January 1, 2009 – I arrived in Europe on December 15 with my fiancÃ©, Derrick St. John, and we both decided to wait until the World Cup in Nommay, France to start our racing here. We are staying at the Swift Racing team house in Tielt-Winge, Belgium, full of other racers including fellow Canadians, Andre Sutton, Wendy Simms and Aaron Schooler. As well, the Swift racing team has two riders from Britain racing, Helen Wyman and Gabbie Day with another fellow Brit rider, Ian Field. I feel quite at home at the house as I was actually born in Britain as my parents moved to Canada when I was two. Although, I still have trouble understanding everything they say, it’s like listening to my relatives when we visited the UK while I was growing up.
Nommay World Cup #6
The Nommay World Cup on Sunday, Dec. 21 was a success. It was a long haul for us and we left the house earlier Saturday morning to pre-ride the course that afternoon as it was six hours away. It was insanely muddy to say the least and pretty slow. The course had a set of stairs off the pavement right after the start and then went on to the grass/mud and looped around and up and over a few significant hills. All but one hill was rideable on the Saturday, but on race day it was a total different story.
The course was even sloppier and even fewer sections were rideable. With only one set of mud tires I was forced to have one bike ride really well in the mud and the other not so great. Starting in the 3rd row was a little different for me and I still haven’t figured out how to master starting further back from the start line. My strategy is to try to get to the inside and chop the first corner, sometimes it works, sometimes not. In Nommay it was not so great, but because of some early crashes further up in the race it made being back further back a saving grace. By the time the first lap was done I was able to move up the race into 9th. I decided to pit after a lap and half and quickly realized I hadn’t told our pit support what I would be wearing during the race. Because of that, they couldn’t see me and thought I had dropped out.
I rode right into the pit and luckily saw my other bike on the side of the fence and was able to grab it with out losing too much time. Derrick was watching my race before he started his warm up and noticed all of this happening and flew down to the pit and stayed there for the rest of the race to let me know everything was okay and that he would take care of my bike for me. I dangled back and forth between 9th and 17th from then on, always picking people off when I had my good mud tires on and then losing time with the other tires. Luckily for the last half of the last lap I had the good tires and was able to power threw the last mud section to make my way to 13th spot. I was pretty pleased with the result at my first World Cup race of the season.
Zolder World Cup #7
Next off we were to race the World Cup in Zolder, Belgium only four days later. Unfortunately I picked up some kind of a stomach virus either at the race in Nommay or the following day. Tuesday I did my training, but then afterwards went through phases of freezing cold to boiling hot. That night it got even worse and I spent the whole night wanting to be sick but couldn’t until about 5am in the morning. Wednesday was pretty much a day in bed. Thursday we all went out to pre-ride the course in Zolder and I felt awful. It was in a little bit of mind game with myself and because I was riding so horribly I decided it would be better not to keep riding the World Cup course and went for an easy ride on the road instead. I just prayed that my legs would be back for race day. Not so, I was so hungry the next day before the race that I ate four times that morning and still got to the start line feeling a little sugar deprived – my eyes were glossing over in the cold and I felt so hungry I couldn’t think straight. I figured I would start and see how things went and after a lap I could decide whether to keep going. After one lap my legs were burning and I had no energy (I think I used everything I had for the day in the warm up) so I decided not to make my recovery from being sick even longer, road into the pit, and called it a day. I wished I hadn’t even started the race as I don’t like to create bad habits such as thinking it’s okay to drop out, but because it was a World Cup and I was already on the start list, if I didn’t start I would risk our federation getting a fine for me not being there.
I had a few days to recover until the Azencross in Loenhout, Belgium which was yesterday (December 30) and I thought things would get better. I raced and it wasn’t great at all and I had a lot of doubts. I knew it hadn’t even been a week since I was sick, but I guess I just expected my form would be back right away. I ended up having a bad start and then crashed twice during the first lap trying to make up time. Then I raced with a group of 12 or 13 girls fighting for 21st spot for the rest of the race. I tried to drop them in the first couple laps, but didn’t have the sustained power to do so. In the end, I had to make the decision to lose more time on the front runners and just sit on the group and try to sprint around all of them on the last lap to the finish. It ended up working but I wasn’t really happy going from 13th in my first race here in Europe to fighting it out for not even a top-20 result.
Even though my sickness was bad luck I think everyone at the house has had there fair share of that while racing here. From Derrick breaking many different parts of his bikes as riders have been crashing into him at just about every race, to Wendy Simms snapping her chain yesterday. She was having an amazing race at the Azencross with the lead group of six girls and then on the last lap a brand new chain snapped on her bike. So it’s up and down here at the house with everyone, but hopefully it’s going to be more on the up side as we get closer to CX Worlds on February 1. I am positive that we have lots of time to prepare for this. Next up is a race in Luxemburg tomorrow, the crew should be racing this one closer to the front.
Racing in Europe is hard. It’s the best of the best in a culture that is fanatic about cycling. You just have to be patient, do the work, take the good with bad, and keep at it. I think that I’m really lucky to have such a great support system here and it really helps. Honestly, we love racing at home, but this is what it’s all about and the hard times will just make success feel so much better when it comes.
Once again thank you to the Ottawa cycling community, without your support we would not have been able to be here this year.
Happy New Year!
Natasha Elliott (EMD Serono/Stevens)