallest (It’s definitely me, in case you were wondering, but don’t ask Ruth).

We continued to work well together until 1.5kms to go and then it came down to the final sprint – not something that either of us really known for. If you look far enough into my history I am a track points race rider and even further back a BMX bandit so the sprinting legs do exist, they’ve just been in storage for a while. Today they came out at exactly the right moment and I was able to out-sprint Ruth in the final and take out the Australian Championship. My teammate Rach Neylan sprinted to 3rd to make two Orica-AIS riders on the podium. Perfect day!

podium family

It was great to be able to celebrate with my team-mates and staff as soon as I had crossed the line and making the day extra special, my whole family were there to support, cheer and celebrate with at the end. The last time they came was in 2012. They are definitely my lucky charms and now I am just going to have to figure out a way to sneak them all to Europe. There were plenty of “Go Aunty Mandy’s” from my niece and nephew and my 3 year old niece found the champagne spraying a hilarious display of “water splash bottles”.

champagne 1

It has been a quick turn around since the win, with little time to celebrate as I look to my next race – the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under in Adelaide. I’ve promised my partner that I will take the giant Mars Bar I won to Europe so I am now facing the ultimate test in self-discipline. I don’t like Mars Bars, I don’t like Mars Bars, I don’t like Mars Bars… if you say it enough times you start believing it right? Wish me luck…. And for the racing too ;).

POST 121015

It’s only just ticked over to December, yet it already feels like 2016 is just around the corner. I have just returned from the first team camp of the season with my team Orica-AIS and I’m sitting at home refreshed, motivated and excited about the group we have and what I think we can achieve next year.

The first days of the camp were not the typical sleep, eat, ride, eat, sleep routine that we so often get used to during training periods. These days offered a slightly different perspective on life as a cyclist as we got to enjoy the wonders of Nagambie and Gerry Ryan’s Mitchelton Winery whilst meeting supporters from all across Australia who cheer for us all season long.

We wined and dined, attended chocolate tasting sessions, went for a sunset cruise on a private boat which was fuelled by a delicious assortment of cakes and fruits, and spent time getting to know one another both on and off the bike. In case you were wondering, my friend told me that the chocolate and cakes were delicious ;).

Over the next two days, with our chocolate fuelled legs, we rode 300kms to Bright which was our base for the rest of the camp. Most Europeans laugh at Australia’s attempt at alpine regions but the terrain here offers some of the closest climbs to what we experience in Europe during the racing season. We’re all riding a little slower at this time of the year compared to the European season but it’s still nice to get in some big climbing days and longer hours suffering and laughing alongside team-mates.

We always train hard but we also know how to recover well – and this year on the camp we were treated by our team-mate Chloe McConville’s parents to a day on Lake Buffalo. This involved a kayaking trip, where the lack of arm coordination wasn’t a hindrance as the kayak had built in leg paddles…win! We also got to go tubing, where I was deemed the most aerodynamic as I practically sunk myself into the donut as I was holding on for dear life for what felt like hours.

The other highlight of the camp for me was making a new PB height record of 1.62m. It’s the little things that get us excited sometimes! As exciting as that news was, I was soon faced with the reality that I am still a good few centimetres from reaching the next shortest member of the team… I am resigned to once again taking on my duty as token team smurf.

I’m now back at home and looking forward to a big training block in the lead up to the first races of the year – the Bay Crits which start January 1st in Geelong. We often get asked if we get to have a break over Christmas – the answer is no, we train right through it, although some of us are lucky enough to have Christmas day off. And don’t tell my coach, but I usually train a little extra to allow room for a piece of Christmas pudding ;).

POST 160715

It’s getting to that time of year where the season just feels like it is flying by with little time to stop and reflect and take a deep breath. Add to that my busy race schedule and I guess there is no surprise that it feels this way! The last month or so has seen me race in Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Slovenia and I’m currently sitting on another flight on my way to Berlin to race the seven day Thuringen Rundfahrt Tour.

Flying, travelling and living out of a suitcase is definitely a way of life when it comes to being an athlete. This is my 25th flight of the year, combined with double that in train trips and I’ve already lost count of how many different hotels I have slept in. It might sound glamorous but I can assure you there is very little time left in there to be able to actually look around any of the places that we visit.

