It’s been a while since my last post and it may be a while yet before I post this. But I am in Gent with Tony right now, sitting in the Draeke youth hostel, although there is a very old fat man in the room with us—so I don’t know why it’s called a youth hostel. Maybe it’s because here, they treat the youthful tenants hostily. I was given a talking-to by one of the hostile people here earlier today when I was accused of leaving sugar everywhere on the ground the night before.
Rewind a couple days.
I got up today at the crack of 10:00. I decided to start my day with a bowl of muesli. And then, as I was scraping the bowl clean, I decided to have another. And then some cornflakes and three or four eggs. So far, this day was the exact same as the past month. Except that this was the last day I would be staying with the team here in Comblain la Tour—the tiny village 35 kilometers south of Liege.
Everyone except four juniors and the three of us U23s were at a race. Tony, Tomer, and myself. We were supposed to have a our own race today, but Gal decided to cancel it. I think I wrote this in my last post.
So instead of racing, we decided to do a long ride out to Liege, a city of a quarter million which we had never been to.
We packed our pockets full of food, except for me. I didn’t bring anything to eat except for some Gatorade. And then we left.
The pace of the ride was fairly fast, and we pace-lined most of the round-about and confused way to Liege. Tony wasn’t feeling well, which I could immediately tell when he didn’t join Tommer and I as we sprinted to draft off a horse trailer. The horses were all draft horses. Get it. Hahahahahah.
On the way to Liege, we got lost multiple times because the Liege signs we were following kept wanting us to get on the freeway. So we tried to parallel the freeway on back roads. This lead us to go through a small village that had the STEAPEST HILL IN THE WORLD. There is actually a sign that says this at the top. It is a 1 minute climb, and also a 1 minute descent. The average gradient was 20% with switchbacks of at least 30%. I felt like I was going to flip over my handlebars going down these corners. It wasn’t a wall climb, it was more like a spiral staircase. We went up once to feel what it was like. Nectar Way would be shamed by this climb.
We arrived in Liege just in time for tea at “The Tea Room”—a little tea and ice cream joint inhabited by old people and the slowest food service people in Europe. After riding around the cobblestones of Liege for 20 minutes, this was the only restaurant we could find. All we really wanted was a place to fill up our waterbottles, but we ended up buying over-priced milkshakes that took two gulps to finish. 3 euros each. That’s like five bucks. For literally two gulps. We filled our bottles up though for free, and took off—following the river and yelling at the crew boats to go faster.
As we exited Liege in the opposite direction that we came, Tearful Tired Tony began complaining that we should just “go back the way we came.” I kept on going, speeding up a little as we got onto the highway and went into a dark tunnel. Traffic rushed by and Tearful Tired Tony started complaining that it wasn’t safe. Tomer and I couldn’t stop laughing as we upped the pace some more, for poor Tony had bonked about an hour ago when we got into Liege. We spent the next three and a half hours very lost, and Tony was getting slower and slower. Tomer and I would sprint every once in a while and drop Tearful Tony to our great delight. He was so tired. Poor guy. It was hilarious.
Eventually, it was evident that Tony needed to stop and eat a full meal before he could go any farther. So we stopped at a fair and ate the larges hot dogs I have ever seen. One and a half feet long.
One more hour and we were home just before dinner ended.
That night was the wildest one we’ve had. It started out with a brutal game of Taki, which involved chasing down and tackling the cheaters. And before going to sleep the whole house went nuts, spraying shaving cream at each other and ripping up pillows and spreading feathers everywhere. And the electric fly swatter that Tony and I bought was put to good use too.
Packed up and said goodbye at 1:00, then took a series of trains and trams to the Draeke Hostel in Gent. When we got into our room I saw that a kilo of sugar had opened up into my bag. The sugar was and still is everywhere. In my shoes, clothes, cycling stuff, towel, toothbrush. We ate at a cheap Belgian pizza/Indian food place. There was a lot of confusion when I told the waiter I wanted two entrees. He left before Tony could order, thinking that I had ordered for both of us. We waved him back and it took five minutes to set the order straight. From there we used an internet room to find out where all our races were going to be, then went back to the hostel.
