An Italian sojourn

Training in the land of mountains and pizza

Sitting here in the sunshine in Riccione, Italy, resting my legs I thought this would make the perfect time to write a blog about what I have been up to in the last two weeks, apart from the obvious such as racing and training.

The weekend before last was the race at Aspere-Gavere. It's an incredibly hard but exciting race only 20 minutes' drive from where I live in Belgium. That's particularly convenient as the women's race starts at ridiculous o'clock in the morning. Put it this way: I had finished my race, warmed down and visited doping control before my housemate Ian had even arrived to pre-ride for the men's race.

The funniest moment of the day had to involve a genius of a parking attendant. He was a soldier who worked at the base where the race is held and had been given the job of ensuring everyone was parked correctly.

When asked why we couldn't park a little closer to the changing rooms he replied: 'If you were any good you would have a motor home and could park there, but clearly you're not!' That one statement kept him occupied in discussion, as to the inequalities in women's cycle sport with both Stef (my husband) and Ronny (my mechanic) for a good 30 minutes. A conversation I'm pretty sure everyone wants to have at 8.30 on a Sunday morning. Boy did he regret making that comment!

Until this summer, I had been living in a communal house of bike riders for six long years. You get used to the funny remarks people make and particularly Big Talk. We even created a metaphorical 'big talk board' to try to reduce some of the outrageous bravado flying around the house. A classic example would be 'I can do 50 press-ups in one go no problem' (I still have the video of this attempt) or 'kneeling on a gym ball for two minutes is easy' (glad it was only a picture frame that got broken during this attempt).

A forfeit is given to the big talker which normally inspires their competitive side, ensuring all effort is put into completing the task. Despite some classics from the younger housemates never have I heard such big talk as from my darling husband last week, who insisted that he was capable of driving the pace on an endurance ride for four hours despite not having done a ride longer than two hours in the last two months. I had clearly forgotten his middle names were 'Eddy' and 'Mercx'.

So this weekend was the World Cup in Koksijde and the following day we headed off to the Mpire Training Centre in Italy for two weeks of sunshine, training and racing. The 12-hour (1,300km) journey was pretty uneventful despite the snow from when we left until 99.5km from our destination. The only exception was the 20-minute enforced break at the Swiss/Italian border for the police to remove a broken down vehicle from the motorway.

Thinking we were basically in Italy we used the chance to grab a slice of pizza and get a head start on the amazing food Italy always has to offer. However, the only flavour left was potato wedge and hotdog pizza. Not sure how I feel about stodge on pizza, it's a bit like ordering potato pie; carbs wrapped in a nice coating of... Carbs. Although it tasted slightly better than it looked and it helped pass the time nicely.

Now we are here in Italy for two weeks of training with a race near Venice midweek and Switzerland on our way home. While people were tweeting their personal pictures of snow drifts in England and Belgium I was cursing myself for forgetting my sunglasses and having to think about whether it's short-fingered gloves weather or not.

After the cyclo-cross season we will be basing ourselves down here in Riccione so I have been trying to take on board how to fit in as a local. As my usual training partner Ian has decided he needed a break from me and returned to England, ex-pro Jamie Burrow kindly volunteered to show me the local scenery by bike. So I have been using the hours of training time when I can breathe (oh my god does he ride fast uphill) to discover what I need to do to fit in.

Turns out I need a Vespa scooter with large enough mirror to re-shape my hair after removing my helmet (Open face helmet only in Italy), a shiny puffer jacket and a friend to be permanently perched on the back of aforementioned Vespa. I may also have to learn Italian and never walk anywhere without talking on my phone at the same time too... but one step at a time.

So I'll go back to enjoying my training in the sunshine in the beautiful Italian countryside. Hopefully in my next blog I have defended last year's win in Fae and gained myself another very large bottle of Italian sparkling wine, made at the vineyard where the race is held. Obviously this will only be drunk by my mechanics - I'm an athlete, you know.

Ciao,
Helen

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