The racing highlight from the last block has definitely been getting the win at the Giro del Trentino Alto Aldige one day race in Italy. I knew in the lead up to this race that my form had been very good, having tested my legs thoroughly racing through the Basque mountains the week prior…. But knowing you have the legs and actually pulling off the win is the biggest challenge.

Starting in Trento and racing South we found ourselves finishing on the beautiful shores of Lake Garda, not far from where I achieved a podium at the World Championships as a junior, so the place has definitely become a favourite of mine! The team was great the whole day and coming into the final 4kms steep climb the race blew apart. My teammate Kat attacked on the hill but she was brought back just as we crested the top- with only 7 of us left. Every bit of me wanted to stop and catch my breath but I knew it was a perfect moment so I attacked down the other side of the road and never looked back (ok maybe a few times ;)).

For the rest of the race I had the company of the over-enthusiastic Italian video commentator who keep telling me ‘tranquilla tranquilla, you have won, you have won’ from 5kms to go when I only had 30seconds on the chasers. I admired his belief in me but I wasn’t ready to ease up just yet and went fullgas until I could see the finish line and then allowed myself some time to celebrate!

Although I have ‘podium-ed’ in races it has been a very long time since I have actually won one… In fact when Lizzie asked me on the drive home what my last win was it took me about 5minutes to remember! I was a little disappointed that I didn’t bring home the winning prize from previous years of my body weight in apples or wine, and I dare say the staff were particularly disappointed about the latter of those prizes ;). Nevertheless being able to stand on the top step of the podium felt great and is a feeling a hope to have a little more frequently from now on.

I had a little time after my win to soak it in before I headed off again to race the Giro Rosa- the women’s version of the Giro D’Italia and the only ‘Grand Tour’ on the calendar for us. At ten days long it featured everything- a short 2kms prologue to start things off, some flatter days and then into the mountains to really finish the legs off.

Aside from the terrain the one thing everyone will tell you about the Giro this year was the insane heat. Some days it felt like riding in a sauna for 3.5hours and other days a little more like a fan-forced oven. As Aussies I like to think we can cope a little better than others with this sort of weather but there is simply nothing that prepares the body for this sort of shock over consecutive days! My albino skin didn’t cope so well and despite numerous layers of sunscreen I walked away from the Giro slightly less albino but carrying the dreaded glove, helmet and arm tanlines.

The last week recovering from my Giro hasn’t given me so much time to work on ‘un-tanlining’ myself and with another hot week on the forecast in Germany it looks like the panda eyes are going to be in full force by the end of July. But hey, it’s all part of the glamorous life we live ;).

POST 180415

The first couple of months in Europe have flown by and it’s crazy to think that I’m just about to catch my next flight up north for the final two weeks of my first big block of racing. The first races generally look the same each year – cobbles, rain and maxing out the quota of deep heat on the legs for the year as we freeze our way through the initial weeks (freeze by Aussie standards anyway!).

This year we were also treated to a new race on the calendar called ‘Strade Bianche”. The race, held in Tuscany on the same day as the iconic men’s race, has become famous for its long white gravel sectors and steep climbs, and is definitely a race that has become one of the highlights of the year already. Unfortunately for me I punctured just before the critical 10kms section of gravel road and had to stop twice along the sector as I watched the front of the race ride away. Even so I could still appreciate the beauty of this race as we weaved in and out and up and down small Tuscan roads and then made the final steep climb up into the centre of Siena to the finish line.

Overall the racing has been a frustration for me personally. I’ve been up and down with my form and trying to get on top of fatigue and illness resulting from a jam-packed Aussie January and February. I haven’t really had any great races yet but with a good few uninterrupted weeks of training in my legs I’m hoping to turn that around very soon.

Aside from the personal disappointment, another of the highlights from the first races was once again meeting up with the Amanda Spratt fan club. A club that I didn’t know existed until the first year that I did a race called Le Samyn in Belgium in 2012 and found two men standing outside our team van with Amanda Spratt paraphernalia (I wish…. Or more accurately, printed photos of me fromthe internet!).

