Ducking and Diving in the European Peloton

I could quite easily sit here and write about Ride London GP, as well as all the great things about the race on Saturday evening but without the racing in Belgium and France that I have been doing for the past month, I’m not sure I would have been in any sort of position to be happy with my performance. And that is where it all starts..
Let’s go back to the end of May, straight out the back of the Friend’s Life Women’s Tour and into the Matrix Fitness GP series; Stef and I had a discussion about going to Belgium to do some races as I really wanted to try and step up my level of racing and to be able to compete with the top guns at the big road races next season. I absolutely love races with a massive bunch were I can duck and dive through the peloton and most especially hide when I need to, and theres nothing better than bike racing in Belgium for this. Don’t get me wrong, the first race I did there I thought ‘Oh dear, what have I got myself into!?’ whilst I was rubbing elbows with 80+ other riders all fighting for that top step on the podium. But there is something quite addictive about having that many riders racing round 20 laps of a kermesse, that makes you so determined to be able to learn the craft of european racing. Once I had a few races under my belt and a few battles to just hold a good position in the bunch, I was starting to learn how the european peloton works. In my opinion, you really can’t beat a 100km kermesse with over 80 riders all fighting for that one right hand turn off the start line, and that fight for the corner getting stronger and stronger as you get closer to the finish line. But I soon got to grips with being able to make my way through the middle of the peloton without doing the classic non-belgian thing, which would be fighting for your life on the outside of the bunch, being pushed and shoved around the gutter.
Harriet Owen
I think the hardest part for me, in all the racing I did there was getting to grips with how a bunch sprint works in Europe; I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t it the same in every country?’, well, it isn’t. In British racing, once you’re at the front and in the position you want to be, it is quite easy (people may disagree) to hold your position and only 60% of that front group really contests that final kick, as some people aren’t a sprinter or have different tactics, that’s bike racing. But in Belgium, it seems that everyone can sprint at a decent level, everyone is twice the size of me (I know it’s not hard), and you can be at the front and at the back within the space of 1km. After a few races of trial and error, pushing and shoving, ducking and diving, I managed to get myself into a good position at the front of the peloton with about 300m to go and was able to get a solid 5th place in the bunch sprint. I was really pleased with this result as with about 1.5km to go I was second row from the back, and I thought my race was all over but after my experience of racing over the past few weeks I battled through, knocked a few elbows, collided handle bars, brushed bodies, and a few slam on the brakes, I got the result I wanted.
Unfortunately, my european campaign came into a close a little earlier than I expected after getting ill for a few weeks, which meant I didn’t have the opportunity to build on my 5th place this year, but it has kept me hungry for results and certainly has made me want to fight for my place on the team next season. Even though I didn’t get that podium place I really wanted, it gives me something to work for next season, wherever I may be; but for now I am fully focussed on the last few races of the season and getting a solid base for next seasons racing, when I can really step it up a level. I learnt so much about the racing and about my strengths and weaknesses in that sort of environment which I can build on from here. But if someone asked me to go back racing there now, I’d be crossing the channel in a matter of minutes. For now though, I’m off on a training camp this week to get in some solid training and miles after a few weeks of being ill and of course, it’s a stepping stone for what the winter brings!