Just another brutally awesome race

Adversity is the spice of life, and as always things taste pretty good around here. Yesterday was a real sloberknocker of a race but of course that wouldn’t be enough. We needed more to overcome than a hard race. To start off with, the car was out of gas and since it was Sunday, all the gas stations were closed. Evgeney, Justin, Jake and I unloaded our packed bags and shed our street clothes for our race gear and mounted the bikes under cloudy, windy, gray skies. It wasn’t a long ride to the race, but every kilometer counts and usually by the time the last two laps of a race come around, I need every ounce of energy.

We got lost on the way there but luckily a racer on a training ride took us the last few kilometers and saved us from yelling at each other for the next half hour. When we got to the race sign in, the officials wouldn’t let Evgeney race for some reason. One man down already, three out of four left.

We stashed our bags and spare clothes in another teammate’s car, wolfed down a few more waffles and cut in line near the front of the race (at least I did). One of the officials made me go further back but I snuck up the side when he wasn’t looking. Muahahaha! So did 70 other people.

The gun went off and right on queue the clouds unleashed everything at us. Complete, dark, soaking misery for the next two hours and 45 minutes. Grit in the eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and ass crack. Blinding muddy spray and 120 scared cyclists all jamming on malfunctioning brakes before every corner, then sprinting full on out of them. Just what I’m here for! I knew it would be a matter of attrition so I held back on the attacks for the most part. By lap two I think we’d lost a third of the field already.

The course was 14 laps of an 8-kilometer course, about 30 corners per lap. Most of it seemed like it was downhill, the exception being one sharp 20% kicker a half K before the finish line. I’d double checked my bike the night before, tightening bolts and putting on a fresh tire, making sure I’d be mechanical free today, which of course meant the opposite would happen. My new shifter immediately came loose under the large pressure put on it going up the wall. It spent the entire race just dangling to the side; I’d straighten it every once in a while only for it to fall back to the side. By lap two or three I’d hit a large pothole and broken a spoke in my rear wheel, not realizing it until the race was over. You know that feeling when your legs seem sluggish, almost like you have a slow leak or a rubbing wheel—and you keep looking back at your rear brake calipers to see if your wheel is out of true or you keep bouncing up and down to see if your wheel is flat, but in reality it’s just your legs that are flat? Well I had that feeling in my legs, plus I actually did have a wheel dragging heavily against my brakes. Double bad combo. An excuse, but a good one. A couple people commented after the race that they’d seen it. Somehow they failed to mention this during the race to let me know I should loosen my brakes.

I saw Justin on the side of the race a few laps later. Down to just two of us. The rain had let up a little but would come back strong again later.

The details of most of the race are blurred. Who knows what really happened during most of the race? Who cares? All that you need to know is that the pain hurt badly but hurting others badly felt good. Gaps would open up over the top of the climb that I’d have to close, then more gaps would open up on the back side of the course on the false flat descent when guys would lose their nerve in the rain. Everyone behind would sit on them while they flailed and failed to close their gap. We’d wait till they’d blow up, then sprint by them and halfway shoulder them into the gutter and curse at them for fucking up. I started throwing in some attacks as well.

With five laps to go Jake’s brakes gave out completely. He was three bikes ahead of me about to round a sharp corner when I saw him unclip, drag his foot on the ground to slow down and go smashing into a brick building. The guy behind him cursed him for opening up a gap. Three down, one of us left.

I spent way too much of the race too far back, getting to the front for some aggression for a while but always drifting back shortly afterwards. I’d lost confidence from my shifter going loose and my legs feeling sluggish (the broken wheel) so I’d been content to sit farther back than I should have. Instead of being top 15 I was generally 30-40 guys back. On small, technical, wet roads like these, 40 guys back is too far. I’d covered a lot of splits that looked dangerous and used too much energy in the process, where if I’d been further up front I could have conserved more. Same old story as always. POSITIONING KENNETT!!! MOVE UP!