Every year since 2012 I have managed to find my way onto the start list for this race and every year my fan club turns up. Two people from the north of France who deck themselves out in hats and jerseys with my photos all over them and big double sided posters. One side of the poster is reservedfor my other team –mates, and one side is dedicated solely to me along with his jersey and hat. This year I had a little more time after the race to talk to them but it turns out that I speak more French than they speak English so the conversation was fairly limited. I have no idea how they became a fan of mine… but I now have a whole year to practice my French and find out!

fan club

POST 030215

12 race days later, numerous sports drink, gels, massages (it’s not as relaxing as you may think) and a little time at home spells the end of a chaotic and exciting January. At present the pasta quota for the year is not where it needs to be, but I am saving that for Italy, where I know it will be fuelling my legs on numerous occasions, and be cooked to perfection.

Since I last wrote I had just finished the Australian Championships and looking ahead to the next races of the month – namely the Tour Down Under in Adelaide and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

The Tour Down Under was a four day event, including two road races and two criterium races. With 12 nationalities spread across 17 different teams it was going to be a tough four days, but we were confident that we could get some good results throughout.

The four days didn’t disappoint. Day one was windy enough to split the bunch and see our Italian rider Valentina Scandolara ride away with the solo win and the leaders jersey. From this point on her lead was our priority as we wanted to win the tour overall.

Day two was a street circuit in Adelaide where our sprinter Mel Hoskins came away with the win in a bunch sprint. Day three was a cracker day, with the bunch hitting Checkers Hill after 50kms of racing – it hit gradients of 19-20% and we hit speeds of 91kms/hr going down the other side (I probably shouldn’t have told Mum that). By the time we got down the other side there were 11 of us left in contention for the win including including Valentina – perfect! Giorgia Bronzini from Italy won the stage, but this had all but secured us the overall win – with a criterium the following evening.

The last day was a tough one – with the wind blowing strongly we decided to try and break up the bunch from about the halfway point in the 60mins race. As the whistle blew and we rolled off the start we found all of us at the front, and without speaking a word we just started riding hard from the very beginning. It’s a cool feeling when your team is becoming such a unit that you don’t even need to speak words to know what needs to be done. Admittedly we put ourselves into the red early into the race, and had to ease up a little, but it was a fun way to finish off the racing, and when Mel Hoskins was able to win the stage, and Vale the overall it was a very rewarding feeling. To top it off we all got the stand on the podium as Orica-AIS also won the teams classification.

After a few days at home I had an unwelcome 4.15am wake-up thanks to the unknown M5 peakhour traffic factor and was off on a plane down to Melbourne to race the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. This was Cadel Evan’s last ever race, and as a farewell he had organised a weekend of bikes and races for both men and women, and what an event it was!

Standing on the startline with four helicopters hovering ahead and thousands of spectators waiting on the side of the road gave me the sort of goosebumps I normally reserve for WorldCups and World Championships… the atmosphere was buzzing!

Whilst the name might make it sound picturesque I can assure you that I didn’t get to appreciate much of its beauty as my head was so close to my handlebars for much of the race trying to hide from the wind and hold the wheel in front, that I failed to look sideways to notice the ocean.

In the final 30kms of the race we began the hilly section and I found myself off the front in moves that I thought could make it to the finish on two occasions – I was right about the second move, which included my teammate Valentina, Rachel Neylan, Tessa Fabry and I. Theonly downside for us was that Rachel Neylan was the one to make it over the line first, solo, in an impressive display of strength in the final 8kms. Valentina was 2nd, I was 4th and my teammates just behind me. We raced so hard and so well as a team but were just beaten by a stronger rider in the finale so there really wasn’t much disappointment at the end. It was such an exciting and hard race and I’m already looking forward to racing it again next year.

Recovery from this race was not exactly typical – a midnight flight to Qatar, and 14hours later I now find myself sitting jetlagged in a room of the Sheraton waiting for the knock at the door of the treats man to come and replace that piece of complimentary baklava that I may or may not have sampled… life is tough ;). The next few days will involve plenty of racingthrough the desert and hopefully a camel-sighting. Until next time…

Join VixenSports as we follow the journey of Cyclist Amanda Spratt!! Amanda will be sharing her experiences right here!!

POST 160115

It’s only halfway through January, but with six race days already in the legs my season has well and truly begun. After a low key Mexican celebration to see in the New Year, I was on plane bound for Melbourne for the first race of the year – the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.

