New Zealand Champion: Racing in Europe

Photo: Bruce Wilson

Hamish Schreurs:

Hamish recaps his season in Europe and what it’s like to come from a small nation on the other side of the world: the highs, the lows, the lessons and the fun.

 

There I was, packing my bags in the NZ summer sun to head into the heart of the European winter. I can tell you now that going from plus 25 degrees to 5 degrees (if you are lucky) is a bit of shock at the least. Before getting stuck into it, though, I had to say my annual good byes to everyone, my parents, girlfriend, sponsors, and friends… Ciao, see you in 9 months.

I dove into the winter… Cold, cold, cooold, my first winter in 4 years! I did nothing on the bike for seven days to avoid getting sick and recover from jetlag before heading to Spain for a training camp and a dose of warmer weather.

As a team we had a 10 day training block in Spain, but it turned out that the weather wasn’t much better. We ended up riding in the snow on more than one occasion. Yet, one of the things I found the hardest wasn’t on the bike. It was the language barrier when the whole team was together. I couldn’t understand them or join in with conversation so I would just sit there alone. In New Zealand I had begun to learn French but the speed at which they spoke just went straight over my head and I couldn’t begin to make sense of what they were saying.

My first race was at the start of February with the weather coming to almost 10 degrees. I was excited to get stuck into the racing and it wasn’t long in before I got my first podium…in fact the second race! It was an amazing feeling which was even bettered in March with a win in my U23 New Zealand Champion’s jersey! I knew my French was improving with the interviews but living alone made it very hard work. It’s hard enough living like that the way it is, let alone when you’re trying to learn a language in a foreign country where you know nobody.

Throughout April and May I had 3 tours, all UCI ranking, with satisfying performances before things gradually started to head downhill. Not long after the tours I had a UCI one day race where I was flying but missed the deciding move which left me a little disappointed. At this stage my body was in need of a break. After all of the racing, stress adds up quite quickly, but rather than taking a little rest I kept pushing because U23 Roubaix was coming up. This was a lesson I learned. If your body is tired, take a break. Even if you don’t need it physically, you may need it mentally and vice versa!

Thanks to a taper in training I managed to surprise myself and have super legs in Roubaix. The race, however, was something else. It was horrible weather and there were crashes all over the place. I had almost made it through the first cobble section when I came down and landed on my face, but I was okay. Catching back up to the peloton again, you could clearly see that it was significantly reduced in size but before I knew it, in another cobble section, I went down again. This time it was hard, on my left side. Thinking everything was okay I jumped back on the bike and struggled through the section, almost in tears from pain, only to find out later on that my wrist was broken in 3 places.

Good Times in Germany

Good Times in Germany

I had to have 8 weeks in a cast and no racing but after 10 days off I was back into training. That’s something that most people in New Zealand don’t realise: you are racing from February to October with only about 2 weeks off the bike in the middle of the season, so come the end of the year you are barely able to walk and completely spent.

Back on the bike I headed over to Germany to train with fellow kiwi James Early (yes, riding with a cast on!). It was great fun to spend some time with another kiwi and speak some English again before the eighth week where, finally, the cast came off and I was straight into a 3 day tour the next day.

Things were on the up and results were getting better and better.  I lead my team mate out to 2nd place in the general classification, spent two days in the break and got a 4th place all in one UCI tour. Everything was heading in the right direction for the World Champions, but when the selection came out I wasn’t on the list which was a bit of a shock at the least. With my results and form just getting better I honestly thought I would have been there. It was as a wee set-back but I had to keep getting results and this is what I did. Just keep moving forward and not let missing out on one selection get in the way of good form. It was a real mental test but pushing through it has made me a stronger person.

Finally coming home was very nice indeed. It had been difficult living alone. I wanted to learn French, but progress was slow with no one to teach me or talk to. Still, I did become a lot better at it and was coping to speak one on one to people because then they would be more patient and help you along where necessary. Jumping into the deep end from knowing almost no French was an experience and a half, but I survived it and have learned from it!

I also learned that you have to be ready to lose the race before you have a chance of winning it. You have to be ready to take the risk of not doing too much in the race to have a full enough tank at the end.

It was a super long season and now it is time to sit back for 6-8 weeks to enjoy the NZ summer before doing it all again next year, but with better French and another year’s wisdom, so it can only be better!

 

Hamish

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