by Marie-Soleil Blais
A week out from Canadian nationals and after spending some quality time at home, I had a chance to think back on my first few months in the pro ranks and what a crazy half-season it’s been. From Australia to Belgium and to the U.S., I was lucky to have a calendar filled very high-level racing. I took part in my first few European WorldTour races, some UCI 1.1 races that were new to me and some more familiar events. Here are the two main takeaways from the season so far:
1. Racing at a higher level makes you better.
It sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to take comfort in the races we know and do well at thinking we can keep progressing. Not that we cannot but racing against a tougher field takes you to the next level. It was tough as hell to ride in the peloton of a WorldTour race in Europe. You don’t know the roads, you don’t know the riders plus many other variables of being on a foreign team!
For the first few weeks, I was really doubting in my capabilities. I must have forgotten about the process along the way. It’s only when I came back to the Tour of California that I realized the major step I had taken from this block in Europe. Oh yeah, that was all part of the process, right.
2. Riding as a domestique is full of opportunity
I have always been a team player (I come from hockey), but it’s hard to demonstrate what teammate you can be when you don’t have a leader to work for. I knew I would love to play the role of domestique and I knew what it meant. But I wasn’t expecting it would bring me so many opportunities.
Whether it was for my Astana team leader Arlenis Sierra in California or Winston-Salem, or for Amber Neben at Redlands or Leah Kirchman at Gatineau, riding as a domestique allowed me to play a part in team victories and podiums that were so much more satisfying than racing for myself. It also provided me a lot more visibility to teams and riders, by riding the front and making a difference for my team. I think this role allowed me to truly show what I can do in the sport of cycling.
Being a worker doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be smart or make decisions in the race. I realized there are even more calculations to make, which is super fun and challenging. I found my new role to be exactly what I always wanted to do in cycling and something I can actually do well enough and be satisfied with.
My calendar for the second half of the season is still unknown at this moment. Hopefully, I will get a chance to return to Europe with Astana. Until then, I can enjoy the summer in Quebec while the focus is on nationals at the end of the week.
Marie-Soleil Blais is a first-year professional with Astana Women’s Team from the Centre-du-Québec. She’s a seven-time Quebec champion on the road and track.