Hopefully I've had all my bad luck out the way already!

Hello again to everyone at VeloVeritas! It has been a while since I have written about cycling, but after a long and fairly productive, enjoyable winter, the ball has well and truly started rolling again, for what will hopefully be a continuation of that in 2012!

This year started a bit earlier than usual, as I left for Belgium on the 26th Jan, which did feel unseasonably early. I was alone in the house for five days, which apart from a great deal of shivering, I spent sorting a few things out with the new team, Viasport Publie-LED.

First up was to collect my team bike, and get set up on it properly, which is something I have never had done before.

There have been some — what I consider — pretty radical changes to my position, but hopefully that means a few more watts can be squeezed out.

The bike itself is made by Zannata, a Belgian bike company who provide for the Accent Jobs pro-continental team as well as ours.

With Campagnolo Chorus 11-Speed, and Dedacciai componentry, it goes like a demon.

After a few other appointments, the day soon rolled around that we were to depart for our Tuscan training camp.

My lovely new Zannata.

I met most of my team mates for the first time at the airport, including the only other English speaker and my obvious room-mate choice for the week, Alex McGregor, who had arrived from New Zealand the previous night, and was thus dealing with time and temperature changes of equal extremities.

We arrived at Pisa Aeroporto at midday, while the van had most kindly met us there, and we duly got changed into our chamois in the car park out-front, and as a group of girls also remarked upon seeing us; it was cold.

The ride to the hotel in Montecatini Terme was a somewhat drawn out 60km “easy ride” in the end.

A crash in a pitch black tunnel and the resulting mechanicals, no real idea of the hotel location as darkness loomed, and the temperature forever the wrong side of zero made for a reasonably testing afternoon, but the DS barely batted an eyelid as we plodded down to dinner that night.

The main bulk of the week ran pretty much as you would expect — get up, eat, go training, eat, sleep.

The first day was spent getting our bearings of our corner of Tuscany, with a four hour steady ride.

Day two, Friday, was another four hours, but taking in the full force of the Tuscan hills, with the added bonuses of minus temperatures, and doing about 10RPM with a severely over-geared 25 sprocket.

Something a lot of riders have had to contend with recently!

Saturday was only three and a half hours, but with the middle hour being a broken up into intervals.

The next day was when I started to feel the pinch, doing four hours with the team and an hour afterwards with Sean Vanderwaeter… your typical 80kg Belgian beast.

Taking a quick well-needed break on a five hour training run.

Another five hours on the last day had me well and truly ‘in the box’, and ready to go home, as we rolled up to the hotel.

Ah, if only that were the case.

My time in Italy was yet to be fulfilled, apparently!

The fact that we had to put our main bags in the team van to be driven back to Belgium, and keep hold of our hand luggage (inc. passport), was just too much for me to handle, apparently.

By the time I realised, the van was deemed too far away to turn around, and so I waved goodbye to the team at Pisa Airport on Tuesday afternoon, and continued on my way to Milano, obviously incredibly frustrated with myself, but also a small part silently revelling in the unknown that lay before me.

The Embassy was closed by the time I got to Milan at 6pm, so I didn’t hesitate to step straight out of the station and straight into the nearest Pizzaria. Delicimo.

With the important stuff out of the way then, I found an internet café, located the local Youth Hostel, and made my way there for a 20 Euro night, with free wi-fi and breakfast included. In my past days as a cycling tourist I have passed through many a Youth Hostel door, so the six other multicultural, multi-snoretonal room mates of mine seemed well within the realms of normality by this stage.

It would have been rude not to eat three times my body weight at breakfast, so I did with ever-decreasing pleasure, and then pocketed provisions for the day as well.

In the daylight I realised the hostel was neighbouring:  the San Siro stadium, home of both AC and Inter Milan, and I had missed the former’s Champions League game with Juventus by a day!

Never mind; I wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway, so it was onwards to the British Consulate General, and a relatively smooth two hour transaction later I had an emergency passport.

With the whole day to kill until my flight, and with the BCG being south-side and train station being north-side, I walked there, trying to take in as many landmarks as possible in the four hour meander as I could.

Despite an email during the day saying my flight had been cancelled, I was told otherwise upon arrival, and checked in problem free.

A suitably disappointing McDonald’s “salad” later and I was on the plane. The team manager picked me up from the airport and I eventually arrived back home late in the evening.

The temperatures were well below freezing for the following couple of days, and as I have a habit of getting bad chest colds at this time of year, I took no chances and did all my training either on the turbo or doing power tests at the gym.

Friday evening was the official team presentation, and followed suit to most team presentations!

We were issued with some casual clothing, with just one rider being told to kit up in race gear for whatever reason, and were presented on stage in threes, each answering a few questions along the way.

With the host’s English being limited, a fellow team mate was put on the spot to ask myself and Alex, the Kiwi a few pleasantries — expectations for the year, how my training has been and such like.

The sound of my own voice on a PA system never ceases to take me by surprise.

After some photos and a bit of mingling with the sponsors, press and public, it was time to go home and get some sleep for the journey back to the UK. Cue disaster journey number two!

After a 6am start, and destined for a 10am ferry from Dunkirk, my car drew it’s last breath on the outskirts of the port.

Smoke started billowing from under the bonnet, so I stopped for ten minutes, and continued when it subsided. A few minutes later, after it had become more ferocious, and accompanied by some worrying rattling noises and a burning smell, I pulled into a lay-by.

The engine stalled before I had stopped, and hasn’t started since.

Halfway through my phone call with the RAC I ran out of credit, so walked to the nearest town to get some credit.

It became apparent topping up on a Belgian SIM was impossible, and with a capped contract on my English SIM, I sought help from the local “Discotheque”, which was open at this early hour (?!).

I managed to get a pick up arranged to take me to the port; arriving at Calais ten minutes after my scheduled ferry arrived in Dover. I eventually got home 14 hours after leaving Zottegem, and had the most glorious cup of tea ever, upon my arrival.

It has been a long two weeks, and quite frustrating, let alone a vastly diminishing one for coffee stop funds if the Post Office and RAC don’t come up trumps!

Anyway, hopefully it isn’t an omen for the season ahead, and I can seek some positivity in the fact that on the bike, I am actually feeling quite good, so roll on the weekend of the 25th, and the first race of the season.