Still feeling OK by lap 10 or 11 and making the front splits when they occurred, I made my way to the head of the pack before one of the more technical sections, readying for someone to attack. We came through a part of the course where there’d been a crash the lap prior. We rode even more cautiously as we passed through a mysterious, thick white cloud of smoke. I held my breath.

A lap later during the same section, two fire trucks blocked most of the tiny road. Someone’s house had caught on fire. The rain would have put it out though. Despite the fire, the race was not delayed. The firemen waited for us to pass.

With two laps to go I realized a couple large groups had gotten away on the climb and the following descent and had joined together. It was do or die now, with only fifty or sixty guys left in the race and most of them too dead to chase. I followed a series of hard moves and eventually got away with four other guys still willing to put the hurt on for just a little longer. I took a big pull on the slipper tar- and pothole-filled descent before the steap climb. An Isorex Team guy took a monster pull up and over the climb and we got a glimpse of the 17 guys up the road.

One and a half to go.


Unfortunately the climb had dropped everyone else and it was just he and I now with one lap to go. I had nothing left and could barely pull through. We got to within five or six seconds of the leaders but couldn’t close it down the rest of the way before we got to the climb and took 18th and 19th. I was so dead I almost didn’t care. It’s always disappointing to lose a race to guys who you know you’re stronger than, but aggressive positioning and attentiveness in the pack are equally important as strong legs and aggression off the front.


This second part of the day runs into the following day. I’ll keep it short though. This is a bullet point presentation of what happened:

-Jake and Justin left before the race was over, leaving me to ride home in the headwind alone
-I wandered around looking for them
-I got sidetracked and chatted with some other racers and teammates
-I collected 10 euros for my 19th place and returned my race number for an additional 5 euros
-I did NOT buy a hot dog despite my yearning for one
-I saw that the car I’d stashed my bag in was gone because the guy who owned it only lasted a few laps of the race
-I assumed Jake and Justin had taken my bag home
-I rode home
-I took a wrong turn or two and did 55 kilometers home instead of 35.
-I got home in the late evening after riding and racing for a little under 6.5 hours
-I consumed a liter and a half of orange soda, two chocolate puddings, a tapioca pudding, and then real food
-I found out the guy (who’s car we’d used to stash our bags in) had left the bags at the bar (race HQ) and had told Justin. Justin had yelled at me from the crowd as I passed by the start/finish line with 5 laps to go in the race, “bag’s in the bar!” and he and Jake left my bag there.
-There is no possible way I could have heard this.
-Confusion and anger ensued as I tried to solve the problem
– Shortly after I decided to not care

The following day:
-Jake and I rode back to the race HQ bar (called Cafe Flintstones) get my bag
-We rode to the adjacent larger city (Aalst) to go to the world’s largest bike shop (Van Eyck).
-I got new shift cables and housing
-We found out where a Colruyt food market was (6 kilometers away) and rode there
-We ate a lot of samples and left
-We decided to go back to the bike shop for cheap bike computers
-We started the ride home
-We stopped in at another grocery store to eat more samples
-We got home, finishing our day-long 4-hour ride and adventure

Sausage and chips samples at Colruyt

As always, the samples are left unguarded over here…resulting in quick, stealthy gluttony.

Jake got greedy eventually and went for a full-sized, still cooking, scalding on the outside, cold on the inside sausages. When “Colruyting” at a grocery store, one must move quickly from tray to tray, depleting the resources in one swift blow before moving on to the next.

