Our idea was to line up early for the race so we could start in the front for a change. The bunches in Europe are hectic and the pace is always fast from the start so you don't want to be playing catch-up from the beginning. This was the idea until we got out the car into the icy cold wind which made the meagre 6 degrees feel even colder!
We had numbers on our side, four South Africans and four Belgium's riding for Lotto Belisol. We needed to ride aggressively and cleverly to make them count because in these flat circuit races, if you leave it till the sprint, all 150 girls in the bunch think they are sprinters. Then it's not always the strongest who wins but often the most crazy or daring! We set out to use this race as good training especially for building our confidence in the bunch and racing together as a team which we have not had much opportunity to do so far because of the limited number of riders that can be entered in the UCI races.
Ludi (Belgium girl in our team) attacked from the gun which set the bunch going at a fast pace from the start. Ludi is very closely marked in the bunch as she has been the Belgium champion several times and is known as one of the strongest Belgium riders. As we caught her, Lise attacked. Another girl went with her and they managed to maintain a gap on the bunch which seemed content to let the fairly unknown riders go.
After 35km in or so Ludi decided we should try get another rider across to the break so the Lotto-Belisol team setup a hard pace line at the front in order to launch a rider across. This ended up being a good move as Cherise was able to attack off the front and put in a solid TT with another girl to get themselves across to the break. Another girl also managed to cross. The break of five worked well together and made a 1min40s gap on the bunch.
At this point the bunch realised that the break was more dangerous than they had first realised and the attacks started at a fast and furious pace. The bunch was being split to pieces in a yo-yo like fashion as it kept coming back together between the attacks. Ludi was trying her luck as well in trying to attack and get away solo to the break. My aim was to try get myself into all the breaks which ended up being good tabata training - sprint, rest, sprint, rest, sprint. When I looked back on the final lap, the back of our bunch had disappeared. Easy place to be caught out if you were chilling at the back!
On the final lap, Ludi had managed to get herself away but at this point the bunch could see her and the break-away group. Having a carrot to chase, the bunch reacted with more fury. Ludi caught the break and shortly after the bunch joined her. There was a moment of calm as everyone sat up content to wait for the sprint and in this moment I used the opportunity to take a small gap around one of my teammates in front on the narrow road and attack. I had been watching Ludi in the race timing her attacks well, often attacking on the gravel on the side so that it limited the chance of people being able to immediately jump on your wheel and I tried the same tactic. Luckily my teammates helped to block the attack from the front as they were still in the front from being in the break.
I was away. Into a headwind for the first part. I could see the bunch behind me but also being a fairly unknown rider no one reacted immediately. I got a good gap and managed to maintain it for about 5km on my own. About 2km from the finish a girl came past me and I thought that was it until she started screaming at me to keep pacing. We were joined by another girl and the three of us paced through for 1 km before the Kleo Ladies team girl sat up, we had a 30s gap on the bunch so comfortable enough to slow it down and recover for the sprint.
It was at this point that I realised that the bunch wasn't going to catch us and that I had to sprint. Something I hadn't prepared for and don't get much practice at! I hadn't even taken much notice of where the finish line was! We almost came to a standstill as none of us wanted to be in front. The Kleo girl attacked with about 300m to go. If I had the chance again, I would have attacked first as I was able to maintain her wheel but not come past. 15s later, another small break-away group sprinted for 4th lead out by Ludi and 15s later the remains of the bunch galloped in.
We celebrated the prize money with Pizza and ice-cream for dinner.
Now to achieve this teamwork and result in a UCI race!