And just like that, two and a half months of racing in Europe are over! Six races, one podium, 8,500km of driving and thousands of dollars later, my partner Hamish and I had one epic trip!
After last years average results, I feel very happy with the progress I've seen this season. I've been under the guidance and coaching of Tammy and Patrick Harvey since March this year (after the national season) after realising that I needed a big change in my training for me to achieve what I wanted in Europe. I did not want to have a repeat of last year's results. I saw big improvements in my fitness within a few weeks after starting with my new coaches. By the time late June rolled around and it was time to board the plane to Europe, I was feeling way more confident about my upcoming international season, although still not as fit as I knew I could be. The first week in Europe was hard.
I'd caught a cold on the plane which took over a week to get over. It was ridiculously hot with the heat wave that swept Europe over Summer, and coming from the NZ Winter, both Hamish and I really struggled to cope in the heat - while driving, riding and sleeping. And we had a few teething problems with the van we were living and travelling in. (We were very gratefully borrowing a fully equipped van off some fellow kiwi mountain bikers who weren't using it this year, and once we figured out those teething issues it was primo!). My first race was in the first week of being in Europe and it was an Italian Cup in northern Italy. Luckily it was at an altitude of about 600m, so it just helped keep the temperatures down enough so we could get some decent sleep.
The race was hell. My legs weren't working, I still had a cough, I felt like I was melting and falling apart I was so hot. My body hadn't adjusted to the heat yet and I could feel all the liquid I drank just sloshed around in my stomach without getting absorbed. The hills were probably the steepest I've ever had in a race and I'd forgotten my smaller chain rings at home. I finished 16th, second to last after being lapped by Yana Belomoina. Although this sounds like a terrible race, and it was, there were positives, such as reacclimatising to the level of competition in Europe and fine-tuning pre-race routines before it got to a race that really mattered, a World Cup.
The following weekend was my first World Cup of the year in Val di Sole in Italy. Although I made a few small mistakes, I was proud of this race. I had set progress goals of things I wanted to achieve/focus on during the race, learning from my shocker race the week before. And I achieved most of them. The result, 42nd, didn't seem great at the time but if I look at my first World Cup last year where I got 52nd (both races had about 60 riders), it was a solid improvement.
The third race was the World Cup in Andorra the next weekend. I had another solid race here, with even more improvement in my progress goals and in the result - 24th (out of about 40 riders). I was so excited to have broken into the top 25, but so bittersweet to have been right on that cut-off for the 80% rule and I wasn't allowed through for the final lap. These two results were decent progress from last year, and it motivated me to keep improving. Following these races, I had a massive 4-week training block with no racing. I saw big gains in my performance during this time, even improving my 1 min power by 100w (which, if you don’t know wattages, is a hell of a lot!).
During this time, Hamish and I free camped in the van, slowly making our way from Andorra, up the coast to Italy and into Switzerland. It was so nice to be able to train and recover full time like a professional rider would. The whole focus during this time was training, recovery and figuring out where to train and sleep! We did do the odd bit of sightseeing on a rest day or on a shorter training day, but overall it was a good balance of training, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. I was super excited for the next block of races after all the training I had put in. Again, this racing block was three races in three weeks.
First up was the Argovia Cup in Langendorf, Switzerland, a UCI Class 2 race, so there was decent competition and some UCI points up for grabs. Let's just say the race went really well because I managed my first ever podium in Europe with a 5th place! I even won some sneaky prize money and a cereal bowl of all things! I was glad and relieved to see that all my training had actually worked. It sounds funny, but I'd spent a hard month training with only Hamish as a reference and although I was seeing my power outputs increase, it's hard to know how much those increases will relay into improved performances on race day. But it appears I needn't have worried!
Next was the Swiss Bike Cup in Villars, in the Swiss Alps. There were some very muddy hills that involved a bit of running/walking, which were absolutely brutal. The heart rate got very, very high. I raced well and fought hard to the end with some other girls. No podium this time, but a solid 7th place. I was relieved yet again and affirmed that hard work does pay off.
My last race of the season was the final World Cup of the year, and my last ever one in the U23 category. The weekend didn't exactly go to plan, having two bad crashes and a few tears in practice two days out. With the body battered and sore from the crashes and the confidence shaken, I got out for another practice the following day. I was proud of how I was able to change my mindset towards the course within a day. I went from being scared of it and hating it after crashing, to coming into the new day with a plan on how I would tackle the course to make me feel confident and be able to enjoy the course. This plan included running down a very muddy descent and taking a B-line (which both turned out to be the same speed as riding the descent and taking the A-line). Sure, I probably could've ridden these two technical sections, but at the end of the day I would go faster if I was happy and confident, instead of scared and upset. It paid off on race day. I had a good race, even though it was freezing. I was happy to finish in 31st and stoked to be able to complete all the laps without being 80%ed.
Overall, I'm thrilled with how much progress I saw while over here in Europe. Not only in my race results, but my improved ability to keep a strong mindset and focus on those small little goals that matter quite a lot. I'm still gutted that Cycling New Zealand chose not to select me for World Champs (resulting in NZ having no female XCO representative), but I'm looking forward to continuing to build on this progress in my future racing. I'm not sure yet what that includes, but I'll be making some future plans soon.
I have a big thank you to say to the My Spring Energy NZ team! I was able to fuel up with healthy and easy-to-eat gels that were perfect for my long training rides, and the Canaberry gel was about the only thing I could stomach on race day! And then the McRaecovery was perfect for the immediate post-race or post-killer-training-session refuel when I needed to get protein and good carbs in ASAP. I love having the Spring gels to fuel my training and racing!