My last blog ended off with the beginning of an exciting new adventure… So, let’s begin this one with the end of that adventure. We’ll call it, my “2019 European Road Racing Adventure”. It truly was an unforgettable experience.
So, contrary to popular belief about what people think racing in Europe is like, I can tell you for a fact that it is far from the glamorous lifestyle which most people think it is. For example: my first day in Europe was kicked off with eating my breakfast (good old oats) out of an Italian hotel’s coffee cup, at 5:30am in the reception area, after only two hours of sleep. We then spent the next four hours driving to Rome for our UK Visa appointments, to apply for our visas for the upcoming World Road Championships – happening in Yorkshire, UK. Once we eventually got home after a total of 8 hours driving for the day, we still had to get a ride in, and so we did just that. Only getting slightly lost.
I have many more stories which I could share from this trip, but honestly there just isn’t enough space for me to share them all. What I can share is a summary of the hardcore, flat-out racing we did; I mean, that’s why I came to Europe in the first place right?
I was fortunate to be named part of the National team selected to race in Europe, initially consisting of five riders. However, we unfortunately lost a rider, Zanri Rossouw, to a broken collarbone at the African Games in Morocco. The team was then reduced to four riders, and on our arrival in Italy, we were met with sunshine and warm weather. We got to explore the beautiful area of Montecatini and its surroundings by riding up and down the stunning Italian hills and mountains.
The first race for the National team was a three day UCI 2.2 Tour in the area of Toscana – hence the name, Giro Toscana. It consisted of one short prologue (a 2.2km sprint), and two longer stages of 135km and 110km respectively. I can use three words to sum this tour up: it was crazy. But a good kind of crazy. There were around 160 or so riders competing, and with the first stage being super flat, the peloton was reaching speeds of 55km/h in some sections of the flat roads. Unfortunately we lost another rider, Carla Oberholzer, due to a broken collarbone caused by a crash during the stage. Thankfully she was able to make her way back to SA safely.
The second stage brought about some interesting weather conditions, with pouring rain as we hit the bigger climbs which awaited us. The race was blown apart and I found myself finishing in the third group just behind the main peloton. I learnt so much from this race, being one of the youngest riders competing at 18 years of age, and my favourite part was definitely the crazy cool, winding descents which we got to race down! Oh, and did I mention that there was a gelato shop conveniently placed a few hundred meters from the finish line? That was pretty great too.
But, if I thought the Italian mountains were big, I really had no idea what was coming when we moved on to Ardèche in France… And we rode up just about all of them. Ardèche was a massive step up from Toscana, it was a UCI 2.1 Tour, 7 days long, with 7 long stages. There was only one stage under 100km. The distance didn’t look so bad until you looked into the amount of climbing, and the gradients of some of the mountains we had to ascend every day – then things really got real. As a result, this year’s edition of the tour was named as being tougher than the Women’s Giro Rosa Tour, which is 10 days long. We had to organize another rider to make up a four-rider team, which allowed us to start the tour – thankfully Nicola Biani was able to help us out, flying all the way out from South Africa and brought some great energy and enthusiasm with her. Once racing commenced, they really dove right into it, when the first stage contained a 13km climb at around the 40km mark. The amazing thing was that we were rewarded with a 12km descent on the other side – woohoo! Road racing in Europe is awesome! Unfortunately, as the race drew on, my fatigue levels sky-rocketed. With every stage the peloton shrunk even more as more riders pulled out, just because it was that hard. By stage four I was the youngest rider left, I made it all the way till half-way through day four, at which point my body said, “Enough!” I’m not one to easily give up on things, but I decided, with Worlds around the corner, I should perhaps listen to my body- so, with that I retired from the race. I was utterly exhausted. This tour tested my limits physically and mentally, and was honestly the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Each day I finished thinking, “Did I really just do that?” Yeah, I did, and I gave it my best shot during every stage too. I was super happy with my progress and the experience I gained from the tour; it was definitely a race I will never forget. Maybe I’ll be able to return back to complete the race one day in the future.
It is fair to say that we were definitely thrown into the deep end of European racing, but we did have a great support team helping us get through each day and do the best that we could. I came into this racing block with the sole objective of maximizing my learning experience and to gain a greater understanding of where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and what I need to work on for the future – placing more emphasis on expanding my knowledge rather than achieving results. It’s fair to say that I definitely achieved my objective, and as brutal as the racing was, I can’t wait to come back for more!