The Boels Holland Hills Classic isn’t the biggest women’s race on the calendar but, to me, it was a pretty big event. It was going to be the first time in Europe I would be defending a title. I won the race in 2013 so I planned, worked hard, and showed up to win again.
After a bad night sleep, I was on the red eye plane to Holland. I was a bit tired but too excited and focused to pay attention. My training had gone well, my allergies finally subsided and, along with my husband, my dad would be at the race to cheer me on.
When I arrived at the team hotel to find only 3 other teammates (the rest spread out at other races) I knew it was going to be a tougher challenge than I imagined. I decided then to conserve the Hitec firepower and ride conservatively for the first part of the race. We would make our mark on one of the later climbs after the peloton had settled. What was I thinking?
The race started and my legs were feeling a bit sleepy but I knew the training was in them. On the fourth of fourteen climbs, I had made the big split and was in good company along with all my teammates. As we raced down narrow Dutch roads, I figured our group of 15-20 riders would settle. Going along with my conservative strategy, I found a wheel at the back and tagged along. My conservative plans, however, soon when flying out the window. Rabobank moved to the front and forced the pace on a descent. As the leaders reacted and the race started to split, I was left wheel-jammed and helpless to react at the back. Maybe conservative wasn’t the way to go…
The other Hitec girls started chasing right away to bring down the gap so I could bridge across on the next climb. We weren’t done yet, the mistake was fixable. When the time came, I launched towards the break. I was within 10 seconds of the leaders but the climb was shorter than I expected and I just couldn’t get there. As I returned to the chase pack, the race turned negative and with that I was racing for 7th. I crossed the line in 10th and the smiling proud faces of my family were met with nothing but disappointment on mine.
The next day I boarded the train to Belgium in need of redemption. With a good night sleep, a refocused attitude, and a full team roster for Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik, I had a clean slate. I wasn’t going to race conservatively this time. I had good legs and I was going to use them.
The race was going to split on the cobbled climb and everyone knew it. The battle to stay at the front required bravery and few elbows and that’s what I gave it. As we hit the Muur van Geraadsbergen, still fighting for position, I was in the mix at the front and, almost unintentionally, forced a break. I was away with the cream of the crop: Marianne Vos, Emma Johanson, and, my teammate, Elisa Longo Borghini.
We instantly all committed to chasing the sole leader, Loes Gunnewijk of Orica Green Edge , down the road, except Johansson since it was her teammate we were after. Eventually, Loes merged into our group but we kept the pace high. Many strong teams had missed out on the break and the peloton was hot on our wheels. We continued to cooperate to keep the peloton at bay but, with Vos in the break, strategy was a must.
We were 2 Hitec riders and 2 Green Edge riders with Marianne so, in cooperation with Green Edge, we decided to launch attacks one after the other in hopes of dropping Marianne. Since, however, the peloton gaining on us, we decided to wait until the last few kilometres to start attacking.
Soon after our plan was plotted, I had to slip back to the team car to get a “hail mary” Coke. After 70km in the break with only a few gels and a bit of juice, I was in desperate need of energy. I had fixed my mistakes of the Holland Hills Classic but here I was making one of the simplest mistakes of all. How could I have forgotten to eat?!
With 7km to go the attacks started but my fuel tank was running on empty. When Elisa got away with Emma and Marianne, I stayed behind with Loes. In the end I took 5th, Elisa grabbed 3rd and Chloe, right behind us in the bunch, managed 6th.
I couldn’t believe it was another race ending with disappointment for making a rookie error. I returned to Spain none the wiser but all the more aware: forget the little things and you find out pretty quick how important they are. The little things, like eating and sitting at the front of the bunch seem small but, they can make the biggest influence in a race.
No excuses, just mistakes! No matter how much experience you have, you never stop learning!