The Bay Crits as they are known by most, are a series of four races lasting 45minutes, raced over a different circuit each day, usually around 1km in length. What the race may seem to lack in distance itmore than makes up for in intensity and speed. There is no place to hide, and you can pretty quickly tell how right you got your training over the pre-season.

It might sound strange, but the first Bay Crit is the one race I get the most nervous for in an entire season. For starters it is on a short, flat hotdog circuit, that involves 100 + standing starts each lap …. Ouch! I feel lactate in my legs just typing that. It’s also the first race of the season, the first time with new team-mates, and the first time to get a really good feeling for where you are at compared to your rivals.

This year was no different, and I made my way to the startline with nerves twisting my stomach and aheartrate somewhat higher than I had seen pre-ride or race in quite some time! However, once the start whistle blew it was down to business and the nerves were replaced with focus on what our team plan was.

The team for this year’s Bay Crits included myself, Dutch teammate Loes Gunnewijk, Gracie Elvin and new teammate for 2015 Lizzie Williams. Without the fastest sprinter our goal throughout the Bay Crits was to be smart and aggressive to create smaller groups and hopefully get a stage win. A third place on day one with Lizzie was a great way to start.

The morning of the second day we woke up to howling winds and severe heat. When I was sitting at the café in the morning attempting to eat the froth off my cappuccino only to find it blown off my spoon and all over my new jersey, I knew it was going to be a tough and good day for us! We didn’t disappoint and Gracie rode away early for a very impressive solo win. Loes escaped off the front and Isomehow managed to place 2nd in the bunch sprint for 4th in the stage (I found my sprinting legs somewhere).

The next two days we attacked more times than I can remember, and were continuously aggressive. We may not have got another win, but we had fun racing out there and we all knew that the form was coming up really well heading into the Australian Championships in Ballarat in the days after the Bay Crit.

First race up for Nationals was the criterium – 30kms race held over another hotdog circuit in the main street of Ballarat. I hadn’t done the crit the last few years so I was feeling quite excited to get out there and see what we could do. The main aim was to just focus our energy on a few key moments of the race, rather than using up energy the whole time like we had in the Bay Crits. In the end it came down to a bunch sprint, which saw us panic a little, go too early, and leave Lizzie with an epic 300m uphill sprint from the front.

After a couple of easy days with a good coffee to ride ratio, it was Saturday – The Australian Road Race Championships. Gracie had won on the course the last two years so she was our protected riderfor the final of the race which meant that Lizzie and I were put to work fairly early in the race. After several small moves I managed to escape off the front solo after 25kms of racing. It was not an ideal situation but I was hopeful that I would gain some friends in the next kilometres as it was clear that several teams were interested in an early break. I hoped and hoped and hoped. But nothing.

Unfortunately it was a negative race from behind and my break was just being controlled… I was caught with 35kms remaining in the race and was starting to suffer. Knowing that I wasn’t going to beable to go for the win with the favourites if it came to it at the end I knew my best chance was to attack again…so off I went and again I was solo. This time I could see a rider coming across so I eased to let Bridie O’Donnell catch me and then we worked a little before we hit the climb again. I was chewed up and spat out the back with 8kms to go… but hoped that my teammates Gracie and Lizzie could go with the moves. In the end a very strong move by Rachel Neylan and Peta Mullens stayed away to take the National Title, with Lizzie sprinting home in the bunch behind for 6th place.

It’s definitely not the outcome that we had hoped for, but we raced well together and stuck to the plan we’d discussed before. It’s interesting to see the hype and in some cases negativity in the media and from individuals about Orica-Greenedge and Orica-AIS failing to win a national title for the first time since 2012. Of course we want to have the jersey in the team, but there was always going to be a time where we didn’t win and others were stronger and smarter on the day. This was the year! The depth and strength in Australian cycling in both the men and women is getting greater and greater every year… let’s celebrate this.

POST 071114

October is a time in a professional cyclist’s life when things start to look a little strange. All of a sudden the amount of lycra in the washing machine is drastically reduced and you don’t wake up every morning thinking about what training is facing you on that particular day. The food bills go down and the bed time starts to stretch out more and more and more. This is what we like to call theoffseason – the one time in a busy year when we get too feel a little more ‘normal’… even then I must use the word noormal rather loosely!

