by Marie-Soleil Blais

With the end of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, I have completed my preparation for the big part of my racing season to resume after it started in Australia. I was guest riding with the Canadian team Trek Red Truck at Redlands, allowing me to get some racing in the legs before I go to Belgium to join my teammates from Astana for my first European block.

It’s funny how things keep evolving. Two years ago in 2017, I was so intimated by this five-day stage race in California. There was so much to learn: the courses, the peloton, the type of racing, the recovery tactics and so much more. I remember how hard it was. How every day was a struggle just to get the legs moving on the bike, surviving to the next stage and hanging on to the front group for as long as I could. I was looking up to the pro riders who were able to attack when I was getting dropped, wondering if I would ever be able to attain that level of fitness.

Now, I’m riding the front on the longer stages, not intimated by anyone or anything, defending the leader’s jersey for Amber Neben like I’m owning my role in the race, not just surviving it. And we did it, she won!

I surprised myself being able to race hard after I almost dropped out when I caught a cold and felt really sick coming into the week. It was the sickest I ever been while racing and somehow it’s about the best I ever raced.

Turns out, it’s not just fitness. Experience matters a lot and there is no way around it other than just showing up at the bigger races and learning as much as you can. Make mistakes, suffer, fight a little more, so you come out stronger than you started. I often hear comments from younger riders that they wait to be ready. You will never be ready if you keep waiting. By the time you’re ready for that one race you dreamed about, you’re preparing for another one. It always evolves.

It’s funny to be able to see so clearly that process I went through from my first time racing Redlands to this year’s, knowing that’s exactly the same process I’m about to start all over again when I head over to Europe. The courses, the peloton, the type of racing, everything is to be learned again. Hanging on for dear life, fighting a little more, everything is to be experienced all over again.

I will certainly be looking up the best riders in the world. But this time, I won’t let it intimidate me or make me wonder how they do it. Now I know it takes time and experience. So I’ll start with that. I’ll show up, I’ll take it all in and learn as much as I can.

Stay tuned for stories about my debut in the European field and wish me luck!

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