Dutch racing well and truly slapped me in the face over the past weekend. I left Amsterdam airport with scabby knees, my confidence broken, sadness for my teammate Emma Johanson’s misfortunate crash resulting in a broken collarbone and a general feeling of overall disappointment as a team. Like in any job, if you don’t hit targets, and performance is lacking, consequences await. And just like a business, if you have success, there will be increased profit, and greater investment opportunities. Orica-AIS really only needed one big win to lift the teams morale and get that confidence flowing throughout the riders. Unfortunately we haven’t had that win. For me, I felt pretty helpless in these races, everything about them was so foreign to me. The roads, the obstacles, the weather conditions, the racing style etc. It was like I was back at Brunswick Cycling Clinic learning to ride my first fixed wheel track bike at the age of 14, being beaten by 10year olds. Marv my coach did warn me about the ‘Dutch style ’ racing, and all they wanted to see from me is if I could get through each race. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to just get through it, I want to be in the race”. I realise now what they meant.
My first World Cup Race Ronde van Drenthe was probably one of my worst experiences I have had in a bike race. So what better idea to relive the whole experience through a blog.ha!
Going into this race, I was noticeably stressed for a number of reasons. Firstly I had been sick all week with a cold, secondly I hadn’t ridden or even seen the course and lastly it was my first ever World Cup. Knowing the course and being ready and 'well positioned’ in the peloton for what is coming up is a huge part of having success at these races. To help with this, most riders write notes on tape and stick it to their head stem. My day started with me leaving my sticky notes stuck to the wall of the campervan. I was already going into this race with limited knowledge, now I was pretty much riding blind! My bad luck snowballed from this point and it didn’t help that I was ridiculously nervous, causing me to be ‘jumpy' on the brakes. 10km into the race as we were entering the first climb the ‘Vamberg’ (the only hill in the 140km course- man-made built over a rubbish tip), I managed to clip a wheel in front of me due to a sudden brake ahead. This is pretty easy to do in the peloton as we are riding extremely close to one another. Its requires constant concentration because the roads change from double lane, to single lane and even to bike track sized paths. This all could be in the space of 1km. You also have to be wary of the traffic islands and road dividers, which makes the bunch swell and narrow with limited time to spare. The screeching of brakes and girly screams generally is an indication that something is ahead. Another obstacle, also referred as, (please excuse my french) “form fuckers” as Marv explained to me, are concrete poles that create a narrower pathway on the road to force cars to slow down. Marv has witnessed riders smashing into these poles on numerous occasions, one girl yesterday actually. Then there’s ‘death valley’, the large cracks in the centre of the road that skinny race tyres love to fall into, but struggle to get out of. There have been many casualties in Death Valley.
So as I watched my front wheel lean dangerously sideways, I accepted the fact I was hitting the pavement. This happened mid-pack of about 130 riders. About 4 of us went down and I managed to get tangled up with another rider. Once untangled, I had to put my chain back on and then jump back on and begin my chase. I felt like it was deja vu of ‘La Course’ with Marv screaming instructions at me of how to correctly ride the car convoy. In World Cups teams are allowed to have race radios, so I had Marvs voice ‘literally’ in my ear. After about 10min, I managed to make contact with the peloton. Now to the hard part, trying to move up to the front. After surfing the back of the bunch for another 20min, struggling to find gaps to move up we hit a short cobble section and instantly in front of me 3 girls hit the deck. I had no where to go and tumbled over the top of them. By this stage, I had blood running down both knees and a ripped kit. Flustered and shocked, I sprung back up and started chasing…AGAIN! It took another 15min to catch the main peloton. I knew I had to move up because it was far more dangerous being at the back without vision of what's coming up and with nervous and less experienced riders accumulating there. I saw my chance to move up by cutting over someone’s front garden as we were taking a sharp left turn. I wasn’t the only one with this idea! As I was bunny hopping back onto the road someone ran into my back wheel, bending my rear derailleur hanger causing a horrible sound. The hanger was knocking the rear wheel spokes with every revolution. I knew I had to stop and get my spare bike. Now depending on what number Marv has drawn for the car convey decides how long you will be waiting on the side of the road. We had car no 8, not so bad but also not so good. After about 3min I was back on the road chasing the peloton, at this point my mental state was wavering…. I had Marv once again barking instructions at me about riding the convoy correctly. Tears were welling up behind my glasses and all I wanted was to stop and get into the car. But I knew in myself if I had quit at this point, I would never forgive myself. I wasn’t going to be cracked by Dutch racing. I put my head down and slowly made my way back to the group after about 20min.
I had one role going into todays race and it was to hit the front at 52km taking as many teammates with me before the first big cobble section at 56km. We were about 45km into the race, at that point I thought to myself, "I have to do my job” or I haven’t achieved anything today. So with all my guts, I squeezed my way to the front hitting the wind for the first time. My confidence lifted and I thought, “I’m back in this race”. It was an absolute shit fight to get to the cobbled section first (at this point the peloton is travelling over 60km/ph and everyone is jostling for position just like a bunch sprint). Loes our Dutchy was driving it hard on the front like a trooper. I was sitting about 10th wheel and Emma found me. I rode towards the front and dropped her off. As we entered the cobbles the team were all well positioned, including me! I was pumped. Nek minnit…..my back wheel locked up and I couldn’t pedal. I had to stop because something was seriously wrong. As I turned around to hopefully fix the issue, my heart sank as I knew it was irreparable. The rear derailleur somehow managed to snap off and lodge itself into my back wheel. As I stood there waiting for Marv and Pat a photographer came over and took shots of me, bloodied and broken. I was very close to giving him the finger. Pat the mechanic jumped out with a wheel, thinking it was a puncture and took one look at my bike and then faced Marv and gestured a cut throat signal. The remainder of the day was spent being thrown around in the back seat of the convoy race car by Marv’s ‘very safe’ driving. To think that travel sickness was going to finish me off? Our soldiers dropped one by one and we were faced with Emma being outnumbered by other teams in the remaining 20km of the race. After the race I was having a teary moment in the camper van with Marv and suddenly there was a knock on the door. It was the media looking for Lizzie Williams. I had won the first ever UCI Sufferfest award. This award is given to the rider that has experienced the most suffering in the race. As I walked to the media area wiping my tears away, I had a little chuckle to myself. At least my suffering was acknowledged, it brought a little bit of light into a pretty dark day for me. Although I did feel like I was going to accept the wooden spoon prize (or encouraged award…even worse!). After my interview I headed back to the carpark, only to see both team vehicles driving off into the distance. After 45minutes of loitering in the carpark freezing my tits off (it was 4 degrees), I resigned to the fact that they weren’t coming back for me and I had to negotiate a lift with my fellow opponents Velocio Sram. That was definitely the icing on the cake. This was a day I should have stayed in bed.