Craziness in Zingem

My luck in the last two kermesses hasn’t been the best. Flat tire in the one last week before Wervik (on lap 3) and a broken shifter in the other one yesterday (also on lap 3). I managed to hang on for a lap of yesterday’s race after the shifter broke by spinning at 140rpm for while stuck in the 53×21. Not the best gear for a flat race, but I got to see what it’s like to pedal junior gears in a grown man’s race. After the disappointing race and the stressful drive to get there due to a massive amount of road work, Jake and I returned home to more stress. The “Greek”, the 40 something year old from South Africa and is only Greek because his parents are Greek, is downright insane. Here’s a quick paraphrased quote I took from him last week:

Michael (AKA The Greek): “You want to know how I know when the FBI is following me?”
Me: “Oh my God yes.”
Michael: “It’s when the blacks, the gangs, the mexicans the asians, the chinese–it’s when they aren’t following me. That’s when the whites are following me. It’s so easy to decode it’s a joke. The whites, the FBI, they track you with credit cards and cell phones and the internet. These things are so easy it’s a joke. Once you get a few pieces of the puzzle you can solve it. Human beings are tribal. I’m not paranoid. I can tell when someone is following me. When the mexicans, the chinese are following me they act really giddy and laugh a lot like in the show Beavis and Butthead, you know heheheheh. It’s very simple. But chip away at Whitey…” It went on for a long time.

10 minutes later in part of another conversation:

Michael: “I’m very, very fast. I’m getting very fit. You know how I know this? My pulse is down to 50.”
Justin: “Let’s try to get it down to zero.”
Michael: “I’m very fast you know. I could beat you in a sprint. You want to go out and do a sprint now? hahaha”

He later exclaimed that the MTV interview on Beyonce we watched was all scripted material that she and they stole from him. “Information” that took him 29 years to think up. “It’s all stolen from me. I don’t know how they got it, but it’s word for word all my work.” (Beyonce talking about her life and her recent albums).

Despite knowing he’s not very smart he believes he’s a genuine genius, he believes he’s faster than any professional cyclist, believes that he has the ability to play the stock market if he wanted to and make millions of dollars, and he believes the entire world is out to get him.

Michael confronted me with a grim face as we came in and sat down in the living room. He accused me of poisoning his food last night because he felt sick this morning. Poisoning his food. Yeah. I told him to shut up and fuck off because I wasn’t in the mood for it. But he wasn’t his normal, goofy self this time. He had anger in his stomach (and the poison I’d used on him of course) and he wanted a fight. We spent the next five minutes arguing until it escalated into a shouting match, him telling me if I told him to shut up one more time, “just see what happens. You tell me to shut up one more time and we’ll have a fight.” I told him to shut up of course. Two more times.

Now you have to understand that I didn’t necessarily want to get in a fist fight with him, duh. For one, he has genuine crazy person strength. I’m not trying to be crude or anything, but that is NOT a myth. He’s also 6’5″ and outweighs me by about 40-50 pounds, though I have quite a bit more rage on my side, especially after my shifter breaking in the race. But Michael being insane changes things. What would happen after the fight for example, if there was one,–that would be the worrisome part. If a normal person thought I’d sabotaged them in some way and we’d fought, we’d be angry at each other for the next month. That’s it. With a crazy person, you have no idea what they’re going to do next. They could sneak into your room and stab you in the forehead with a spoon. They could get back at you by taking a shit in the fridge, accidentally shitting on their own loaf of bread, later forgetting that they did it, and then blame you. They could secretly steal tiny portions of your toothpaste until it finally runs out in three months without you knowing they were doing it. There’s no end to the madness a mad person can come up with!

Anyways, he was more bark than bight and he ended up sitting down on the couch next to me to watch some boring TV. Cortisol levels fell.



Over here the hardest race an amateur can compete in is called an interclub. They’re pretty much like a mini classics type race, between 160 and 200 kilometers and with an equal amount of participants. I rode with the ASFRA Flanders team in my first interclub yesterday and got a taste of what a Euro pro race might feel like (except probably a lot slower).

In Belgium, cycling is a big deal obviously. Even at the weekday kermess, a big effort goes into making it a spectacle. Wervik was much bigger, with the center of attention around a large stage in the middle of the city to call up the riders for team presentations. There were dozens of motorcycles, police vehicles, support cars and photographers crowding downtown and buzzing around in the race, all there to make a day of pain and suffering possible for us.

