by Genevieve Whitson
Preparing for the ’cross season: the calm before the storm … or so I thought.
Over the last two months, I’ve been lucky enough to be a full-time athlete on the European roadie scene racing for a French UCI road team, yo-yoing between France and Belgium for spring classics and French Cups. I visualized that going into this season would be smooth sailing — just doing loads of racing and perfecting the art of French. But the universe had other plans for me.
Since I packed up my life in Edinburgh and arrived in France, there has been more drama and mayhem in eight weeks than I could’ve asked for in one year. Character building, one might say — hilarious, even, but one thing is for sure … I won’t forget this season any time soon.
My first race with the team was Dottignies in Beglium. It was a very tough UCI race with a big field of 180+ women. We had barely clipped in before it was all over for me! At 1.5km’s we hit the cobbles, and my stem decided it wanted out of the race, coming loose and sending my handlebars into crazy spasms all over the road. A few minutes spent with the mechanic, an attempt and failure to draft back on and voila! – end of race one.
Then came the chat with the team manager in French — mind you, I can barely say hello and goodbye in this language — as to why my drafting style needs serious attention in relation to my bad performance at Dottignies. This was kindly interpreted for me by Kiwi teammate Emma, who just happens to be fluent in the language – now isn’t that handy! Emma interpreting for me would become a recurrent thing for the next two months.
Determined to show my team that I was not a total write-off as a roadie, I rode my bike like I’d stolen it just a week later in a French Cup, managing to convince most of my teammates that I was not just a ’cross rider in disguise … but that was short-lived. Three days later, my team manager presented me with a letter from the National Cycling Federation of France advising me that I was temporarily banned from all bike racing as my cortisol levels were deemed too low. I was sent back to the lab for more tests, looking a bit miserable as the severity of the ban had set in.
But being a total optimist, I headed to Belgium for more spring classics in the hopes that the second test results would come back fine and we could all ‘laugh’ about this silly little hiccup. I was told two days out from GP Roselare that I was still not well enough to race.
Soul-searching of all types took place. I quit my job to do it full-time. I took some large financial risks to be there; it was possibly the biggest break my cycling career had ever known … and it all appeared to be going totally pear-shaped. To add to the melting pot, I also discovered I have a ‘project’ on my hands to be able to remain living in the UK and doing my ’cross thing. UK Border Agencies have changed the rules for various visa’s – it was one more thing to add to the list of ‘things to fix in Gen’s life.’
So I made plans to fly back to the UK and sort out my health and visa, all the while trying to figure out how things went from so great to so sour in such a short period of time — but wait, there was more! I arrived back in France all ready to pack my bags and my team manager informed me that the National Cycling Federation of France had changed their mind. They had decided I was fit to race – no explanation given, I was fit to race … those were the only words I really cared about and poured myself back into training.
For about two weeks it was like I’d stepped off the rollercoaster and onto the cruise boat. An amazing training camp in Spain gave me the fitness kick I needed along with reminding me why I liked wine so much in times of stress. Emma and I flew back to Belgium for another UCI race – it went well. I finished, and I was relatively happy with my placing. Everything seemed to be going well … until a mechanic looked closely at my forks. There was a crack and yes, I had just raced a dangerous cobblestone-infested course for close to three hours on forks that were not deemed fit for using — even on a training ride.
My teammate Claire kindly lent me her bike for the week, and with more interpreting from Emma, I was informed that I would have a new fork in time for the next French Cup. What I didn’t realize is that this fork would be put on close to 40 minutes before the race! I am not sure who was more distressed, me or the mechanic.
With the French Cup done and dusted, Emma, Claire, and I headed back to Belgium for our last spring classic, the UCI 1.2 Gooik – considered as a very hard race. I was told ‘the goal is to finish, Genevieve,’ and I found myself somewhat surprised to be sitting in the main bunch after climbing over the Mur, chasing down the likes of Armstead, Pooley and Emma Johanson, all of whom were just 30 seconds up the road. All was looking good for a strong finish and potentially my best result all season, but it all got a little ugly with 20 km to go. My seat bolt snapped and I saw my seat leave my bike, rolling down the hill doing a lovely dance. One more thing to try and explain to my team in my terrible French.
So now I have one week left in France, and then it’s back to Scotland to prepare for the second half of the season/get the legs ready for ’cross. I figure I’ve used up all the bad luck for 2012 in the short time I’ve been here, and it’s about time the good karma fairy shine her wand on me.