My Omloop van het Hageland
As I alluded to in my last blog post, even though the entire peloton may have felt like we had aged about 50 years after Omloop het Nieuwsblad we lined up to race the next day in another Belgian classic; Omloop van het Hageland.
The race itself is smaller in prestige than Omloop het Nieuwsblad but incredibly well organised and even had a live stream which my family back in Australia loved. It was made up of one big 53km lap and 4 small 17km laps with a punchy 500metre climb about 5km from the finish.
I spent the first half of the race dodging crashes and murmuring profanities to myself every time I heard a screech of breaks and a crash of carbon. My young Italian teammate seemed less phased by the multiple pile ups however. At one point she was caught behind a crash, saw a stray Garmin on the side of the road and had the foresight to think someone might be missing that after the race. She picked it up and carried it for the remainder of the race. She successfully located its owner too thanks to Twitter.
Back to the race…
While a few attacks escaped throughout the 127km race it seemed to be headed for a mass sprint with teams like Cervelo-Bigla, Cyclance, and FDJ all looking for a bunch sprint.
Wiggle-High5 was one team that had multiple cards to play and in the final lap Elisa Longo Borghini, clearly not fatigued from her efforts the previous day, launched an attack up and over the final QOM of the day.
The peloton scrambled to catch her. With 4km to go we were stretched single file, squeezed to the left hand side of a bike path wide road attempting to get as much protection from the rider in front of us as the wind belted us from the right.
Orica-Scott drove the group in pursuit of Elisa as the kilometres rapidly counted down. I clung to Kirsten Wild’s wheel, an increasingly familiar position for me. Jolien d’Hoore, Lotta Lepisto, Amalie Dideriksen and Roxane Fouriner were all there battling for wheels as well. It was like the whose who of sprinters.
As we rounded the final corner which came with just over one km to go we still hadn’t caught Elisa. But it was all down hill from there and a pack of finish line crazed sprinters, weighing probably on average 10kg more than Elisa – Rio Olympic bronze medallist and a world class hill climber – will always roll faster downhill. We must have swallowed her up with about 800metres to race.
When we did catch her I was positioned in about 10th position, still glued to Wild’s wheel. While this might normally have been too far back at this stage of the race the finish, as i mentioned, was downhill and thus extremely fast.
Position yourself too close to the front and you will get swamped from behind, position yourself too far back and you wont be able to get a clean run. It’s a balancing act that many riders never really master and even when they do it is usually a fluke.
Knowing it was a downhill sprint and a slight tail wind I had planned to start my run for the line early, but as we rocketed past 500metres to go I couldn’t find a clear opening. Should I go left and follow Wild or should I go right and hope that I don’t get boxed in on the barriers? With 200metres to go I still couldn’t find the opening I needed.
My frustration levels were almost as high as they are when people stop in doorways in front of me. With 175metres to go I saw the gap I needed and I took it.
Head down, I launched myself up the right hand side of the road squeezing past Lepisto on the barriers and I went for it. I had a lot of ground to make up on Jolien who had started her sprint already. In the end, I threw for the line and finished second. It wasn’t the win but it was a result that myself and the team could be satisfied with.
It was also a result that reaffirmed my decision to make a change in 2017. I didn’t leave Wiggle because I thought I was better than Jolien or Gio or Lucy. I left because I thought we were all good and I wanted to race against them. I loved my time racing with the Wiggle-High5 girls and helping Jolien to some of her biggest victories, while also claiming a few of my own. But to have the opportunity to sprint against her and push myself gives me an exciting challenge in 2017. Something I think that is so crucial in athletes if they want to continue to improve and develop.