The race was 170 km with one and a half large laps of a circuit heading out of town, a lollypop section to get us out to a climbing circuit that we did twice, then back into the city of Wervik where we did 3X14km laps to the finish. I recognized a few of the teams from the kermesses, though now (like our team) they brought their best riders. There were also a lot more continental teams than the average kermess has. My prediction: Pain, with a chance of rain…

All night long before the race, thunder and lightning had cracked and boomed through the darkness and flooded the roads. Jake and I woke to more thunder and lightning in the morning, the storm continuing to dump inches of rainwater. It cleared up by race time and astonishingly held off all day long, but made the cobbled climbs wet.

The climbing circuit contained five climbs in total (two of which we did twice), each with pitches between 15 and 20%. They were all short enough though, each well under five minutes. The most famous one being the cobbled Kemmelberg, which is used in the northern classic Gent-Wevelgem.

Anyways, onto the race: an old man with a hand cannon for a start pistol eagerly fired into the air, everyone’s eardrums rang for the next minute as we fought for position behind the lead car during the neutral roll out. I had cut to the front to line up and got a choice spot sitting just to the left of the lead car for the first couple kilometers until I finally began drifting back into the thick of things. I didn’t know there’d be such a long neutral section; we did two laps through the cobbled streets of the city, and I was thankful for it since I hadn’t gotten a warm up. I almost crashed twice when I got my front wheel lodged in a seem along the side of the road between the cobbles and the gutter. Others weren’t so lucky, judging by the sounds of metal, carbon, bodies, cobbles, and cement colliding.

After we’d done enough miles of neutral to throw me off on distance (do neutral miles count as total miles today?), the race got underway (not that the mileage thing mattered much since my borrowed bike computer only works in miles and I wrote all the climbs down in kilometers on my top tube). Basically, what I’d been told was to just stay at the front because all the roads were small. Easier said than done of course, since there were around 200 of us and Belgians are much more aggressive about positioning than an American peloton.

I held my own though and survived the heavy cross/tail winds of the opening 60 kilometers. Already the pack had been shred behind me, with gaps forming in the cross wind and more gaps from the many crashes. The first crash I saw happened when the guy in front of me took a corner too hot and went over the bars off the side of the road. A chorus of laughter broke the silence of the riders. No sympathy here. Later, during the worst cross wind section I caught a bad lip in the pavement along the very far right edge of the road and almost went down hard at 32 miles an hour. The guy behind me was furious, yelling at me in Flemish for my mistake—like I can control when a random crack shows up and my front tire happens to find just the wrong spot to fit in. His yelling spurred a moment of rage in me and I chopped 40 guys in the next corner. You have to race angry over here.

My legs felt good today, but I’d limited myself to only three attacks during these opening 60 kilometers, because at kilometer 70 we hit the first serious climb, the Monteberg, followed a kilometer later by the Kemmelberg. Then there’d be six kilometers before the next climb, the Rodeberg, then another six more kilometers and we’d tackle the Monteberg/Kemmelberg double again. The race would be decided within these 20 kilometers.

Not knowing the course or what kilometer we were at, I took some precautionary action and got to the very front when I thought we were getting close to the first climb. I held a great spot up there in the first or second row for three or four kilometers, waiting for a giant hill to poke its head around the next bend. I got swarmed a bit right before we got to it and I climbed it in about 30th position. This climb, the Monteberg, was the easiest of the climbs. It’s basically just a warm up for the Kemmelberg, which is the hardest. We came to the top of the Monteberg and rode along the top where it’s flat for about a minute, then plummeted quickly down a short, winding descent before the road takes a 180 degree turn up the cobbled steeps of the Kemmel. Just before the descent, though, I got completely swarmed by everyone who knew what was coming up and before we began the descent I’d lost my spot and was sitting 60th or 70th wheel. Shit. I knew this was bad news as we descended, but there was no time to move up. 30 seconds later and we were jamming our breaks on as we bunched up around the tight corner, flipped to our small rings, and went up by the 20% cobbled Kemmelberg beast