After winning the silver medal at the World Championships with my team Orica-AIS in the teams timetrial in Spain my body was screaming for a rest. It had been a big season, a stressful season with my collarbone break, and a season that really didn’t go as well as I would have liked… I guess there are always times when things don’t go your way or the way you would like, and as disappointing as it is I know that it’s not long before a new season will start and I have the chance to learn from the experiences and make 2015 a better year.

But before that comes around the offseason is an important time to take some time off the bike, relax and enjoy the things that might not be possible during a busy racing year. For me this involved aone week holiday in Spain with my parents who had made the trip overseas to watch me race for thefirst time since 2005. I enjoyed all the delights I might usually decline…enter here crepes, sangria, tortillas, tapas… I probably shouldn’t go on ;). To counteract this I also walked and walked and walked… and at the end of each day I felt more thrashed than I do when I am in full training on the bike. By the time the holiday was over I felt like a needed another recovery week just to recover fromthe holidaAfter this time I still spent a few weeks in Europe enjoying some more adventures – hiking in the Alps, discovering the secrets of Lucerne in Switzerland, and scaring myself catching rickety-old cable cars in Italy to the top of mountains. I guess as an athlete I am still not very good at sitting still or being in one place for too long so I enjoy being out in the environment and exploring places whilst I have the chance.I have been back in Australia for almost two weeks now, and I’ve barely had a spare moment to relax.I am currently studying a Bachelor of Communications at university via distance education, so have been busy trying to find the time to finish off final assessments and preparing for final exams. The addition of jetlag into that equation hasn’t really helped, so hopefully what made sense to me also makes sense to the markers 🙂

I’m getting stuck back into training again now, and combining a heavy gym program with a gradual progression on the bike. I have one more week at home and then am off to Adelaide to take part in a ride that I am an ambassador for: “The 2014 Ride for Pain Adelaide”… Any South Aussie’s out there check it out!! After that it’s onto training camp in Victoria with my Orica-AIS professional team wherethings will start to really ramp up in preparation for the 2015 season. Can’t wait! 🙂

POST 040914

It’s already September and I really can’t believe how fast this season has gone… it doesn’t feel like almost seven months since I left Australia. I guess you know what they say… time flies when you’re having fun. Painful fun at times… but fun nonetheless.

The season to date has been a pretty mixed one. I snapped by collarbone in half at the beginning of April, which meant an operation to insert a plate, a pin and six screws as well as two months away from racing, which essentially ended my hopes of making it to the Commonwealth Games.
Since returning to racing, my schedule has been busy, and I’ve really only had enough time unpack and repack suitcases between trips. August has been the busiest so far – I started off at a World Cup in Germany then Switzerland for two weeks of training before heading to Norway for a team camp and a three day tour then onto Sweden for two World Cups and then finally France on the weekend for the last World Cup of the season in Plouay.

It was the first time I had ever been to Norway and we were treated to a really nice hotel right on the water for a week that included a short camp that led into the racing. We don’t often get the chance to do many ‘normal’ tourist things, but with the luxury of a team camp and still a few days out from racing we took the opportunity to attend a Norwegian sing-a-long at a fortress on top of a hill in the town where we were staying. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be cause of concern, but the fact that we soon realised we were front row AND it was being televised left us a little nervous of our vocal abilities.

Nonetheless we joined in on the ‘warm-up’ activities and stretches, even though we had no idea what the Norwegian commentators were saying. In the end we were saved by the rain… it started pouring rain 10 minutes into the night, and whilst we persisted for a while and sat with garbage bags over us, once we were cold it was time to leave… sometimes bike racing and health has to take priority… especially at this point in the season when everyone is getting tired and on the limit. The rain didn’t let up and we pretty much spent those two weeks of camp and racing permanently water-logged and wondering if our shoes would ever dry.

On Saturday I finished off my busy August by racing the final World Cup of the season in Plouay, which is in the west of France. It is also a logistical nightmare to travel to from anywhere outside of France. In the end my teammate Gracie and I endured a rather epic journey the day before the race that involved something along the lines of train-bus-plane-train-metro-train-car-ARRIVE!!!

