Suffering in Spain
Maybe I’ve been watching too many Russian KGB spy television shows but for some reason the phrase ‘for the greater good’ keeps running through my head like the lyrics of a bad Britney Spears song…‘oops I did it again..’
For the past week I’ve been racing in the Basque region of Spain and each day have had to watch as the hill climbers dance on the pedals and spin away from me while I slog it out trying to limit my losses.
For the peloton the week of Basque racing offers the first real opportunity to test the ‘climbing legs’ ahead of the Giro Rosa so obviously they’re not exactly my cup of tea.
Why am I here then? Because in this sport you need to suffer to improve.
The week started with the one day race Durango-Durango on Tuesday, which, if the name wasn’t a give away already, started and finished in the Basque town of Durango. I came into the race not really knowing what to expect having never raced the event before, although I did know there would be climbs…and lots of them.
My training up until now has been geared towards the Giro Rosa which kicks off early next month. While I have been doing some serious climbing I haven’t actually raced up a hill longer than 2km since the national championships in January so I didn’t know where I stood in comparison to my competitors and teammates.
While I managed to navigate the gradual 4km climb on the 17km circuit that we tackled four times I quickly discovered when we hit the first second category climb of the day that while I may have been training like a hill climber, I’m still very much a sprinter.
Hanging onto the fast pace for the first kilometre or so of the 6km climb I could feel the internal combustion coming quickly so – with little more that I could do for my team leaders Elisa Longo Borghini and Ashleigh Moolman – I refused to move for Lizzie Armitstead when she urged me to move left as a rider launched herself off the front of the peloton. A minor way to help I know, but I still forced our competitor to use more energy than she might have had to if I moved.
I found a group to ride to the line with but I didn’t finish the race happy. After more 30 minute climbing intervals and altitude metres climbed than I have ever done before I expected to be able to hang in there for a little longer.
I wanted to be in the group that finished in front of me. Up until this year I’ve always been complacent when it came to longer climbs, I was always happy to be in the ‘grupetto’ and ride ‘paino’ to the line but as I develop and grow as a rider I want to keep challenging myself and that means striving to make that group in front of me.
So that was strike one for my hill climbing legs.
Emakumeen Euskal Bira
The four stage Tour was another new race for me and another chance to challenge myself to try and make that elusive ‘group in front of me’. I knew I would have plenty of chances too because the only thing I had heard about the tour was how hilly it was.
I wasn’t disappointed on the first stage.
After a relatively flat start the peloton was treated to one category three climb and one category two climb just before the finish. But what was most frightening was the 12 per cent, 8km, twisting and turning descent that came with only 12km to go.
We hit the first hill which averaged about 5 per cent over 8km I lasted one attack, two attacks, three attacks before I finally exploded. Disappointingly I still didn’t make the group in front of me.
Rabobank went on to go one, two, and three in the stage. A pretty incredible achievement and just a show of how incredibly strong they are as individuals and as a team.
By the second stage and third race of the week I was getting pretty fed up. How is it possible that I had been doing all this training, putting in more than thirty hours on the bike a week and was still managing to get dropped so early on the climbs?
So as we hit the first climb of the day, a 5km category three climb with four switch backs, I made sure I positioned myself well and tried to find a good climbing cadence.
One switch back; still sitting comfortably. Two switch backs; legs are still spinning. Three switch backs; starting to feel the burn. Four switch backs; just a little bit further.
“How is it possible that I had been doing all this training, putting in more than thirty hours on the bike a week and was still managing to get dropped so early on the climbs?”
I made it over the climb with the front group of about 30 riders and allowed myself to suck in air, down some coke and reposition myself at the front of the peloton before the next, and final, climb of the day in 15 kilometres; an 8km climb that gradually went up at about 4-5 per cent.
Amazingly I made it over the first section of the climb with the front group which had thinned to about 25 riders but it turned out the hardest part of the climb wasn’t even included in the GPM (mountain sprint). After we descended for a kilometre or so the road kicked up again.
Vos attacked with Johansson and my teammate Ashleigh on her wheel and the trio got a small gap. However, they were joined by eight of so other riders just over the summit. I was literally the first person to miss the front group which for some may have been a loss but for me was a small victory. I had finally made the group in front of me!
It was an interesting and new experience to actually be at the front of the bike race on a climb. Only a few days before had I been joking with my teammates that I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to actually race on climbs rather than just survive.
My teammate, and one of the best hill climbers in the world, Elisa Longo Borghini said; “It’s just amazing, you really can’t imagine, we’re really just trying to hurt each other as much as possible. It’s crazy.”
In the same conversation we were talking about suffering. My French teammate Audrey was joking about how she didn’t feel like suffering in that day’s race, Elisa said; “I just love it. I know I’m suffering but I’m just thinking, I want to make them suffer more!”
The third stage of the tour just finished and I can proudly say I made the group in front of me again while my teammate Ashleigh made the front group and finished fourth moving into fourth on GC. There’s still one more stage to go and I’ll continue to challenge myself, to suffer, and to hopefully make myself better as a bike rider.
In the end, that’s what this week of racing is all about for me; for the greater good.