Well, I’m still here, living in Durango in the Basque Country and still loving it! After the initial first three months, finding out where everything is, and learning about the culture, I have settled in very well and am finally adapting to the climate, the culture, the food and I would like to say the language but that would be stretching it!!!
It’s difficult to know what to talk about first but I guess most of you want to know about the cycling and the races, so that’s where I’ll start!! They are definitely tough, and are like nothing I have ever done before! Since starting here on 25 February I have done about 30 races, with another 14 to go before the last race on 17 September. It is a brutal calendar where we sometimes race 2, 3 or 4 races a week, against some of the best U23 and Elite riders in Spain, with each race ranging from 115km to 160 km. I have also been lucky enough to race in some fantastic locations, with amazing scenery that I’m sure is even better when you are not concentrating on a race and have the time to appreciate it, together with travelling to Belgium, England and France for races.
So, what about my personal experience in the races? It’s been up and down. I have suffered all season with position issues so if I’m honest I have not got the results I know I am capable of which has been disappointing, but that said, I have remained positive, and have managed to hold my own and finish the majority of the races in the top 30 to 50 percent of the starting line numbers. Racing at this level though after being a junior has been a major learning curve, and despite the amazing speed of the races, I have also had to learn how to race in extreme heat, how to fuel my body and keep hydrated, together with climbing mountains not once, but many times during a race, although I have to say the most daunting and important skill I have had to learn is descending!! We definitely do not have enough hills where I live in England to prepare you for this. It was quite embarrassing for a while getting dropped going downhill!! However, I am happy to say I have pretty much mastered this now, and am finally getting the hang of it!!
My best result so far this year has been 15th but I am desperately trying to improve on this, and my most disappointing result was a ‘DNF – did not finish’ in the Tour of the Reservoir, in England, where obviously I wanted to ‘shine’ on home soil, but following a crash immediately in front of me, which I managed to just avoid, I lost quite a lot of time which made it impossible to catch the peloton and effectively ended my race. I was absolutely gutted!! Still I keep trying to remind myself that my main goal this year was to develop my skills and strengths but let’s face it everybody wants to be up there on the podium, otherwise it’s a lot of hard work for little reward!!! It’s a good job I enjoy it too!!
Now the social side and style of living in the Basque Country!! The occupiers of my apartment has doubled and in addition to my English team-mate, I now share with a South African rider, Jaco, who is great fun and a Colombian rider, Nico, who is an amazing rider, speaks very little English but is helping us to learn Spanish! The team have a great rapport and we have a good laugh together even with the language barriers, regularly meeting for coffee, training rides or just the odd skate-boarding session, so much so that not only are they team-mates they are also good friends now!
The weather is a little bit like English weather just more extreme, when it rains it rains and I am getting very good at predicting when it is on its way, as prior to the rain it usually gets pretty windy, but when the sun shines it certainly shines with temperatures quickly hitting 38 degrees, and with all the cycling I am doing I have some fairly amazing and weird tan lines – especially on my hands which look like I am wearing white fingerless gloves all the time!! The thunderstorms over here are quite spectacular too!
At the moment, the Basque Country are in their summer shut-down period, with almost no-one working, and everybody having left for their holidays at the beach or in France, so it is very strange as usually the whole town comes alive every evening with the buzz of families, couples and friends, young and old, mingling and chatting – it is really fantastic to see and join in with. Soon the fiesta period will start and apparently there will be a week-long fiesta in Bilbao, which is continuous 24 hours per day with shows, music and lots of food! I am definitely looking forward to experiencing that for a couple of days between races.
The food is different, not massively, but it does make me appreciate English supermarkets more! However, I am used to it now, and have become quite good at cooking which still surprises me!! Mind you, the pastries, waffles and donuts over here are absolutely amazing and I can’t deny the fact that there are times when I wish I wasn’t a cyclist!! I have a list of all the places I will be visiting for these treats after my last race on 17th September that’s for sure!!
Anyway, that about wraps it up for the last three months, I am still thoroughly enjoying my life in the Basque Country, and still feel very lucky to be here, although I am looking forward to coming home to England for a couple of months in the Autumn and finally sorting out all my position issues before returning to hopefully re-join the team for the 2018 season too.