Back to August 18, Today…which is actually yesterday now because I started writing this last night but didn’t finish.
We got up, moved all of our stuff down four flights of stairs (bike box, backpacks, and 60 pound duffle bags). This has to be done every time we change rooms, which has been every night so far.
Then we ate as much free breakfast as we could. Meusli, bread, cheese, and boiled eggs. After breakfast we headed out into the city to buy a pump and find a good map of Oost-Vlannderen—the province almost all of our races are in.
I bought the pump, and as we walked out into the street it started to rain. It didn’t stop raining for hours. We walked around in the rain and found a bookstore and bought a map, which got drenched in rain during the ride to the race and is already in bad shape.
We left for the race at 1:30, riding in the pouring rain. After reaching the city where the race was almost an hour later, we received bad directions from multiple people as to where the registration was. I barely made it into the race, Tony was not racing today because his legs are tired from the past week of riding. Instead, he handed me water bottles and threw stones at the other racers.
The rain stopped for the race, not that it mattered, and the wind picked up. The course was 11km long with 10 flat laps. It was very fast. I attacked right away and was off the front pretty quickly. I got caught, but kept on attacking and bridging to stay at the front. I don’t know what it was, lack of judgment or something, but somehow I failed to make the lead break by the second or third lap. I kept on being aggressive and I missed the second break too. Now there were 15 guys up the road. I was a bit pissed, so I just began pulling hard and attacking when the pace slowed in the peloton. There was no chance of catching the break aways; they were already minutes up the road.
By lap number five I found myself in a break with one other guy. We stayed off for a lap, got caught by a small group, and I stayed with them. The peloton was right behind though, and quickly closed us down. I spent the next few Ks at the front and was off with another break. I attacked when I saw the peloton closing down again, and a few guys caught on to me. I sprinted again and eventually four others were with me and we had a good gap. We kept the pace high, almost too high in fact. The first lap off saw a lot of arguing and yelling at each other to take fair pulls, but after that everyone was dead silent. I was taking pulls at 450 to 600 watts for the first two of our three laps together, and the whole time was wishing that I had conserved a bit more earlier in the race. The head wind section was the worst. I would take a pull, one guy would come around me, and then no one else would. So I would take another pull. We almost broke apart on one lap during this head wind section as everyone reached their max. Pure torture.
With a kilometer to go, we slowed down for the sprint. I was sitting second wheel, constantly glancing over my shoulder, looking at the shadows of the other riders on the ground behind me, and listening for shifting. I wasn’t sure exactly where the finish line was, but had a good idea. Not good enough though, because I should have started my sprint earlier. One guy came around me and I wasn’t able to get ahead of the guy in front. I took third in our break of 5, and 18th overall. I averaged 315 watts (zeros included Ivar) and sprinted at 1,400 watts at the end. I was dead. I was done.
I was not done. Because we all had to wait around forever for the officials to finalize the results and give us our money, then Tony and I had to ride back in a fierce head wind. I began bonking 15 minutes out of Gent. I had only eaten maybe a thousand calories of carbohydrate drink in the past four hours of riding—plus the hour of idleness after the race. But the wind and bonking weren’t enough. To make it just that much harder, it began to pour as dark clouds accumulated above us. But little did the bike gods know, that the pouring rain only gave me energy. It was a rush riding through traffic, over wet cobles, among trolley tracks in the darkness of a thunder storm, just after finishing a super hard race and having nothing left to propel me except a tiny bit of adrenaline.
We got back, ate a bit of bread, moved all of our crap back upstairs, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to the Indian/Belgian/pizza place. The waiter recognized us and this time there was no confusion when we ordered four entrées.
Recovery ride today in the rain. Tony crashed after it had been pouring on us for. He went over on the cobbles/trolly track section; and after crashing he threw his bike ten feet into the street yelling “I fucking hate Belgium and these damn roads.” At the top of his lungs. In a street full of Belgians. I somehow managed to contain my laughter. I also crashed today.