The race is a familiar one as it is raced over the same course every year, and also sees the men race on the same course the day after us. It’s a tough course and generally finishes with a small selection or a small break by the finish line. The course is also famous for being lined with campervans and fans, and it definitely has that World Championship feel when you race along the finishing straight.
My job was fairly simple for the race – Gracie and I were to cover the moves in the first half of the race, or until we were no longer there… then it was up to our climbers to cover moves and leaving Emma and Vale to cover the final selections. We were both there until 80kms – when Marianne Vos attacked on the climb. If you know about Marianne Vos (World number 1) then you will understand that when she attacks on a climb it generally causes fireworks, explosions, implosions… and at the end of it all, generally a much smaller peloton!

So as my legs quietly imploded, the race went on ahead, and I hoped to stay close enough to the bunch that I could at least pick up some bits from the race radio. So the story goes that Rabo-Liv, who have been the dominant team in the last months, kept forcing breaks until eventually Lucinda Brand got away solo and stayed away until the finish. Emma was in the chasing bunch of 9 riders behind for our team, which came down to a sprint between the group for the minor places. Vos managed to get 2nd, with another Rabo-Liv rider Pauline Ferrand-Prevot in 3rd.

There’s never much time to relax post-race as everyone is off to different places and hotels or travelling on to the next race. I finished off my weekend with a two hour car trip to Nantes for the night and then waiting around in Nantes the following day until a flight in the evening… like I said, it’s not the easiest place to fly in and out from! But it’s not all bad – I did manage to knock out two uni assessments, which I know will please my Mum to read!

POST 230314

The 2014 season is now well and truly underway. I am less than one month into the European season and I have already spent time in Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Holland… that list will continue to grow and repeat and grow as the year goes on… yep, I definitely get used to living out of a suitcase!!

This time last year races were being cancelled on a regular basis because of snow and horrendous weather conditions. As I write this, I’m sitting outside in twenty degrees and sun… and smiling! Whilst my Dutch and Swedish team mates become excited by and wish for terrible weather conditions, I know deep down that whilst I actually perform well in those conditions I will always keep my Aussie skin and relish the good days!

The start of the season is always a nervous and exciting time. New teams have started, riders have changed teams and no-one quite knows where their form is at. Although the women race the Tour of Qatar in early Feb, the real start to the proper season came on March 1st…. Which brings us to Het Nieuwsblad – a one day Belgium Classic race that has a bit of everything – 130kms with wind, hills, cobbled hills, cobbled flat sectors… and 180 women racing fullgas to make sure they are at the front for every crucial moment. Add to this the constantly changing road conditions from extremely wide roads to roads no wider than a bike path and the vast array of road furniture and life on the bike becomes hectic!

As predicted there were crashes galore… the not so glamorous but ‘part of it’ side of our sport! I managed to keep myself upright and near the front and by the time the first serious hills and cobbles had been undertaken I found myself in a group of 20 riders behind a leading group of 3 – one of which was my team-mate Emma Johansson…perfect! Emma is known as miss consistent, rarely missing a podium, and as a result is the number one ranked rider in the World.

These three stayed away until the end with Emma sprinting to second place. I however left my sprinting legs at home and instead only felt cramps when I tried to get out of the seat at the end!

Photos thanks to Bart Hazen

March 1 March 2

Since this first race the last two weeks have involved racing and recovering… on repeat. I managed an 8th place in the Omloop het Hageland one-day race in Belgium before we moved onto Holland for a series of 3 races, one being the first World Cup of the season in Drenthe. One might think that flat racing means easier, but after spending the last two days barely moving from the couch I would definitely beg to differ.

The other famous section of this course is the Vamberg, which is actually a manmade hill over a rubbish tip… I went to recon this hill a few days before the race and had to jump two fences to get into the industrial area… I had thought it would be easier than this come race day, but somehow the burn in the legs after 140kms of racing made it seem even harder!

So I survived my first Dutch experience for 2014 and am now getting ready to move onto Italy for a team camp at the European Training Centre in Varese. This will finish with the next World Cup in Cittiglio, Varese. After spending seven years living in this area it is the closest I have ever come to a ‘home’ race anywhere in the World, and after a 4th place here last year I am already and excited and motivated for another good race. But first, a good Italian coffee is at the top of the priority list after two weeks of Belgy/Dutch ‘coffee’ ;).