Sarah Gigante: Settling back into European life

With just a week since my first European race of the season, I’ve felt myself reflecting on everything that has happened since my last competition on this side of the world, which was the Tour of Scandinavia back in August. I’ve made a few key changes since then—I moved apartments, changed teams and also returned to my former coach, Dylan Lindsey. However, the biggest difference is surely related to how the latter two factors have combined to change my mentality and excitement for the season ahead. I have always loved cycling (anyone who knows me can attest to this!), but I’m now coming to appreciate how much I also like being able to set and to chase specific goals while also still having a lot of fun.

I was so determined to come into Nationals flying and to prove myself again that ever since early October, when I found out that my already-short season was suddenly over and that my next big race would be the Aussie Championships, I barely thought about what would happen after the first week of January. The Australian Summer of Cycling came and went in a blur, and although I tried to soak up every minute, I had so much fun with my new team that it felt like the month just flew by. It was only at the start of February, once my teammates had all returned to the cold weather of Europe, and the disappointment of Nationals, hype of the Tour Down Under and excitement of Cadel’s Race had seemingly left with them, that I began to appreciate the structure and planning of my new team.

 

There was no better way to start the year than spending a month in Australia with my legendary teammates! Photo credit: Sprintcycling

Back in early January, our fabulous team director, Jolien d’Hoore, had made it a priority to give us all clear outlines of the first third of our individual seasons. Knowing that I wouldn’t be expected to return to top form for another few months after my initial peak in January gave me the freedom to let my hair down a bit—something that I had chosen not to do much in the usual offseason, given my complete focus on the Nationals Time Trial. I love training, so the reduction in volume wasn’t something I was craving, but I was super excited to put aside the intervals for a couple of weeks and instead join my friends for some group rides and local criteriums again (which, ironically, are both just as painful as intervals anyway!). Winning up Willunga Hill in January was a fantastic day of course, but the February bunchie that I organised with 4200m climbing over 230km (in forty degrees, mind you!) which somehow formed part of my deload—in a mental sense rather than a physical one—came relatively close. Bikes are so fun!

 

All in all, my fortnight of “chilling” at home flew by, just as January had, and soon it was time to leave for Europe. I wasn’t exactly counting down the days until my departure, because I do love spending time in Melbourne with my family and friends, but I was still stoked to be heading off to Europe again, happy and healthy. I had a good feeling about this upcoming season thanks to the great time I had in January, not just because of the nice results (I’d been fit in Europe before, and learnt that fitness is fickle and doesn’t mean everything anyway!), but also because of the wonderful team environment. Even my arrival in Europe, forty hours later, confirmed this once more. My other lovely team director, Servais Knaven, woke up before 5am to pick me up at Amsterdam Airport and drive me three and a half hours to Brussels, before turning around and driving back home alone. How lovely is that?! The next day, this warm fuzzy feeling was confirmed yet again at the team presentation, where I met my nine other teammates and many of the fabulous staff. I felt at home right away.

 

This was my first ever team presentation – I loved meeting all of my teammates and staff, and it was also a great day meeting all of the sponsors who make everything possible. Photo credit: Cédric Depraetere

 

Writing this, it’s hard to believe that the presentation was only a number of weeks ago. I feel like I’ve been in Girona for months already. Perhaps that is a sign of how I feel like I’m at home here and have found myself a nice routine. With the colder morning temperatures, I’ve been enjoying riding mainly in the afternoons. It works perfectly, because my Australian friends are awake during my European mornings, so I can chat to them when I wake up and then go riding when they go to sleep. I won’t take this for granted though, because when the summer heat eventually arrives, I’ll have to switch to riding in the morning… but the time zones won’t swap with me! I’m lucky in that I also have many friends in town, including four lovely teammates, so there is always company available, as long as I’m organised enough to look for it.

I feel like I’ve been training the house down (maybe that’s easier to do when the house is just a small Catalonian apartment, but I’ll claim it!) but with my motivation sky-high, I’ve been loving every second of it. It was great to have a taste of racing again at Binda, where my team rode so well together and our strong Mauritian Kim Le Court finished just outside the Top 10, but that has just made me hungry for more. I’m now even more pumped for the current buildup to the Ardennes and the Vuelta and, hopefully, also returning to the top form I had in January. I’m also crossing my fingers that Belgium won’t be too cold in a few weeks’ time…I may have left the Australian summer behind a while ago, but I’m still getting used to wearing leg warmers, buffs and merino base layers at a time of year that I usually associate with warm weather!

I tend to use Strava as a bit of a diary, so follow along for my random daily thoughts (I spend 3-5 hours a day thinking of each ride title!) or you can follow me on Instagram @slipstreamsarah.

Thanks for reading—until next time!

Sarah

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