I wasted no time once we got on it and smashed the pedals hard, harder than anyone around me and I tore by thirty or forty guys before the climb was finished. The lower slopes of it were giant, slick cobbles (from the rain). I put in quite a dig here. It flattened out a bit, and then the gradient went back up for the final 80 meters before the road narrowed and turned to cement. I was 100% maxed out by the top, cresting the climb about 15th or 20th. It was flat for another 20 seconds before heading down hill. I was the last to make it over in the front group.

The descent goes along a narrow bike path with a sharp, wet, mossy corner that caused a lot of crashes, even when going slow. A crash split the front group up and a five second gap formed by the bottom of the descent with 10 guys getting away. After the short down hill the road makes another 90 degree turn and begins a crosswind rolling section with a lot of turns. I couldn’t do any work for the next couple kilometers, I just barely managed to hold the wheel in front of me as I attempted to breath. I’d almost recover, then we’d hit a series of 90 degree corners, cobbles, or have to sprint to close a gap. I was deep in the red from the effort I’d put in on the climb.

Over the next six kilometers our group swelled from five to sixty while the lead group gained time. They had almost a minute by the time we went up the Kemmelberg again. But before that we went up the Rodeberg, a non-cobbled climb with three steep pitches. It wasn’t that hard since our defeated group had lost hope in catching the leaders.

The next time up the Monte and Kemmelbergs I made a similar mistake and got swarmed along the flat section at the top of the Monte, right before the 30 second-descent, and entered the base of the Kemmelberg too far back. It didn’t matter though, since I knew I could reach the front if I did another full on effort. I just had to get around all these weaving wimps first! I yelled at people to move as their legs blew up on the giant cobbles. For living in a place with cobbles and rain, a lot of the Belgians sure seem pretty bad at riding over both. I hopped off the cobbles to the side of the road onto the dirt to pass people, then got stuck behind another slow guy. I yelled at him to move, he began swerving to the left, got out of the way, but came back to the right just as I was beginning to pass him and unintentionally forced me further off the road down into a ditch. I unclipped. I got back onto the cobbles. I tried starting, failed to clip in. I had to stop, tried again, came off. Tried again and finally got clipped in. Thank the bike gods for my 11×28 and my decision to use it just in case something like this happened!

Unfortunately the entire group had passed me at this point. I was at the back. I hammered to regain position but it was too late. The group split again on the climb and the descent, where another couple crashes further broke things up.

I worked hard at the front to get things stitched back together. I had four teammates left in the race, three of which were willing to do work. The gap to the group of 30 up ahead of us, which was still in the hunt for at least the top 15, was barely up the road from us at around 30 seconds. It was plausible that we could close the gap, but unlikely since most of the group was sitting on. I was willing to do more than my share of the work since we weren’t even competing for the top 10 anymore.

A split occurred when someone let a wheel go out of laziness. Eight riders got up the road. I put in a big effort and closed it down once the rest of the group had given up. I got up to five of the riders just in time once we turned a corner and the tailwind turned to cross. Three were still just up the road, two of which were my teammates. I went solo again a few minutes later. One guy and then another got up to me shortly after. The three of us buried ourselves to get up to the three up the road. If we could join up with them we had a legitimate shot at catching the large group up ahead by latching onto the caravan behind them. We were tantalizingly close, hovering at five or six seconds before my team car passed me, quickly went by, then sheltered my two teammates and their friend from the crosswind. Soon their gap was up to 15 seconds and rising.

