A night under Belgian sky

The night out in the streets was cold and rainy.  We found a gazebo in a park with a roof and a cracked-wooden floor.  I wore two long sleeve jerseys, a shirt, a sweat shirt, a coat, three pairs of pants, and two pairs of pants.  I brought the rest of my clothes to sleep on top of, plus a sheet as my blanket.  As luck didn’t have it, the night was the coldest, worst weather night of our time in Belgium.  It rained, blew, and dropped down below absolute zero.  I managed to sleep through most of the night, but woke constantly to re-curl into a ball to save body heat.  I wrapped a shirt around my head as a face mask, and tucked the sheet around myself to form an air-tight tent to keep out the wind gusts.  Tony was equally, if not more cold, since he had no sheet.  Although he did have gloves. 


We woke up (got up) at 8:30 and walked back into the main part of the city, looking for a hot breakfast.  I finally warmed up after two cups of hot chocolate and food.  But I didn’t stay warm for long.


After our freezing night in the park as bums, we rode an hour to Overmere for our race.  The sky decided to empty its bowls upon us right as we got to the small town, drenching us before we could find the pub to register for the race.  Since we got to the race early this time, we had an extra hour to sit, shivering in our wet clothes.  Luckily there were crepes and coffee waiting for us at the registration (which was an egg storage warehouse turned into bar/restaurant for the race. 


I stripped down into my short sleeve jersey right before the race started; no matter what the weather, all you need for a Belgium race is a short sleeve jersey and short bibs.  The pace doesn’t slow so you don’t get cold.


I warmed up right away as we sprinted away from the start line.  My plan was to conserve today, and only start attacking in the third hour.  I attacked twice in the first two laps, with no luck.  This only confirmed my prediction that this race wouldn’t have an early break due to the very strong head and side winds.  I held top 10 to 20 for the next five laps, then slowly faded to the middle as I saw that nothing was getting away.  Something got away while I was back there, then something else got away.  By the time I began attacking again, it was out of desperation to just get in a workout.  The top 15 spots were already up the road, and I don’t care too much anymore about simply placing top 20.  So I attacked for four laps in a row; each lap was 6 kilometers.  Each break away was caught in half a lap, but I would go with the next one each time.  One time I was off by myself for half a lap.  Nothing stuck.


By now, there were only 30 people left in the peloton.  The strong winds had forced most of the field to the sidelines.  After my break attempts, there were two laps to go.  I chased down a couple breaks that had tried to get away, then planned to sit until the last half lap.  But that wasn’t going to happen.  Instead, I took it upon myself to bring back every move and in doing so, had nothing left to give with half a lap to go.  One guy would go, then another, and another.  Eventually there were 20 people scattered up the road in front of me and the remaining 10.  I jumped on the very back of the pack as a couple of these guys made one last ditch effort to scoop up a couple of the suffering guys vainly straining their tearing muscle fibers to the finish.  They caught most of them, but I didn’t.  A couple gaps in the line of riders opened up and I didn’t realize it in time.  I finished a disappointing 37th.  Last race I attacked too much too early.  This race I didn’t attack early enough and attacked too much too late.  Next time I’m going to disperse my attacking intermittently throughout the race. 


Tony and I rode a mile back into Overmere and found our hotel that we had reserved a couple nights before.  The warm, comfortable room with a big shower, big soft bed, TV, and all the blankets we wanted was a striking contrast with the cold, dark, sleepless night before.  We filled up on pitas at a pita shop down the street, watched as the US men won gold in basketball, then massaged our legs with arnica as we watched Escape From Alcatraz. 


The next morning came quickly.  I woke up feeling very tired, with stiff legs.  We went down stairs for the free breakfast and were pleasantly surprised to see all our formerly disgusting cycling gear cleaned and folded for us in a basket.  The hotel manager fed us and we lounged there in the small family-run bed and breakfast, tired, sore, relishing the hot coffee and fearing the rain outside.  I hate Belgium weather.  I tried to convince myself to race, but the odds were not in my favor.  My legs were tired after the 100 miles yesterday.  My mind was foggy, and I felt very low energy.  I told myself, “It would be truly bad ass to ride to the race 25 miles away, do the 80 mile race, and then ride back 40 miles to Gent.  But my legs refused. 


We left the hotel and began riding back to Gent and home (the hostile).  Tony upped the pace a bit and I thought to myself, “why the hell is he pushing so damn hard.”  I looked down and saw 200 watts.  Yeah, definitely a good decision not to race today. 


Now we’re back in Gent, and about to go eat some pitas.