Those of you who know me, will also undoubtedly know that I’m not the biggest fan of Winter. During the colder months, I’m rarely seen out on the bike, and if by some bizarre coincidence you do happen to see me, you’ll quickly wish you hadn’t. I tend not to be the happiest person in the cold, and am more than capable of loudly whinging about it for the entire duration of a four hour training ride. Apologies to anyone who has experience this firsthand, I’m sure there are a lot of you out there!
Anyway, fed up with year upon year of suffering through this laborious Winter hibernation, I came up with an ingenious scheme to survive the season in 2017. How about just leaving town for Winter? Seems like a great idea – rich people everywhere do it! And it was here that I ran into problem number one… I’m not rich. I am however very lucky. Following a successful European racing block in 2016, Isowhey Sports Swiss Wellness Cycling Team p/b Cervelo (try saying that 5 times in under 10 seconds!) were heading back over to Belgium to race in Europe again, and this time I was invited along for the ride. First problem solved! Problem number two quickly presented:I have a job and commitments in Albury. Enter right on cue, our brilliant new osteopath Ross Hamilton and some very flexible bosses (thanks Tom and Lise!) and the staffing problem was solved. The final problem was I didn’t speak any French, but this one was an easy fix. A hotly contested competition between Neil and myself to clock the online language learning app ‘Duolingo’ quickly ensued. A couple of months later, myself emerging the triumphant victor, and we were ready to communicate like a Belgian local. (As long as conversation topics did not extend beyond counting or naming animals). And so, with much excitement, our bikes and bags packed, and a Duolingo French fluency of 43% (dubious at best) – we were ready to go!
After a brief stopover in Korea (the Southern part!) for the aptly named ‘Tour Korea’ we were on our way to the small town of Beloeil in the Wallonie region of Belgium. We were lucky enough to arrive in the middle of a heat wave – with temperatures in the high 30s – happy days! Our team house in “B-town” as it came to be known was a typical Belgian style three story townhouse on the main street in Boloeil. Over the course of the trip we had anywhere between 8-13 cyclists crammed into this little space. Washing machine space was at a premium and fridge space even more so. Fortunately however, cyclists (Neil excluded) tend to be a very tidy domestic lot, and the cleanliness levels were always kept to a very high standard.
The “B-town” house
Beloeil is lcoated in the South Eastern part of Belgium, around an hour from Brussells. While this little town was only big enough for a small supermarket, a newsagent, a pattiserie and not much else, it still manage to have more than enough business to support FOUR pubs. We quickly came to learn that the Belges love a social drink! Another thing the Belges love is cycling and quite often over there, this dual love of beer and bike racing comes together in the wonderful events that are Kermesse races. Kermesse races are hosted by the local cities and towns and typically involve a short circuit of around 10-20km with cyclists completing multiple laps over several hours through the main streets. The atmosphere at these events is incredible, huge local crowds, festival tents, food stalls and a lot of Belgian beer makes for a pretty good time!
The guys raced a large number of Pro Kermesses but were also kept busy racing UCI tours and one day events, and the occasional criterium. With everything being geographically compact over in our part of Europe, our racing took us all around Belgium, but also often into France and the Netherlands, and even into Hungary. With racing happening fairly regularly, time flew. I kept myself occupied trying (not always successfully) to keep up with the guys on training rides, trying not to die whilst navigating the infamous Belgian cobbles, desperately searching for good coffee (rare in our parts), performing countless massages at the team house, assisting the guys at races and even doing a couple of races myself.
The dreaded cobblestones
With so much riding on the calendar, there was not a huge opportunity to do much sightseeing, so for the final part of the trip, Neil and myself took a week long “holiday”. This ended up being a whirlwind tour from Amsterdam through to the South of France (with an obligatory ride up the famed Mt Ventoux – YES it is as horrible as it looks on TV) and finally flying out of Milan and onto the final leg of our journey.
After a fairly hectic departure from Italy (the organisational skills of my travelling companion sometimes left a little to be desired as I’m sure everyone can imagine!) we arrived in Kazahkstan to race the Astana crit. This one day criterium event was being organised by the city of Astana Energy Expo and the buzz was high as Team Sky and the one and only Tour de France winner Chris Froome was also at the race. While our sprinter Scott Sunderland ended up placing third in the race, this great achievement was completely overshadowed by having a chat to Froomey himself while drinking straight Vodka at the after party and (fan girl alert) getting to shake his hand. If anybody is keen to see if some of the Froome magic rubs off – come and see me for a treatment!
Neil waiting for his moment with Froomey
The final race of the trip was done and so with tired legs, a little sadness and about 15kg of excess luggage (oops!) we began the long journey home. 48 hours and one airport sleepover later, we finally arrived back in Albury in the middle of a freezing 2 degree night – just in time for Magpie season! And so the adventure ended. A wonderful experience, some great memories and way too many pastries consumed, but I think next time I’ll come back a little later, once the maggies have stopped swooping!