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Ending my Season Early

After three months in Europe I will be ending up my European season in December. My final two races will be the Zolder (BEL) World Cup on December 26 and Azencross C1 in Loenhout (BEL) on December 28. I will no longer be racing the two January World Cups in Nommay (FRA) and Hoogerheide (NED) or the World Championships in Valkenburg (NED).

The reason for this change was that I had been having issues organising my long-stay visa for the final part of my trip. However, I must admit that after three months away I am looking forward to getting home to family, friends and better weather.

25 races in 90 days with no weekends off has been tiring at times. Those tiring moments are where you find out if you truly love what you are doing. You need to love racing cyclocross enough that you can drive yourself to do all the hard work and preparation between every race. I have come out of this trip knowing that I absolutely love every race that I take part in and I want to find success internationally in this sport. I also learnt some hard lessons about my own weaknesses as a rider which meant that I haven’t found the success this season that I wanted.

The first lesson and the biggest limiter on my results in Europe was that I simply didn’t have the level of fitness required to stay with those riders who finished ahead of me. Improving my fitness was an area that I had put a lot of work into this year but I’ve been trying to close a gap to a moving target. The riders at the front of the international CX races are also at the front of the Women’s World Tour races during the road season. There is also the challenge of coming to Europe after an Australian CX season rather than a summer road season and having less of a road racing fitness base. This is manageable but requires some careful prioritisation.

The second lesson has been about the importance of time and experience. I had expectations for this season because it was my second trip to Europe. I had a good understanding of where I had previously struggled and I had broadly addressed those problems in my preparation. However, this season I discovered all the new areas I now needed to focus on in my training. Every race I have taken away a new skill or technique which I need to go away and practice, so I can consistently execute it. Although I would say that broadly my skills were better than the riders who I was finishing around in the race, there was still a significant gap in technical ability in comparison to the women at the front of the race. If you look at any of the riders who are finishing in the top 20 in Belgium it has taken them years to improve their race results and it will be the same for me.

The third lesson is about being a fulltime athlete. Cycling has always been secondary to either my career or my education but during this trip it was my one and only priority. I had the opportunity to do everything to optimise my racing but I found that even with all the time in the world this doesn’t mean that suddenly your will get all your training and recovery right. It takes just as much discipline to get your training session done every day as it does to put your phone away and go to bed at 9pm every night. It also took time for me to work out what training and preparation was the right fit for me between racing weekends. When you are a fulltime athlete you need to treat it like a job and take pride in doing excellent work every day.

I also want to speak about some of the really strong positives from this season. Although I am going home early I believe that I have achieved my personal racing goals for this season. I gained a lot of experience over a range of different conditions including my first sand and my first snow races. I got my first UCI podium result in Spain. Lead lap finishes at every world cup I have raced with two 40th places, a 43rd and a 47th place. Some of my favourite racing moments were:

  • Dropping into the sandpit at Zonhoven on the first lap and somehow avoiding the carnage!
  • Completely emptying the tank up the Koppenberg at Koppenbergcross.
  • Taking the race lead and finishing on the podium in the Spanish C2 race in Karrantza.
  • Following Marianne Vos up the starting straight at Scheldecross.

It was really important to me that I race in a way that shows my potential to reach the top level in this sport and I believe I did that. I want to say thank you to all the people who without your support this trip would not have been possible and those people who improved the experience immensely:

  • Bek, Jan, Phil, Chris, Mike and Ian for donating to my Australian Sports Foundation page to provide financial support for my European racing season,
  • AECOM Australia for supporting my trip and approving my unpaid leave,
  • Ozriders Cannondale SRAM Cycling Team and sponsors for support in Australia and help with equipment.
  • Spin Cycle Clothing for designing a full winter racing wardrobe,
  • SRAM Europe and Feedback Sports Benelux for help with parts and equipment in Europe,
  • Stef and Helen Wyman for lending us equipment and being so generous with your time, knowledge, and experience,
  • Geert and the Donen Vondemolen CX Team riders for being kind and welcoming at races and inviting me to your cx training,
  • John for housesitting and paying the bills while we are away from home,
  • Marita for your kindness and welcoming us to your home in the Netherlands, Mitchell M and Alice for being our Aussie friends in the Netherlands, Chris for welcoming us into your home in Germany and to Maggie and Graham for your hospitality in London,
  • Mitch for his endless support and tireless work driving 13,000kms to and from races, cleaning and servicing bikes, working the pits and generally doing all the boring work to make this trip possible,
  • The Americans (Drew and Annick) and the Irish (David) for sharing the foreigners racing experience,
  • Evan at Mountain Bike Australia for helping with World Cup entries,
  • The Belgian fans (Myriam and JB) who decided that an Aussie was worth supporting, and
  • Family and friends for sending me your love and support over social media, finding obscure livestream links and staying up way too late to cheer for me.

See you back in Australia

Nat

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