I was just finishing up a long pull up a slight riser into a head/crosswind section when the two guys I’d been riding with sprinted by my onto the bumper of one of their team cars as it came by. The guy right behind me had been holding onto my seat post, a common tactic over here to help things go more smoothly in hard crosswind sections, then gave a yank backwards as he and the other guy came around me and sprinted onto the car. I screamed at them to wait but there was nothing I could do. My legs were dead from the pull and even though they were just a few bike lengths up ahead of me, once they were on that car bumper it was game over for me, left for dead in no man’s land. I later learned that the car towed them all the way up to my two teammates and the other guy, but that they didn’t work at all and ruined the chances of my teammates getting back onto the group of 30 up ahead.

I stewed in anger until four guys caught me. We all worked evenly and came through the finish line banner with 3×14 km laps remaining. Thankfully they cut us and everyone but the lead group short by one lap, ending a long, frustrating, and exciting day just shy of 100 miles. I took 2nd in my group’s sprint and 41st in the race. Very frustrating. This race was all about positioning. I could have guaranteed myself a top 10 had I been better placed heading up the Kemmelberg that first time. Live and learn. Positioning in these things requires constant attentiveness and local knowledge, the first of which I’m lacking (though improving) and the second I have none of.

Jake and I the day before on an easy spin.

Morning of the race.

Then the race happened. I only have pictures of everyone afterwards. I’m gonna guess on the names.

Jurgen I think


Jurgen also, most likely.


This guy

Van den Broek

And Jake.

After the race we rode back in the stuffy van with the windows shut and the AC off, everyone dripping with sweat because the Euros didn’t want to catch a cold from a drafty window.

Lessons in Lessines

Lessines, Belgium:

Today’s race (Thursday) took place in the Wallonie region of Flanders. A mere 21 miles south of us here in East Flanders, Wallonie is a mystically strange land populated by the French. The breeze blows a refreshing air of self-importance, reminding me of home.

Gone are the waffles and chocolates of Flanders, in their place are baguettes and cheese. The steroid cows as well as their sturdy counterparts, the Belgian draft horses, were nowhere to be seen. More flamboyant, snooty livestock lined the sides of the road as we drove to the race. Key word in that sentence was “drove.” As in I didn’t ride there on my bike.

This was the first race I didn’t ride to and I think it made a big difference. We got there late, and since we’d driven there was no warm up. This was not a good thing, but it ended up not affecting my race. I lined up near the front of another large field. There’s rarely fewer than 100 guys at one of these races and today was no exception. I brought an extra water bottle in my back pocket because it was real hot and muggy. No chance of a cold, rainy race today. None at all.

It began pouring a lap into the race. The air temperature was still warm though, and for a couple laps the spray coming up off the hot pavement was almost bath temperature. A huge thunder and lighting storm had rolled through right above town with lightning striking and thunder booming one second later. It was close and very loud. The rain was the heaviest I’ve ever raced in. It was only mid day but it got so dark I had to take my sunglasses off. The danger of the lightning would have surely seen this race canceled in the States.

But before all hell broke loose in the heavens above, I’d already gotten into a large breakaway that formed before the first lap had finished. There were roughly 15-20 of us in the break and after a couple laps of hard pulls I figured we were away for good.

With so many in the break, and a few guys with multiple teammates, the cohesion was never very good. It kept splitting up with riders missing pulls and letting gaps open. I did more than my fair share of the work as half the guys just sat on the back. I just wanted the chance to at least stay away in the lead group for once. I probably wanted it too badly.

I made every split and was part of every damn attack for the next nine of the 13 laps in total. The group continued to whittle down, the storm above us booming off and on, letting up for a lap, and then hurling everything at us: gusting wind, torrential rain, HUGE chunks of hail. At one point the rain came down so hard it was impossible to see more than 20 or 30 feet in front of us. I gave a holler of excitement and attacked up a hill into the darkness when the rain came down the hardest. High on adrenaline and coffee, I realized that this is what racing is all about. Suffering off the front in miserable conditions for hours on end, and attacking your balls off.

We were down to around seven or eight riders with five laps to go when the yellow jersey leader of the Belgian kermess series, one of the Lotto development riders, bridged to us, which meant the pack was not far behind.

