It was a chaotic first couple of races but I consistently learnt and understood from my mistakes, which are good signs. I think the more annoying, but good thing, was that each time I corrected a mistake, I made a few new ones – but hey, nobody is perfect!
I must admit that racing in high-end races has opened my eyes to understanding how brutal this sport really is. Things like fighting from kilometre-zero for position, riding in the gutter while trying to prevent yourself from pedalling sideways, the feeling of empty legs and trying to tap into your mental wellbeing, and to just keep pedalling to reach appointments. There are also the crashes, with riders ending up the ditch or even snapping bones.
Inside the peloton is completely hectic and requires complete focus from start to finish. The one moment you relax, either a crash happens or you miss a split, and you end up burning early matches in order to close gaps.
Sometimes, you can even have good legs with zero luck and there is nothing you can do about those unfortunate battles except to roll with the punches and keep battling on. You just simply have to dust yourself off, call for reinforcements, or just get back on the bike. It’s a nice metaphor for life.
The Spring Classics gave me a better understanding about the mental aspect of high-performance sports and how frustrating it can be when things don’t go right or in the trajectory you want. And let’s not talk about how much it matters to be able to control your anxiety and fears.
Everyone is jostling for position, and you think, ‘do I stay, do I go?’ And then you make an effort only for the peloton to rotate, and you’re at the back again.
You hit the front for upcoming appointments and the heart’s racing, and you think, ‘can I make it?’
Teams are starting to swarm, legs are starting to hurt, and you think, ‘Keep pushing. The battle is on. Take the wind. It’s time to spend some energy. Breathe. Stay right and make room for your teammates’ (sometimes I lost a few from the wheel).
You have to keep thinking in the moment, and not too far ahead, otherwise you crack and start holding back because you know that there are more critical appointments further up the road.
Now, I am learning and understanding how to race. I’m understanding what it takes. I’m trying not to be fearful yet the bad words still come out at times – adrenaline.
I’m learning from my team through our race debriefs and visualization, and I’m enjoying the domestique lifestyle. The responsibility of being a domestique encourages me to fight and to dig deep into some insane power and grit that I never knew existed and I am loving it.
It was my first time racing all of these Spring Classics, except Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and it has honestly built my confidence, contributed to the growth of my character, increased my knowledge and race experience. These are elements that needed to be better and can continue to be improved, and that makes me excited for my future.
I know it will pay dividends in the end. It will make me a stronger cyclist both mentally and physically. It will also enable me to learn how to tolerate leadership roles instead of ‘choking’ and cracking under pressure, and to race smarter and wiser for when future opportunities arise.
Team-wise we’re currently learning from one another through structured feedback at race postmortems and debriefs. This is where we discuss the race and the areas we need to improve on in order to become even stronger as a unit.
Apart from that, one of the most important things that I’m learning from the girls and staff is not to be scared of failure – to try, and fail, tweak, regroup, then go again. It is the only way you can improve as an athlete.
Sometimes you go too early because you see an opening, but the team is not on your wheel, so instead you’re helping another team, which in turn makes you pull up short for appointments, or you make your leaders burn matches that they need to save for the final.
This environment, where I’m allowed to ‘learn’ through both successes and failures, is really positive. I am falling in love with the sport more and more through the challenges that I face from time to time.
I’m also witnessing some exciting stuff happening at home with my country mates and Caribbean neighbours, who are getting indulged in women cycling, which is fantastic to see.
They are not only following me, but also my teammates, and the rest of the women’s peloton. It’s even reaching a point where women’s cycling is in high demand, and people want all of our races to be streamed live and to be available in our region. Cycling is not a popular sport in my country but it’s absolutely heart warming to see the efforts people are attempting to make to understand and enjoy watching the sport.
How amazing is this!
Side note: Another bucket-list race would be Ronde Van Vlaanderen!