Whether I’ve crashed out or climbed up onto the podium, each race has given me a small nugget of knowledge that helps me to improve and, the truth is, I’ve learned the most from my mistakes. But, as I learned at Emakumeen Euskal Bira, learning from your mistakes isn’t enough.
Pasta and cycling seem to go hand in hand, but pasta and me don’t. I’ve long given up the pre-race pasta meal, opting instead for a beloved second helping of breakfast foods, but pre-Bira I wasn’t chowing down a bowl of oats. We had two options, pasta or rice, so I chose the later since it seemed the least of two evils. Twenty kilometres into Stage 1 and evil that rice was. My bouncy legs were weighted down by a belly of rice. Nothing I could do, I figured, and tried to focus on my legs and following countless Rabobank attacks. Eventually, Rabobank swept the stage podium and I finished in the chase pack a minute behind.
Stage 2 started off on a better foot, or rather, a better meal. Turns out there was something I could do and my supportive team reminded me that it was okay to speak up for what I needed in order to do my best, especially if it was just a bowl of oats! After a somewhat uneventful second stage, I sat down to look at my SRM data that night. It was the first time I was racing with a power meter and, looking at the data, it was like I had just eaten a pre-race pasta meal: there was room for improvement!
The power data was telling me I could do better. I had always thought I was racing on my limits but there was no proof in the pudding. Far from being disappointed, I was excited because I knew exactly what I could do. Like swapping out the rice for oats, I just needed to have the courage to act on what I had just learnt.
By Stage 3 I was getting a good idea of what I needed to do, or rather, the confidence to do it. After a rocket-fuel bowl of oats, I was ready to take control of my racing. Half way through the race we hit a Cat 2 climb and it was time to do some damage. Claudia Häusler thought the same and I followed her move at the bottom of the climb. I hadn’t reached my ceiling when I saw she was hurting, so I pushed the pace again. When we arrived at the top, Claudia was gone and the only riders I had for company were three Rabobank girls and Emma Johansson.
After the descent, our group had swelled to about 17 riders, some from the early breakaway we had caught and a few others from behind, including Claudia. With no other big climbs for the day and a sprinter’s finish, Rabobank started to attack. The three riders timed their attacks one after the other, and eventually Pauline Ferrand Prevot got away. The attacks didn’t stop after, but we stayed together and I finished 4th on the stage, which placed me 4th in the General Classification.
Stage 4 started the next day and I was on a mission. I was hunting down Anna van der Breggen. She was 1 minute in front of me in the overall standings, and I had 3 steep climbs to drop her. My efforts were of no avail and I after a hard day in the saddle, I finished just off the podium in 4th place.
Fourth is always the worst place to finish, but Bira had made me realize there is a difference between knowing what you can do better and actually doing it. Having the courage to implement positive change was the difference between feeling sub-par after eating rice on Stage 1 and having the confidence to fight for the podium at the end. Learning from your mistakes isn’t enough, you have to have the courage to actively make a change.