A taste of how cycling works when the big teams play… Last week our U23 team had the opportunity to start in the LOTTO Belgium Tour, a UCI 2.1 stage race across Belgium. The real deal, high level, and fully “Belgian” experience!

Starting up with a 4km prologue in the pouring rain. Soaking wet and with a good amount of nervosity we started at this stage race. Ilse managed to finished first of the team at a 50th place, what meant first rider of a club team.

The next day the circus transferred to the coast. Racing in Blankenberge meant racing in wind with the risk of echelons added with some cobbles. When DSM forced the group to split in multiple groups, a few of us got stuck behind the splits, others were not surprised and made the cut. In the end all came back together and it went towards a bunch sprint. The last lap was quite nervous and caused a few crashes, what made the run-up towards the sprint pretty hectic.

The second stage was going to be a nervous one. Start and finish in Galmaarden, where a course with a lot of cobbles, narrow roads and some climbs where the decor of the day. After 10 km a big crash occurred where Eline and Ilse got caught. Eline’s bike was broken and therefore she continued the race on the bike of Ilse. Ilse stayed on the deck with two broken ribs, abandoning the race. After a bike change and (broken) shoe change Eline had to start a catch up, finding her way towards a group in the background of the race.

Going into the last stage with two remaining riders, who both had been crashed in the previous stages, it was hoping on a miracle. The scenery of the day was Geraardsbergen; four times the Bosberg and four times De Muur included. The difficult course, with the high pace caused by the high level of contending teams turned out to be too much.

Being able to race on this high level meant a big learning curve for our riders. New lessons learned, racing side by side with some of the big names in women’s cycling. A lot of racing coming up so it's time to get the learned lessons into practice!