I marvel at the beautiful buildings of Erfurt as I gaze out of the open window, the warm morning sun and fresh breeze washing over my shoulders. The Saturday morning hustle of the town is beginning to creep in and the buzz of the odd motorbike whizzes past.
As a cyclist it can be easy to get so caught up in your daily routine, wherever in the world you are, and let things wash over you. Just stopping to take in the moment can be so magical! After training all week through the rolling hills and little villages from our East German base, Chemnitz, my recovery day is a chance to swap the roadie for a town bike for the day and become a tourist.
The joy of so many new experiences in Germany is so much fun – what a novelty to drive to Erfurt on the Autobahn with no speed limits! Being used to a maximum speed of up to 120km/h I begin my excursion trooping along at 110km/h, slowly pushing up the speed to 150km/h and feeling like a speed demon, until whoosh! – a car blasts past me on the left like I am standing still! On our drive back from the last race our soigneur Nina spoke of a time she drove at 260km/h on the Autobahn. Think I’ll need a bit more nerve and a more powerful car if I’m to edge up my max speed to that!
After joining forces with the strong German team Maxx-Solar, I’ve been relishing amazing hospitality whilst living with a friendly German family. With a very small amount of German I learned during my early secondary school years some fifteen years ago, it’s safe to say I don’t really understand what’s being said 90% of the time. I just keep thinking if I listen intently, maybe it will begin to sink in!
At least most German people’s English is a lot better than my German, and luckily I have a multi-talented Kiwi team mate who can keep me in the loop!
Last weekend I loved racing the Bundesliga* stage race in Albstadt, over in the west side of Germany. Rita and Corinna, my team mates, were sitting first and third in the overall standings of the league and so it was going to be important to keep them in their places, and of course we wanted Maxx-Solar to win the race too! The rules of the Bundesliga state that for each non-German rider in a team there must also be four German riders, so although I wasn’t yet riding with the Maxx-Solar colours I would still be working for them during the race.
The race took place over three days, all stages starting in the same place. The first stage was a 35km crit, a short technical course, with a leg-sapping climb every lap. After arriving on Friday afternoon we were all set to go! Waiting at the start line, my excitement suddenly turned into fearsome nerves, for all of a sudden I was in new territory, racing this peleton for the first time. I had no idea who or what I was up against.
Our team plan was to make the race hard from the start, to try and get rid of the sprinters and finish the race with a small group containing as many Maxx-Solar riders as possible. Suddenly we were off, taking the tight left handers and up the hill – the peloton weaved its way through for the first couple of laps, and all was fairly calm to begin with. I decided it was time to get this show on the road!
Moving forward with great gusto I took to the front and pushed the accelerator, and lap after lap we pushed the pace or attacked each time we were on the climb. Looking behind I was happy to see we had the desired effect and lost most of the big sprinters, and also the threats for the overall Bundesliga classification.
Temporary relief set in until I peered down at my computer and realised we were only halfway through the race: panting like a tired out race horse, all of a sudden I was in trouble! I spent a few laps just hanging on and trying to recover in the group. but each time we hit that little climb my legs began to scream a little bit louder. Lactic acid overload!
But it’s so easy to block out the pain when you’re having fun, and to my great excitement Reta had exploded from the front of the peloton and bridged across to another rider who was out in front. I knew everyone else was tiring, and with only a handful of riders able to chase, their efforts were fruitless. Now my job was easy, I just had to try and get back to the front, attempt to interrupt the chase and hang on to the finish.
The next day we rode down to the start line, cased out the loop for the stage and all I could think was “holy shit!” as we climbed round the testing 8km circuit. 90km of this was going to hurt. I wondered if I needed to warm up or if maybe we would ease into the race – the general consensus was that it was likely to split on the first lap, so it was time to get the legs moving.
On the second time up the climb Reta showed her climbing prowess, leading us up the climb in single file as the rest of us clung on for dear life, and the group was shattered to pieces. With a sigh of relief I made it over the top of the climb with a small group – we were well represented with three Maxx-Solar riders, including myself, so it was a good move. But we were determined to make the others take some share of the work, rather than give them a free ride to the finish. Without managing to keep an organised high pace, it was not too long before we were joined again by the peleton.
After another lap, when the leading riders over the KOM sprint were caught I pushed the pace once again at the front of the peloton and, glancing behind me, realised a gap had opened up behind me on the road. We were just over halfway through the race, and I decided to push on, hoping others would manage to bridge across to me in the later stages, or that at the very least this move would put some pressure on the rest of the peloton to chase!
Lap after lap I maintained my pace and pushed on up the climb. With each lap my advantage was growing! Coming onto the final lap I was delighted to hear that number 15 was bridging across to me, of course Reta Trotman: whoopee, perfect!
At the crest of the last climb Reta joined me and took line honours for the team, once again extending her lead in the Bundesliga!
The final stage was a flat and fast Kermesse style race. Going into the stage with Reta and I first and second on GC with a two minute advantage, our job today was to defend our lead and stay out of trouble.
We kept the pace high once again, making it another fast race, and made sure we were present in any attacks. The team rode in unison so well and there were always Maxx-Solar riders pushing the pace, or following attacks. It was another great day and we all enjoyed celebrating on the bouncy castle afterwards!
My time in Germany has passed exceedingly quickly! The lung-busting and leg-sapping rides, exploring new towns, eating delicious food, and being welcomed into beautiful German family homes leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Now, it’s time to tackle the Tour le’ Ardeche with a tank full of happiness watts!
*The Bundesliga is the German equivalent of the British National Road Series – a number of single-day and stage races taking place across the season