Travel...and more travel
The last time I came to Eindhoven Airport it was my first team meeting back in December. I was nervous and quite apprehensive about meeting a new bunch of people, in a good way of course! I quickly realized that they were just like me however, two legs and two arms, and they were not going to bite! This time it was to start the long day of traveling to my first race of the year: the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
Now, many people think the life of a cyclist is quite glamorous, traveling the world seeing many wonderful sights and places, but you try telling my body that as the alarm went off at 4:15 this morning. I needed at least another four hours in bed but sadly for me that was not going to happen. Traveling is not fun at the best of times, but for me it’s just part of the job.
It is nice, however, when a flight goes smoothly and that is exactly how I would describe my first flight. I was even lucky enough to get talking to a student from Eindhoven who was returning from visiting friends in Brighton. Brighton at this time of year must have been mad. In fact Brighton at any time of year must be mad!
As I sit waiting for my lift to arrive to take me to our service course in Dongen I am looking forward to how ours compares to that of a pro men’s team. This is only the start of a long day but one which I am sure is going to have some tales to tell the time we land in Doha and eventually reach our beds!
Preparing for the second flight was crazy and it all started at check in. The race organizers organize our flights and hotels, meaning the team does not have to pay for such a long haul flight. At only six hours, it is not that long but long enough for me and I'm sure many of the other cyclists on board this flight.
The way that we were checked in was very similar to when I went to Delhi for the Commonwealth Games. With Qatar Airways being one of the sponsors of the race it is important that none of the luggage gets lost or left behind, and believe me, there is a lot of kit! All kit has been labeled with pink tags making it very easy to identify for the luggage handlers.
Brussels, Belgium to Doha, Qatar - Monday 31st January 2011, a new flight route added to the airport and lucky us we are on board. So, as I sit writing this, on my second flight of the day, how does it compare to any other flight? Well, before we boarded we got the choice of having free champagne, drinks and a choice of snack food. A free gift to welcome us to a new route but apart from that not a lot is different.
So now its time for me to sit back, continue to read the newspaper, and watch the extensive movies on offer. With only a couple of hours of the flight to go 2011 is literally just around the corner and I for one can't wait to get stuck in.
Welcome to Qatar
When it comes to immigration in Qatar I'm not sure what the laws are but I've never experienced anything like it.
To start with every booth is occupied by a woman dressed solely in black. I know this is traditional, but I guess when you're not used to seeing row upon row of women wearing burqas it’s almost disconcerting and definitely not a sight you see much on the women’s tour!
Then comes the fun part. You need a visa to enter Qatar which isn't different to most countries. So how do you get this visa? Well, I think you either smile nicely and they stamp your passport and let you in or they make a random decision and decide you have to pay. Half our team paid, the other half didn't. Good start in my opinion.
Then there’s the accommodation...
Next stop the hotel. How do you describe, what I have been told, is a seven star hotel? For me one word, and only one word describes the Ritz Carlton here in Doha...WOW! I have been completely blown away, I feel on holiday more and more, and to think I have come here to race.
Then there’s the riding...
How flat and how straight can one country be? In Qatar’s case, very! In nearly two and a half hours of cycling today I did a maximum of five corners, all of which were roundabouts.
In fact I lie, Qatar does have corners, but you have to be on board a plane in order to experience them. I think I did more circles and turns above Qatar last night as we waited to land than I'm going to be doing on my bike. I've just seen the road book for the race, tomorrow I have to deal with all of two corners. It looks like it’s going to be a long road to the finish :)
Then there’s the weather...
'Rain' and 'Qatar' - two words you would never put in the same sentence, well at least I wouldn't feel the need to use them together. But, today I had to eat those words...it rained in Qatar, yes rained!
Riding along, you guessed it, a very straight road, I wondered why I was getting wet. I thought it was some joke from my teammates at the front with their bottles. So, about to open my mouth and have a dig back, I heard one of them say it’s raining. Before I had a chance to say anything we were all laughing about the fact that we left Europe for some sun and what do we get: rain!
OK, it was not a full-on, typically Belgian rain, but still, it was wet stuff coming from the sky. It was actually rather nice for a bit of cooling off with it being quite humid.
So tomorrow I start my 2011 adventure. New team, new clothing and for me a new race! Time to get some sleep and put my race head on, tomorrow the hard work begins.