With three and a half laps to go I started seeing new riders in our group. First just one or two. Then more and more over the next few minutes as the peloton caught us.

We were caught at last. Luckily there were only 30 guys left in the race so I still had a chance. Riding in the break all day and finally getting caught is one of the more demoralizing things in bike racing. You feel pretty hopeless sometimes, having put all your effort into staying away. When you get caught by all the comparatively “fresh” riders, it’s hard to keep your head strong.

I stayed positive though and continued chasing down moves over the next couple kilometers, finally bridging up to two guys right before the windiest and hardest part of the course. The three of us drilled it in the crosswind, past the finish line carnival, and caught the final two guys in front of us, making a strong and motivated group of five.

A lap later we were still working well together and I felt confident we’d stay away. Our gap was large and three of the riders in our group we very motivated and seemed pretty fresh. I tried to pull through weakly and skip turns since I’d done so much earlier in the day.

1.5 laps to go and one of the Lotto guys in our group flatted. This meant that team, which had three guys left in the race, would start attacking again from the pack. With one lap to go we got caught by a small group of five, with one Lotto guy of course. Shortly afterwards three guys managed to get away. The rest of us looked at each other. Two more guys got away after some attacking, the teammate of one sitting on the remnants of us. I was furious but there was nothing I could do by myself and had to resort to swapping pulls with one other guy. The teammate of the guy up the road sat on for the next half lap and the fourth guy in our group sat on for its entirety, getting dropped, catching back on, sitting on us, getting dropped again, etc.

With only a few kilometers remaining, it was obvious the winning move was gone for good.

I screwed up at the finish and ended up on the front with 600 meters to go. Should have attacked. The guy who’d been sitting on, who had been dropped a few kilometers earlier, caught us by surprise as we sat up for the finish, and he blew by us. The guy with the teammate up the road went next. I came within a foot of catching him but needed another couple meters of race to do it, coming in at 8th place in my 8th race here. My best result by far and also the most frustrating, seeing that it could have been me on the podium today if things had gone slightly differently. I went with almost every move, every split, attacked repeatedly, had the legs to continue to do so, but missed the winning move. One of the Lotto guys won. I stood in the pissing rain and spat the most venomous curse words I knew and ground my teeth for the next fifteen minutes. I don’t know enough curse words.

Rollin’ in style

How much water got in my frame today?

…this much.

Jake after the race

I wasn’t happy

Now I was happy–it doesn’t take much: Belgian Frites in a cone with ketchup and mayo.

Carnival rides on the finishing straight.

I had to think twice about this, but decided it would NOT be pro.

Curry lentils with potatoes, onions, and turnip. Or maybe this was the result of dinner…


AKA Slobber-knocker. AKA Suffer fest. AKA holy shit balls. AKA Gaaaaaaad Damn!!

Yesterday’s accumulated mileage to/from and including the race totaled somewhere between 140 and 147. Justin, Jake, and I set off to the town of Lennink in the wee early morning hour of 12:15pm for what Justin had described as a “spot on lumpy one.” We lazily made our way past the never-ending fields of corn, onion, turnip, and potato, weaved through the grassy green pastures of friendly steroid cows, through tiny cobbled villages–each marked from afar by a church steeple, we rolled easily, saving our legs for the race as we continued through the country side of old wind mills and dilapidated barns, up and over quiet rolling roads and finally onto the “busy” highway for another 30 km. Despite our slow pace and the pleasant ride, Jake kept groaning, “This is going to be a long day.” And it was.

A few more days like this and I’ll be so skinny my torso will be ribbed for her pleasure.

The race featured 117 kilometers of steep, undulating terrain with two main climbs, one at the start/finish that started out as a long, 450 meter drag going past the finish line, flattened out a bit, turned seven, tight, cobbled corners at the top and then began a short descent. The next climb, roughly 10 minutes later started right at the base of a downhill, cobbled 90-degree corner, then shot up at 20% for 150 meters before flattening out to 6-9% for the next minute with a KOM sprint near the top. The rest of the course was up and down with lots of turns. 10 laps, though I had thought it was 13. There were a lot of things I thought about the race that were wrong. Like the early move working…like it did the day before.

