Peloton Watch
  Manon Lloyd Blog: My first Belgium classics experience  
  March 14th 2016 By Manon Lloyd @manonlloyd96  
  Following a busy track season and a training camp in Majorca, Manon switched her focus to the road lining up with the Great Britain national team for her first ever spring classics at the end of February.

Lloyd along with track teammates Emily Kay and Abigail Dentus joined under 23 Cyclo-cross world champion Evie Richards and Alice Barnes for a week of hard racing in Belgium. Starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before lining up at Omloop van het Hageland and Le Samyn des Dames.

I'm writing this blog on a flight to Girona for some warm weather training with my boyfriend, Ryan Mullen. A really bad wave of cold weather has just hit Manchester so it's perfect timing really. Any excuse to ride my bike in the sun. My week in Girona has gone by quick but I have put some good road miles in the legs and had a chance to reflect on my first classics.

I've had a heavy block on road training during the last few weeks, a lot more road to what I'm use to. My road block started off in Majorca in January just after the last Revolution in Manchester. This was my first proper road block since back in the summer as I've been doing a lot of track training through the year. I found the camp hard but enjoyed every minute of it in the sun and the mountains. It's really important for me to get a good road block like this in several times throughout the year as it sets me up pretty well for upcoming events.

One highlight for me was staying in the same hotel as Team Sky and having the Team Sky chef cook for us. He made the best porridge! It was pretty cool to see what food he cooks and what food the likes of Chris Froome eat before he goes training and what they eat for optimal recovery. I came out of the camp in good shape. I was going well and the training I was doing there had shown me that I've made progress in the last 12 months. After we were allowed a break from training to go and see family and friends, which is always nice to do.

A few weeks after the Majorca camp it was soon time to head out to Belgium for the first race of the season and my first ever classic. I was going with Team GB, there were five of us; myself, Emily Kay, Abbie Dentus, Alice Barnes and recently crowned under 23 Cyclo-cross world champ Evie Richards. We were a very young team going out with not one of us ever having ridden a race at this level, never mind a classic! Our first of the three races we were doing was Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, we had no pressure from our coaches and they pretty much told us that we would do well to finish. Even though I had no pressure I was still very nervous for my first race of the year. My biggest fear was having to get off and walk up the Paterberg!

The race stared outside the Eddy Merckx velodrome in Gent, I am very familiar with this velodrome, as I've raced there before. But I was not here to race on a nice warm smooth track… I was here to race one of the hardest road races I've ever done. 128km with the strongest women on the road scene in the world. The race started on wide fast roads where it was pretty easy to move up the peloton to the front - that's one of the hardest thing I find on the road is moving up to the front with 200 women trying to do it at the same time… It can be a little scary. You have to do everything possible to get to the front, sometimes it involves some cyclo-cross, jumping on to curbs, dive bombing it down the out side on the grass or in the gutter.

For the first 30km I managed to stay at the front away from any carnage and crashes. I had so much adrenaline at the beginning of the race, racing fast and being on edge of not crashing and having to be aware and dodging crashes. It was pretty cool riding next to the likes of the best road riders in the world like Lizzie Armitstead and seeing what she wore in the conditions that we were racing in and what gear she was using.

But soon I was being swamped and I started moving back quickly, we soon reached 60km in and hit a left-hander where we turned on to a very narrow road. Before I knew it I was at the back of the peloton and turning on to the Paterberg, a famous hard cobbled climb in Belgium, the climb is cobbled with a gutter down the side which is the easiest way up as its smooth. But not all 200 riders can fit in the gutter. Luck was on my side and I made it all the way up in the gutter without stopping and having to get off. It was a relief getting up the climb, but this was only half way through the race and I was just off the back of the peloton and in a group of about 15 girls including Hayley Simmonds, the national time trial champ. We chased through the convoy hard and hit some more steep climbs. Soon we no longer had the peloton in our sights.

Another new experience for me was taking a feedbag for the first time, I felt very pro doing this, swinging the bag around my neck as if I was in the Tour De France. At this point in the race I could have done with a café stop and a coffee and cake, but instead I had a gel and a bar.

With about 25km to go to the finish the broom wagon came past. The broom wagon is the name for the vehicle that follows a cycle race picking up stragglers (or sweeping them up) who are unable to make it to the finish of the race within the time permitted. As the broom wagon came past it was already jammed full of riders that had already been picked up. As there was no room my group had to ride all the way to the finish, we were only 25km away but it seemed like it took forever to get back. I was very happy to see the finish even though I would have a DNF by my name. But it was a good experience to take forward to the next race.

Our next race was Omloop van het Hageland, this was another hard race with cobbles. This race didn't start well for me as I crashed inside the first 10km of the start. First crash of the year over and done with; don't have much memory of how it happened but just remember getting up and picking my bike up from the floor and all the convoy cars around me. The GB car was there waiting for me. As I got back onto the bunch we hit a narrow road and I had no way of moving up the bunch. As soon as we got on to a wide road again the peloton had split on a very windy road and I was with the rest of the GB girls and about 80 other riders. We made it to the finishing circuit and did two laps then we were all pulled out the race. Another DNF but I was pretty sore from the crash. I now had two days to recover before my last race here in Belgium.

My last race was Le Samyn, this was the race I enjoyed the most. I got to the start line and lined up for the race 30 minutes before the race so I would have a chance of being at the front. I turned my self inside out for the first 40km and rode it as if it was an elimination race on the track. If someone came past I would try and sprint past and get to the front again. I did this, as I knew if I could stay in the front group and make it to the finishing circuit I would have a chance of finishing the race. The race had a finishing circuit that we had to do 2 laps of. On it, there was 4 cobbled sections. 23 riders got in a break away off the front whilst I was in the main bunch where I stayed for the rest of the race. We were all so happy just to finish a race after the past disappointment of the last two races. But still, small steps in the right direction.

I really enjoyed the experience and would like to thank the coaches and staff in British Cycling for giving us an opportunity like that to go and compete with the best in the sport. I learned an awful lot in just three race days, but I'll use what I learned in all my races in the future. Whether it be on the road or the track.
 © 2016