Editor’s Note: With Flanders finished and the exciting lead-in to the cobble race of all cobble races, Paris-Roubaix, we are lucky to share with you another diary entry from Korina Huizar when she raced Drentse 8. Drentse 8 features a cobbled section that the Orica-Greenedge director stated, “Are the two gnarliest cobble sections I have ever seen”. Enjoy.
Every race has been a challenge, physically and mentally. Unfortunately I had to sit out of Hageland due to the flu so my next opportunity to race came on Thursday for the first of the Ronde van Drenthe races, Drentse 8. I’m still sick and fighting it as best I can. Being here is a huge learning opportunity. Each day I get to toe the line is another chance to get better, stronger, and most of all smarter. So sick or not I plan on pinning on a number.
We drove out to Dwingeloo in the Netherlands, a three hour drive from Sittard, for our next housing location. The town is just as cute as it sounds. We took up quarters in an adorable little hotel that would overlook the start of the race.
The team has been doing their ‘homework’ for each and every race. Scouting out tech guides, reviewing sections on google maps, and our new favorite VeloFocus. The course had been changed from the previous year and we had insight on the new route thanks to the VeloFocus preview. On Wednesday we drove out to all the cobble sections that we would race across in the next few days. Previewing the course is always a leg up on competition. Not only do you know what to expect, you learn when it’s critical to move up, but the mental aspect of know how long or how hard a section is going to be is an important solace, so you aren’t blindly suffering. You can always push yourself so much harder knowing when the end is near. Blind suffering is always a handicap, even if only mental.
We rode almost an hour and a half of pure cobbles, riding each section out and then back again. We found where the best lines are, and discovered the potholes to make mental notes of. You know riding over cobbles is rough when you hit a cattle guard and it’s the smoothest section you’ve been on. We’d have two cobbles sections in Drentse 8 of roughly 5k in cobbles in a 10k stretch. The course for this year’s race is completely revamped from the notorious figure eight from which the race’s name is derived from. The race still starts in Dwingeloo but travels 137 kilometers along extremely narrow roads, cobbles, and wide open countryside to the finish in Borger. The best quote I heard regarding the cobbled sections for the race was from the director of Orica Green Edge: “The race includes two of the gnarliest cobbled sections I have ever seen. Unlike in Belgium where the cobbles are rough but unified, these two cobbled sections are no more than rocks thrown into the road.”
Drentse 8: Race Day
It was nice being able to simply walk downstairs for sign-in and to the start. However, being around the race got the nerves going much earlier than normal. I don’t normally have breakfast overlooking a large race course being built up with barricades, police, and posters while the table next to me is filled with Rabobank riders. It’s really amazing to see first hand what a big deal cycling is over here in Europe. Nothing epitomized this more than the morning rush of school children we saw riding their bikes on their way to class. Not a single kid walked or was driven, they were all on bikes. Our entire table just sat in awe, impressed with the bike culture. We finished up our coffee and kitted up for team presentation.
The race started with the slowest and sketchiest neutral in a bike race that I have ever experienced. Having one hundred and thirty-one antsy riders jockeying for position on a narrow road behind a race vehicle at a dangerously slow pace is never a good idea. My teammate, Maura, almost became an early casualty of the race when she crashed in the first 5k because another rider intentionally shoved her off the road. Luckily she got up and got back into the race. After the neutral zone we started the race with four 6.5 kilometer circuits around Dwingeloo. My goals were to try to stay on or near a teammates wheel, and move up every time a little gap opened. If you see a gap, shove your front wheel in there. Lauren and I stayed next to each other for the circuits with Maura joining us in the second lap. I noticed I could move up on the left hand side in one section where the road had tiny horizontal grooves in it – these little details you observe out on the course can be critical. On the last lap I called out to the girls to follow me since I knew moving up would be crucial before we entered the main road.
Despite the skills, positioning, and experience among the European peloton, racing in Europe is not always learning the ‘art of racing’ – sometimes its the art of grabbing a fistful of brakes and then sprinting immediately after. Not at all elegant, but a truism for bike racing everywhere. The wind was still gentle, so the peloton stuck together aside from splits caused by crashes. Holland is pancake flat which helped keep the pace at a strong clip. I looked down at my Garmin and saw we were 44k into the race. The notes I had written on a piece of bar tape plastered onto my toptube indicated that I should move up at 47k, where the road narrows and leads to a 10k gallop into the cobbles. I thanked myself for leaving this cue on my bartape, it wasn’t as though I had been fighting towards the front the entire time already – But it reinforced what needed to happen, which helped.
We made the left hand turn onto the cobbles and it was game on.The cobbles are a spot where you won’t win the race but you can certainly lose it. The dust kicked it up, as did the pace. With two cobble sections back to back this was the area most likely to split the field. Sure enough it did. The scene was complete chaos. Bottles flying out of cages, riders crashing hard on the cobbles, others trying to dodge both obstacles. If I recall correctly, it was similar to the NorCal Leesville Gap gravel section one year when the a master’s field began to pass the women’s P1/2 – but in this case, with cobbles that were huge chunks of loose rock, on a narrower road, and with 100+ more people. I’m simply trying to convey that it was a shitstorm at 350 watts. Our faces began to cake with dust settling on top of sweat. We inhaled the grit with every deep breath. My hands began to blister from all of the jarring from the cobbles. This was war. The next cobble section was only a few kilometers later at 63.8k into the race.
I had been on the rivet all race, still trying to regain my strength from the flu. So the extra effort into the second cobble section was enough to crack me. Rider after rider began to detach from the group while others threw their hands up in the air, indicating flat tires. The race isn’t over until our director says it is. So I put my head down and kept pedaling in hopes of gaining enough riders for our group to catch up to a gruppetto. Several kilometers later I could feel the race official pull up next to me. We were about to enter the finishing circuit of the race. I knew what he was going to say but I thought if I avoided eye contact maybe he’d go away. He finally yelled to us, “finito” . Later I tried to take comfort in the fact that over the one hundred and thirty-one starters there were only forty-eight finishers, but in the end it doesn’t really make you feel better. We’re competitors, we want to win, we want to do our best, and we want to cross the line. We rode to the finish and watched the final few laps of the race circuits unfold. I found Lauren’s parents, parents of my roommate here in Europe, and we grabbed a cappuccino and waited for the finish.
They asked how the race went for me and you instinctively want to say, ‘I got pulled therefore it sucked” but that’s not entirely how the race was. Sure the result wasn’t ideal, but I find myself improving in each race, being smarter and more efficient, following wheels better and being assertive when I need be. Post-race we’ll all talk about how the race unfolded for each one of us and we’ll joke about our shared moments of misery. Our training rides are just as fun and our love for the sport that can bring us such high-highs and low-lows will still be there.
Phil Gaimon, an American pro for Garmin-Sharp, once wrote, “You can’t tie your happiness to the last race”. It’s true. You learn from your bad days, but you let them go. Focus on the good races and things that went right. There’s always another race, another chance! Luckily my next chance would be on Saturday for the World Cup!
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