Kate Finegan affectionately know as “ Smiley Face” stood at the threshold of working career in 2008 after finishing University but decided that she wasn’t ready yet to attempt the working world. Kate had been racing in the Australian national series for the past two years and was pleased with her performance so thought “what the heck why not give it a go overseas”.
One of the motivators was having a friend from Australia, Leonie Burford, who was racing in Holland in 2008 who had been encouraging Kate to go back over with her the following year. Like the best laid plans of mice and men Leonie had a team in mind for Kate to link up with and put Kate in contact with a family called the “Classens” in Holland Their son (Patrick) had helped with the team Red Sun Cycling in 2008. As support they offered Kate a place to stay on the side of their bicycle shop, for the following year.
Then in November 2008 the announcement was made that Red Sun was turning pro leaving Kate high and dry for a team to join. Theo (the father) and Patrick did some ground work over their winter for Kate, without ever meeting or knowing much about her. Through their good contacts and planning Kate was introduced to a team called Royal Antwerp, who had a very good race schedule for a club team, including some big races in France.
In March 2009 Kate came to the realisation that she was going to a foreign country after sending three emails to Theo and Leonie who she was going to live with without any contact with her proposed team. Kate can remember how amazing the team were when she arrived and there waiting were Theo and Leonie, making her feel very lucky to have found such wonderful people.
Theo advised Kate often with encouragement like, “don’t get disappointed if you don’t finish, as not many Aussies do initially”. Kate being determined finished her first race; it was so different to anything she had done before. In Australia Kate was used to a girl’s race with 10 to 20 girls generally, with a big race of 50 to 60 maybe three times a year. In Belgium and Holland the norm was 80-120 girls.
Her first race was on an 8 km circuit with 1.5 km of cobbles every lap. Kate remembers the mayhem but loved it, finishing in the top 30. Racing was like this for the whole four months that Kate was over there. There were good days (five times on the podium in total) and bad days where she would be lucky to get to the half way point in a race.
Royal Antwerp Team were amazing, giving Kate opportunities in major Dutch classics, as well as some tours in France. There tough low times with three crashes fortunately never really injuring herself. However it was enough to pull Kate out of the races which was a disappointment.
Then Kate fell sick with the flu in the final 10 days she was over there and was disappointed as she had been riding so well. There was the post tour criterium on in Holland, being some of the biggest criterium for the year. Kate exercised sound judgement deciding not to race them just in case she made a fool of herself or hurt someone else with her lack of condition from the flu.
Kate found life at times not so exciting and lonely between racing. There was some boring times, reading books, skypeing friends and family back home and going down to the local coffee shop in a small town called Meijel with population around 5,000 where she was staying with a couple on her own.
Kate’s favourite day of the week when not racing was Thursday. She would ride 30 km to a town called Barlo, for “local racing”. It was on a 500 m track, everyone in, 1 hour plus 3 laps, if you got dropped you could just jump back on the back. The race covered 50km in 1 hour, it was the only hard training Kate did, commenting “imagine them letting us race around Tom Flood like that on our road bikes!!!”
For Kate it was a once in a life time opportunity, something she can share with her grandchildren. Kate’s team included a South African, some Belgiums, two Norwegians and a French girl making these some friends for life.
Asking Kate would she do it again? With a beaming smile; “Without a doubt yes!”
Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing