It seems fitting that my first taste of pink was the 2012 version of my very first European pro-race three years ago. The Tour de l’Ardeche 2012 started last Monday, 3 September and finished on Saturday 8 September consisting of seven tough stages of racing over six days, in the Rhone Alps region of Ardeche, France.
Three years ago I arrived in France for my first professional European race. A nervous novice and final year engineering student, I arrived bike in one hand and engineering textbooks in the other, completely oblivious to the enormity of the challenge that lay ahead: seven tough stages of racing over six days in the Rhone Alps region of Ardeche, France.
Fast forward to 2012 and the rider fighting for survival who finished 39th on general classification in 2009 has a completed engineering degree and three European cycling seasons of experience in the bank. The race may have been the same but the challenges and the outcome were very different.
I started this year’s tour with a bang. I finished 5th in the Prologue and went straight into the blue jersey, which signifies the rider with the most sprinting and climbing points combined. However, blue turned to priceless pink (the leader’s jersey) after I won Stage Two. The short, sharp 3.5km Individual Time Trial started on a steep climb that was matched with a technical descent and finished on a drag up to the line. I won by 7 seconds beating out the 2010 World Time Trial Champion Emma Pooley.
I was absolutely delighted to win my first stage in the Tour de l’Ardeche. It felt great pulling on the pink leader’s jersey for Stage Three but, wow, I never anticipated the challenge that came along with it. I fought hard to defend my lead but it wasn’t long before Emma Pooley’s experience got the better of me. Add a high speed crash on a technical descent and a few other hard lessons, and I finished Tour de l’Ardeche 2nd on general classification behind Emma Pooley.
My Lotto Belisol teammates, staff and my hubby Carl were amazing. Ardeche 2012 was a great team building experience and, I can honestly say, without the support from my teammates Kaat Hannes, Joanna Van De Winkel, Sofie de Vuyst and Ann-Sophie Duyck, I wouldn’t have finished the tour. If it wasn’t for them during Stage 4, I might never have gotten back to the peloton after my crash.
It was three years ago at the same Tour de l’Ardeche that I fell in love with European women’s cycling. I fell in love with the challenge of pushing my body to the limit, day in and day out. The races may be the same but the challenges are always different and, still three years later, I continue to learn. It is in pursuing my passion and love for cycling that I have learnt my biggest lessons in life and I don’t ever want to stop learning!
Onwards and upwards to 2013