Ciao from Italy! I'm at training camp with my Lotto teammates before the start of the World Cups and taking advantage of the downtime to check in with you guys. Sorry for the long interlude, things have been a bit busy!
I'm still trying to process all of the places I've been, miles I've ridden on bike and traveled by train, drove, flown and other various means of travel. Minus by horseback I think I've covered them all so far this year and it's just getting to the real meat of the season.
Just getting to my team in Belgium in order to catch our flight from Paris to Doha was a bit of a nightmare. I had been in Javea, Spain training for 7 or 8 weeks and needed to catch a flight from Alicante to Charleroi.
If you've ever flown from this area of the world perhaps you can understand the frustration of traveling in and out of this airport. Every time I've done it something goes wrong - lost luggage, missed flights due to insane scenarios involving 40 people with hunting rifles checking in before you (don't ask), and general apathy to help the customer, minus the nice German lady at the info desk named Beate. Look for her if you ever need help there!
Anyway, after being bumped off two separate flights in one morning I was forced to drive home and try to catch a flight the next day and meet the team on their way to Paris. It was touch and go for a while as it was snowing in Charleroi, they weren't sure if I'd land or not. Thankfully the plane did arrive on time and I was scooped up and shuttled off to Paris for our flight to Doha.
For this race I was particularly excited for a few reasons. First, it had been almost seven months since my last race (too long), second Doha held a lot of interest for me as I've never been east of Europe and third the accommodations provided by the ASO for this race were said to be the best of the year so of course I was looking forward to seeing what the Tour of Qatar was all about.
The race itself turned out to be something I enjoyed very much, one where you must pay constant attention and really fight almost every minute for position.
The first day was quite a shock of course, getting back into racing, but by the second day I was feeling good enough to try a move off the front. Ultimately it was futile but for my head it was worth it.
By the third and final day my legs were feeling quite good so as a team it was our job to watch after Rochelle, our sprinter, who was just a few seconds off a podium place on GC. She was confident she could pull back the two or three seconds needed by winning the intermediate sprints which she did. All that was needed was a good placing at the finish to secure third overall.
Unfortunately this is where Qatar showed what a bitch of a race it is... On the finishing circuits with 2.5km to go there was a crash directly in front of me and with Rochelle on my wheel. I couldn't avoid it and ended up flying through the air with enough time to watch the two girls who crossed wheels in front of me come to rest on the tarmac and then WHAM, I joined them. End result- Rochelle crossed the line on my bike and finished the race but was unable to improve on her fourth place overall, me in hospital for x-rays on my right hand - three fractures.
The next two and half weeks were difficult for training and I was really nervous I wouldn't be able to make the start of the first Belgian race of the year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Thankfully after about five days I took off the partial cast they put my hand in and was able to get some rides out on the road, nothing really intense but at least something.
I told Dany, our manager I think I would be able to start and flew to Belgium two days before the race. Race day was miserable - cold and rain but as cycling is an outdoor sport you just accept it and shut up.
I didn't feel too bad considering my preparation going into Het Nieuwsblad, so for the first half of the race I kept myself at the front to help Grace as much as I could knowing I wouldn't make it over the heavy climbs with her. After the first two climbs I found a group to get into and hoped for a good result for Grace at the finish and to make it to the finish line in reasonable time myself.
40k to go and next thing I know I'm laying on the pavement again looking at the sky, Lazer helmet destroyed, hand bleeding like a stuck pig (left hand this time). Godverdomme! I'm two for two this year, perfect score for crashes. Not the record I'm looking for Lady Luck!
For the team Het Nieuwsblad was a good race as Grace pulled off a podium spot at third. She's a really talented, driven rider and I'm excited to be on the team with her this year. Look for big things to come from Grace Verbeke.
After Nieuwsblad I returned to Italy for a bit of training, then back to Belgium the next week for a smaller national race with Grace placed second behind Emma Johannson of Redsun.
Following the race, the original plan was to stay in Belgium for a while until training camp in Italy, but the following day it started snowing pretty heavily in Aalst where I stay when I'm in Belgium so I decided to drive back to Spain and do a small training stage down south in the sun.
Little did I know the trip that normally should take 17 hours or so would take double due to a freak snow storm that closed the border of France and Spain for many hours. Adventure!
So here I am, getting back in the swing of things and looking forward to some better luck for the rest of the season. I'm really enjoying my new team and looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring.
On a side note - as you probably know by now Cyclingnews has welcomed a new diarist, the inimitable Pippo. I, along with everyone else, am enjoying his diaries for the colorful descriptions of races and general outlook on life, but felt I needed to add my two cents and say - God might be the only one who can judge him but for me my Mom also gets the "privilege" to do so. Disappointing la mamma, there's nothing worse I think!
Addio per ora!