The Ups and Downs of Cycling in Europe
By Ben Andrews
I am writing this post while on the train to Girona in northern Spain for my final riding block before heading back to Australia, having spent two months in Belgium, Italy and Spain.
This year I headed to the land of waffles and beer with a clear and fresh mind. I had gone to Belgium last year for a 4-week racing block and found it very tough. It rained for 2 weeks straight last year and I was not mentally or physically ready for the intensity of the racing courtesy of some interrupted preparation. However, the trip was far from a negative experience. I truly discovered how hard cycling is, and learnt racing techniques that could only be gained from competing in a foreign country.
When I decided to head over again this year, my coach and I analysed the racing and power files from the year before and put together a training program that would specifically prepare me for Belgium kermesse racing. It would be my second international trip alone (well without my parents). Being a year older, I was better prepared for being an adult. You would be surprised by the number of people who can’t cook and clean for themselves.
Like any sport, cycling has its up and downs and so did this year’s European trip. The first low came earlier than expected. Before heading to Belgium, I put in few weeks of solid training to make sure I was in good shape. Less than 6 hrs after finishing my last University exam I jumped on a plane. I arrived at my accommodation on the night of 15th June very excited and eager to race.
The first possible date for me to race was Saturday 17th, I thought it would be a smart idea to race. Looking back, it was a very bad idea, as I spent the next week sick and unable to ride after a hard race on jet lag. My body had simply had enough. Lack of sleeping with studying and exams, then a lack of sleep travelling, topped off with a hard race, was simply too much. I spent the next week twiddling my thumbs waiting to get better, watching episode after episode of Netflix as the people I was staying with headed out to races.
Belgium is not the most exciting country to visit, so I couldn’t really be too much of a tourist that week, and I desperately wanted to get better. I lived by the philosophy ‘don’t stand if you can sit, and don’t sit if you can lie down.’ I think you get the gist of what my week was like.
After a week of easy, gentle pedalling I was finally able to settle into some racing. Week 2 of racing mainly consisted of crits, which meant heaps of premes and super premes, so I was able to earn a reasonable amount of money that week. A cheeky lead out of my friend and then split the money after race always meant I always had enough money to buy a brew and rice cake on recovery rides. It wasn’t long though until it was time to head off to Italy for some hills.
Como provided some spectacular views and training – literally the best riding I’ve ever done in my life. Hour-long climbs and cruising next to the very blue Lake Como, what more can a cyclist ask for? A big shout out to teammate Matt de Vroet for putting a roof over my head for a week. I saw the week at Como as an opportunity to get in some solid training, but also to enjoy the features of this beautiful area. My sister was also in Italy, so it was nice to have her come and stay with us. After a solid week of 5 hr rides and climbing every hill within riding distance of our accommodation, I was ready for the 10 hr drive back to Belgium.
I was finally ready to try to get some results on the Belgium kermesse circuit when I once again was under house arrest! This time with knee pain. It was a very unusual knee injury as I was able to walk, run, and do most things without pain. But riding the bike was excruciating. I found a physio the next day. Too easy I thought, I would have this problem fixed in no time. However, the physio was unable to diagnose the problem. She spent 50 minutes putting me in awkward positions and making me do exercises like squatting just to conclude she didn’t know what the problem was. Great!! Exactly what I wanted. She told me to come back in couple days if it still hurt, but there was no way I was doing that. I walked home frustrated and angry that I had been in Belgium for 3 weeks and had done about 3 races. I originally had planned to do 3 races a week.
I spent the next week on a foam roller, spiky ball and stretching in an attempt to release my knee pain. I found a specialist in cycling injuries. However, the earliest I could get in was in a week’s time. I had a knee pain exactly like this one earlier in the year. So I tried to remember everything that the physio told me to do then. After few days of targeting key areas of my body, I managed to resolve my knee injury and get back on the bike.
With only a little over a week left in Belgium, I could really focus on racing. I was super motivated and feeling fit. I managed a few good results. I was happy to finally achieve what I set out to accomplish. Sure, I could have done better, but under the circumstances, it was a good finish to the trip.
As I train in the hills around Girona before heading back to Australia, I realise that I have learnt much from this trip, and there is still much to learn.