Today the team raced Omloop van het Hageland finishing the opening weekend of spring racing in Belgium.
The race marked the start of the season for British road champion Hannah Barnes as well as the first race with the team for inaugural Zwift Academy winner Leah Thorvilson. Barnes and Thorvilson were joined by Lisa Brennauer, Mieke Kröger and Barbara Guarischi.
Barnes and Guarischi were both part of breakaways and although they were considered to have the right mix of teams represented to stay away, too many other sprinters in the peloton disagreed and the breaks were reeled in.
Missing the final four-rider move late in the race, meant CANYON//SRAM Racing needed to chase on the last lap. It was Barnes who made it over the final climb to be in the front group but managed 11th in the final sprint.
“It was so good to be back. I have been counting down the days to when it was race day,” said Barnes.
“The move I was in was good but it was too far to the finish and you could quickly see not everyone was committed. I was disappointed to have missed the four-rider break that went with a lap to go. That put us on the back foot and we had to work hard to bring that back. I was well placed going into the final climb so could go with the front group but the finish was so fast I just wasn’t able to get the power out and hold the best position. I’m a little disappointed with the final result but we worked well as a team throughout the race.”
For Thorvilson, it was a day of firsts. First team race meeting, first time getting ready in the team camper or signing on at team presentations, first UCI race and first time in Belgium, first time over le pavé or on a cobbled climb. An extensive list of firsts.
The Zwift Academy winner shadowed the team at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia last month but nothing compares to the experience of racing yourself.
One of 110 riders who did not finish the race yesterday, Thorvilson was obviously disappointed but found the relief of the first race balancing out the disappointment.
“The first race was….chaotic. I actually was enjoying the experience of trying to push myself up through the peloton. Unfortunately that experience was too short lived after I finished on the second local lap. There were so many new things I experienced: going around crashes, chasing back afterwards, going through the convoy, cobblestones and the cobbled climb. They weren’t as bad as I expected honestly. On top of all that you add in the Belgium roads. In the end, it was a massive learning experience and I survived it.”
Thorvilson has some of the peloton’s best riders as teammates and said she still feels the whole situation is surreal. “Taking the stage with them before the race was pretty much a dream moment for any female cyclist. Just to be recognised as a part of this team is….incredible.”
“They were as I expected anyone to be before a race. Focused. Outwardly calm. I had a few rookie errors in preparation that were embarrassing to me but they were nice to not make me feel stupid about it,” said Thorvilson.
Thorvilson will now take another step forward in her steep learning curve as the team does a reconnaissance ride of the Ronde van Vlaanderen course tomorrow, and on Wednesday 1 March at GP Le Samyn she will already be racing again.
“The biggest positive is that I have one under my belt. I thought I was sticking my nose in the race being part of the bunch but I recognise now that it was not enough. I was simply too far back at times. I have a lot of takeaways that I can build on. There are some things you can only learn by doing.”
The team will race again on Wednesday 1 March at GP Le Samyn in Belgium before moving to Italy for the first UCI Women’s WorldTour race, Strade Bianche.