I knew that Erondegemse Pijl was going to be my biggest road race of the summer. I’ve done a few continental UCI road races in North America but this would be the first time in Europe. Already, the regional Belgian and Dutch racing had blown my socks off. Things like towns hosting only a women’s elite race on the day, pelotons close to 100 racers, and such a depth of talent. But this was yet another level.
The blue jerseys in the photo are from the mixed team I got to be a part of. It’s not about entering this race, it’s about whether the team is invited by the organizers. In the picture it’s me surrounded by Dutch ladies but the rest of the 160 participants were astonishingly international. Looking at the start list, it practically covered the whole world from Canada to Mexico to Argentina to Australia and New Zealand. And of course a main sampling from all over Europe.
With a neutral start and a 120 km race, there was no need to bake it the hot sun for a good position at the start. But what an experience to wait an eternity after the starting whistle before clipping in. Fading into the distance was the beginning of the peloton and that’s when the massive size of 160 racers really hit me. I’d never felt so buried in the pack, so blind as to what was happening in the front. The peloton felt locked in and solid like eggs in a carton yet completely fluid like a waterfall.
We zipped along as bystanders looked on and marshals waved their yellow flags and blew this whistles for each jutting curb or median island. It felt just like how the Tour de France looks on TV complete with narrow roads, a feed zone, a caravan of team cars, and a roundabout that split the field as we went around both sides. It felt just like how I’d always watched the men race in Europe.
It gave me goosebumps of pride to be surrounded by so many professional women beating the odds in this sport, racing for just a little more than pocket change, hailing from all over the world to pursue this dream with little fame or fortune available in the end. With respect and humility, I eagerly took 72nd place at 20 seconds behind the winner, sprinting 100% to the line. It’s not about the result, but the story behind the race and the experience I took away with me.