On Saturday I took the start for one of the biggest road races of my life, the U23 Tour of Flanders. For those who don’t know what kind of race the Tour of Flanders is, it is one of the biggest one-day classics on the pro cycling calendar. Filled with short steep climbs and cobbled sections, there is little forgiveness throughout the course. For the U23 race, which the NextGen U23 team raced this past Saturday, it was no different as we lined up among 28 other nations.
After hearing that we would be racing this nations cup, the excitement on all the Next Gen team members faces was clear: this is a race that many of us have dreamed about racing. Getting to do the U23 version is the first step to fulfilling this dream. It did not disappoint, Ronde Van Vlaanderen was an amazing experience! The 177 km course that 170 of the world’s best young riders took on was unforgiving. With 14 bergs (climbs) to get over and 6 pave (cobble) sections, it was a long day on the bike.
Feeling good for most of the day I stayed out of the wind (for the most part) and a little to far away from the action at the front of the bunch. The race finished with two circuits that had the majority of the climbing and cobbled sections on it. This was where the peloton was racing to, and we were racing hard. As we were racing the last few kilometers into the circuits it began to rain. The rain was not good… Racing in most places in the rain is not a problem; you take the corners slower, think about your line and give the rider in front of you just that little bit of extra space on the descents. We didn’t do any of that AND we had to race on the cobbles. After getting away with poor positioning I entered the first long pave section in an ok position, only to go backwards on the wet cobbles that made the first big selection.
Basically one third of those still in the race crashed and I was caught out behind as the leading group pulled away. It was not very comfortable as I flew in between what seemed like a never-ending string of crashes. Staying upright, I rolled in with one of the many groups that were scattered throughout the finishing circuit. 65th - not at all what I was hoping for, but thankful to stay upright, coming across the line safe, but exhausted.
Up next is La Cote Picardi Nations Cup in France this Wednesday, then the ZLM nations cup Friday. As we head into a big week full of racing we are all feeling excited and very motivated to step up in the next races to come!