Postcard From Belgium: 18yo Aussie Trying To Make It Professionally In Europe

Peloton Cafe readers will remember?Matthew de Vroet, the young cyclist who undertook the epic ‘Across Down Under’ from Melbourne to Perth raising?money for beyondblue last year.

Onto his next challenge, Matthew has been?signed as an under?23 rider in Belgium.?Riding for the Baguet M.I.B.A. Poorten Indulek Cycling Team, he will be in Europe?until August.

While away Matthew is?continuing his?studies in?Journalism and Business at Monash University and will also find the time to?regularly file updates for Peloton Cafe.

“As an under 23 Australian rider in the heart of Flanders, I feel like the blog would generate a lot of interest amongst cyclist of all ages,” Matthew said.

“They rarely get a perspective from a young Aussie guy trying to make it professionally in Europe.”

By Matthew de Vroet

I?m sitting inches away from the back of a car labelled with three big letters; BMC. The famous black and red colours light up my view as I dare a quick look down at my Garmin which flashes 75kmh. ?S%#t this is quick? I think.

I?m making my way back through the race convey after a mechanical left me on the side of the road fixing my chain. The peloton is a mere 15 seconds up the road but I know this is going to be a hard chase. I?m 25kms into my first Belgian race of the season; Brussels Zepperen. The race has been littered with tight corners, street furniture and the occasional bunny-hop to the side walk simply to make up of for the lack of road left for the riders. I?ve had to dodge falling bodies, trucks, bushes and dogs and it hasn?t even been an hour.

Harder Than It Looks

Many cycling fans only see the pros race, and therefore their view is limited to the beauty and elegance that come with races such as Le Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix. However, anyone who has ever raced a local criterium or road race will know that the pros make it look easy: racing is really bloody difficult. What many people don?t know is how hard it is to make it in the world of pro cycling, and the extremes you need to reach to even get a glimpse of what it could be like.

On Sunday, March 6th, I became most aware of this harsh reality. Sitting on the start line in a 3 degree chill, I prepared myself for the horrendous weather that was bound to ensue. However, the cold was the last thing on my mind, much too nervous to feel it. I think about what I?ve given up to be here. I?ve left my family and friends to travel to the other side of the world, living in a country where I struggle to understand the language, all in an attempt to race my bike against some of the best young riders in the world. If the pure physical element of cycling doesn?t make it the toughest sport in the world, the mental side does.

Melbourne To Perth By Bike

Many of you will know me as the crazy 18-year-old who rode my bike from Melbourne to Perth in 20 days, raising money for the charity beyondblue. Since that adventure which concluded in December of last year, things have moved pretty quickly. After recovering from the 3300kms I got straight back into training for the tough European season ahead. I?m racing for Baguet- M.I.B.A.- Indulek- Derito Cycling Team, one of the best teams in Belgium and after a short training camp in Italy I?ve been thrown into an elite Interclub race with the best riders in the country.

With the less than ideal start to my racing campaign with an early mechanical it was a tough fight through the team cars, trying to latch back onto the end of the bunch. This is one of the skills Australian juniors have never been taught due to the smaller bunches meaning that there is usually only one or two follow cars, not 30. The pros make moving up from car to car look easy, but when you are sitting on a heart rate of 190 beats per minute, with any potential mistake bringing all the hard work to an end, nothing comes easy. And then bam. I?ve hit the first hill of the day. I?ll tell you now; the guys were not lying when they told me the gradient hit 24%. I crest the climb grinding it up in the smallest gear I have with the peloton in sight. Just as I felt like I had them in my grasp, they speed up again likely fighting for position for the next hill.

Full Gas For 30km

I spend the next 30km in the convoy of cars (which is a lot harder than it sounds) before catching back onto the back of the peloton. ?Finally,? I rejoice, hoping to catch my breath. Yet again however I am reminded that bike racing just isn?t that easy, especially when you are competing against 200 professional-hopefuls who all are desperately fighting for the flowers at the end.

Dropped on the first cobblestone section, that?s my race done.

I, with 128 other riders out of 175, did not finish the race, however I’m not disheartened – this is only the beginning. I have until August to prove that I can make it in the toughest cycling scene of them all. With Junior Paris Roubaix on the cards as well as many other big races, it will definitely be a significant year. At only 18 years old I honestly feel more confronted by the mental challenge to come rather than the physical.

Bike racing is not a sport for the weak. As I approached the finish village of Brussels Zepperen on Sunday I remember likening the end of the race to a battlefield. As mud-covered riders held back tears and shook uncontrollably, struggling to remove their helmets, the strength of these riders to complete these races is a testimony to the sheer hard work I will need to put in this coming year to compete.

Welcome to Belgium, welcome to the life of an aspiring professional cyclist.