OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD: Back into the Ocean

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Being part of a new team for the 2014 season has brought about many changes. Most of the changes I expected: new teammates, new management, new races, new kit, a new bike. One change I didn’t expect was a change in perspective and it all started because of cobbles.

My first experience on cobbles was horrible. My bike was sliding around, I could barely hold the bars and I just felt totally out of control. After such a negative experience, I avoided them for years and just accepted I wasn’t ‘that type’ of rider. Imagine my surprise when I saw the opening race to my European season was Omloop Het Nieuwsblad! I expected new races but a cobbled spring classic?

Held in the Flanders region of Belgium, cobbles are naturally part of Het Nieuwsblad. With two cobbled climbs and another 6 flat sections, I was going to be face-to-face with my hatred of cobbles and the fact that this wasn’t my style of racing. I was nervous and doubtful I should even start but, during a team meeting, someone changed that. It just took one person to believe in me and make me want to try. One person to change my perspective and remind me that I’m the one who decides my limits.

Bundled up in layers upon layers of warm clothing, I stood on the start line with a new attitude toward the cobbles: I was going to attack them, I was the boss. The race started with 45km of flat before the cobbles and climbs but the bunch was nervous and, truthfully, so was I. After getting caught up in a crash, chasing back, getting a puncture, and chasing back again, I seemed to be on the back foot as we approached the first section of cobbles. Mentally, I had to regain my composure, especially since I has the responsibility to get my team leader, Elisa Longo Borghini, to the line.

After gathering myself, we turned onto the first section of cobbles and I just put power to the pedals.   Before I knew it, I was telling the cobbles who was boss. My bike was still sliding around and my body was still all over the place but this time I was mentally prepared and I was in control. Surprisingly, after that the cobbles seemed to get easier and easier. The race on the other hand, was a different story.

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After our team leader Elisa crashed, we set about to bring her back into contention but, with a strong group of four off the front, eventually we realized Plan A wasn’t in the cards. With no representation of Hitec in the break, I managed to follow an attack from Annemiek Van Vleuten and the two of us tried to bridge across to the front four. As the temperature dropped to 3 degrees and the cobbles and hills kept coming and coming, the race demanded everything I could give. It was relentlessly brutal but that also meant it wasn’t over until the line.

As we got closer and closer to the break, I became more aware of all the work I had done earlier in the race. Riders started to join us from behind and with the break almost in striking distance, the bunch aggressively swerved toward the line with riders trying to get away. I managed to pull off 4th in the bunch sprint and 8th overall, but after surviving the cold, the crashes, the chasing, and the cobbles, I felt like I had a personal win.

Being part of a new team has reminded me that I am the one in control of my limits. The freedom to test your boundaries and try new things, is a freedom you give to yourself, and one you can take away. Letting go of negative and self-belittling thoughts is like setting a goldfish free. Don’t settle to circle in your own fish bowl, set yourself free and swim with the big fish in the ocean. 

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