Prior to racing in Europe, I had heard most of the stereotypes. It’s fast. It’s hard. The weather sucks. The roads are small. The strange thing about stereotypes though is that their relationship to the truth can vary widely from topic to topic. In some cases, stereotypes are spot on; nearly facts. In others, they are borderline slander. Rally’s first trip to Europe this February presented a chance to see just how much of what I had heard was true and how much were just stories from school. You can imagine my disappointment in having to learn that the reason these stereotypes exist is simple; it’s because they are true. To say I spent more than my fair share of time in the groupetto that trip would be an understatement. Honestly, it was incredibly disheartening; I think all the guys would agree with that. When we left France in late-February, we were all a bit beat up–both mentally and physically. However, with this second trip abroad you could tell there was a collective motivation to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
European racing is a different animal compared to the States. Over here, everything is magnified–from bike handling skills to fitness, to race awareness, to nutrition. Fall behind in any one of those categories and you’ll be made aware of it quickly. Adding to that, the dynamic of the races here – how the peloton moves, the team tactics, the terrain – are completely foreign to us. We lost most of the races that first trip more so because of the dynamics of the race than we did because of fitness. Considering we spend weeks and months honing our form for these events, that can be a bitter dose of reality.
While the transition across the pond has had its fair share of humbling experiences, the team is making progress this second time around. Last week we took home the team classification at Castilla y Leon with Colin Joyce also taking 4th overall. Prior to that, Brandon McNulty finished second on the queen stage of GP Beiras e Serra Estrela and 4th overall. In GP Miguel Indurain we placed three riders in the top-20. Not necessarily results to write home about but we are slowly gaining confidence and realizing we have what it takes to compete over here. The engines are there. The ability is there. It’s just a matter of figuring out the racing and putting everything together. Slowly but surely we are getting that done and just like we turned heads in the States these past few years, we expect to do the same here on European soil.