Europe – part three
The most memorable moment of my trip is non-cycling related. My Dad, who I hadn’t seen since April, walked up the driveway of our accommodation in the Czech Republic with our coach Gary Sutton and sports scientist Emma Barton. I couldn’t believe it – and burst into tears. I still well up thinking about that moment. He had been in Lithuania as team manager of a squad of Australian-Lithuanian sports people competing at the World Lithuanian Games in Klaipėda. When we worked out that I’d be racing a stage of the Tour de Feminin in Poland, which is immediately below Lithuania he had toyed with the idea of driving to watch me race. But when we worked out the logistics, it would have been a long 800km+ drive and a bit too expensive for a fleeting visit. So that was the end of that.
When I was browsing the start-list a couple of days before the Tour, I saw that two teams of Lithuanian riders were entered and recognised a couple of the names. The Geelong Lithuanian Community had hosted the Lithuanian cycling teams for the 2010 Road Championships and the 2012 Track World Champs and I had wondered if Dad knew the coaches who’d be in Czech. (Dad, who is of Polish and Russian heritage is the president of the Geelong Lithuanian Sports Club). I did think briefly that we should have planned it better and he could have driven across with the team and stayed to help during the Tour. Great minds think alike. A couple of weeks earlier when Dad arrived in Lithuania the plan was somehow made and he had kept it a secret from me. He was going to surprise me on the start line, though after my reaction at seeing him I am glad he didn’t – I would have been a bit rattled.
It’s a lonely place on the road, when internet access is patchy, when Skype and Viber fail and you go several days without speaking to your loved ones. And sometimes when you do, you’re tired and drained from training and racing, and often have only a short time window between sessions when you’re actually in a Wi-Fi area, while they’re in waking hours. Dad had been in Europe but I hadn’t spoken to him for more than a week, and had only exchanged an email or two about racing.
When you’re a long way from home and the people who matter most, you miss small things – strong Wi-Fi connections, the same time zone as your friends and family, and someone you love to open their arms and embrace you. Even with Australian teammates and brilliant support staff, nothing beats a hug from your parents. And after a month overseas, and not having been home to Geelong since Easter in early April, I was long overdue for that hug. Not even the AIS selection camp, where they confiscate your phone and laptop, can prepare you for the isolation you sometimes feel when racing on the other side of the world.
The drive was more than 1000km from Lithuania through Poland to the Czech Republic. But that memory will be with me forever. At the end of the Tour after seeing me wrestle with my bike up the hills all week Dad said it was one of the highlights of his life. Me too. It was only my second UCI race, the first the 2.2 Tour of New Zealand in 2012, and my first big Tour in Australian colours. It was so cool to ride under Dad’s outstretched arm in the feed zones, to get a hug before and after every race, and to see his face in the crowd when I was on the stage to collect ninth place.
Until recently my Dad still believed my talents would have been better placed on the basketball court. I think I might have convinced him about my new life on the bike this week.