I typically target the spring Classics but they have come and gone without any podiums. I was often asked what my goals were for each race but, in truth, I didn't have any. Spending winter recovering from my hip fracture instead of base training, deep down I knew I wasn't a podium contender. In the Ardennes. I gave it my all, but I still wasn't 100 per cent. At Amstel Gold, I didn't have the strength to follow any moves. At Flèche Wallonne, I went on a solo mission but I couldn't follow the final moves. In Liege, I could follow the attacks, but I just didn't have the endurance to see it through.
For me, spring was all about building fitness, but that wasn't all I was building.
I've always struggled with the mental aspects of racing. Training is all about discipline— rigorous training, attention to nutrition, dedication to recovery— but races are won on instinct.
In training, we learn to ignore those instincts that beg us to quit when things get hard, but as much as you have to tune out; to win races you have to tune in. I've spent so many races analysing when to attack or when to hang back. Was it too early to go? Should I follow that move? It comes down to instinct and it can be difficult to trust yourself, but that is exactly what I've had to learn.
I spent the whole winter tuning back into my instincts. My recovery was all about how much my hip could handle. Some days that was a walk, some days that was a two-hour mountain bike ride, some days that was sitting on the couch and going to physio. I didn't realise it at the time, but, daily, I was training to trust my instincts. My instincts were the only thing I could rely on to guide me back to full strength and, when it came to enter the world of racing, I may not have had racing fitness, but I was really tuned in.
Still, you need legs to turn those instincts into wins. After being patient all spring, things clicked at Emakumeen Bira. I finally had the form to act on my instincts and, along with an incredible aggressive team performance, I took a stage and the overall win. I proved to myself my instincts were worth trusting, and that headspace led to back-to-back wins at La Classique Morbihan and Grand Prix of Plumelec-Morbihan.
I had no idea I was rebuilding more than my hip this winter. Training to tune in and trust my instincts has been the magic that turned physical form into victories. It was a tough spring letting go of my early season goals but, if spring was the time to rebuild, summer is going to be the time to flourish. Or, at least, that's what my instincts tell me.