I attacked off the com car accidentally 1 minute into the race. After a short neutralized section (a rare occurrence here) I held my speed following the lead car on the first descent, it took off and dropped me, but as I looked back I saw that I already had a sizable gap. Damn it. I wasn’t going to do this today! The move would go early, but I wanted to follow moves today and save myself. The course was hard enough as it was without throwing in the first attack of the day move. Solo. Too late though.

Three guys bridged to me, I dropped two of them on the steep climb since the peloton was only 20 seconds behind. I easily took the KOM at the top. One of the dropped guys caught back on to me and the other rider to make our group three. 10 minutes later at the other end of the course I took the sprint prime. I drilled it hard the next lap and took the next KOM and then the next sprint prime as well. Now I’d been off the front for two laps doing the majority of the work while one guy mainly sat on and the other took pulls with me. I was still feeling super strong, so when a large group bridged up to us I continued to pull through. I took 2nd on the next KOM then won the next sprint prime at the finish line. Three laps down. Still feeling strong.

Our group, now slightly smaller at around 16 guys after a few had been dropped, was still working well together for the most part. Gaps would form and we’d yell at each other to close them, a few times resulting in flying fists, but it mainly stayed together. I didn’t contest the next KOM as I was too far back, then I made a dumb tactical mistake and took 2nd in the next sprint prime when I should have won it. Four laps done.

Our group disintegrated at that sprint prime and four of us took off by ourselves. We were caught, I attacked, was caught, went with another group, was caught. This continued happening for the next lap and a half until our group had pretty much shattered itself and lost most of its motivation. The eight or nine of us still left were caught by the small bit of peloton that remained. Five and a half laps done.

A move went pretty much right when the peloton caught us. I was NOT going to be left out, especially since this was the counter move and would surely work. After being in the pack for 20 seconds, I bridged to a dangler off the front, then worked with him for the next kilometer and a half uphill headwind drag to get to the eight or nine-man group up the road. He and I KILLED ourselves to do this. We made it. Once we got there it began splitting up, someone would stitch it back together, then it would split again. It didn’t settle down until we got to the KOM climb, where it immediately blew up again. I maintained contact and came into the start finish with the remaining group. Somehow I found myself attacking on the top part of the twisting climb again after we went by the finish line. Things came together again and half a lap later of our group attacking itself we were on the KOM climb again. This time we were caught by the peloton. I couldn’t believe it. This was supposed to be the move! WTF? How could none of these moves have worked?? How is there still a peloton anyways?

With three laps to go I realized I was in a HUGE amount of trouble. All the attacking had destroyed my glycogen stores and my legs were absolutely shot. The third to last time up the KOM climb I barely made it in (one of) the front groups–it came back together at the base though. At this point in the race I began wishing I hadn’t ridden to and from the race yesterday. I also began wishing I hadn’t ridden 35 miles before this race because now I had 85 miles in my legs and everyone else only had 50. Too late for those negative thoughts though. I pushed them aside and took another chug of grenadine syrup from my flask (the only form of high fructose corn syrup here). I needed all the mental strength I possessed to make it up the KOM climb two more times in the heat. Well, either willpower or water, and since there would be no water for me, I was left to work solely with my head. It’s a rarity that you get dropped from not being able to hold the wheel any longer. Usually you can hold it for at least another two seconds, three seconds, 10 seconds, who knows maybe if you’d only held it for another 11 seconds you wouldn’t have gotten dropped at all. Bike racing is pain, and pain is all in your head.

Now that I was no longer one of the strongest guys this was going to hurt. Being the strongest and winning is less of a feat that being the weakest and not getting last.

I decided to sit in the pack for the final two laps without closing any gaps and without taking any pulls. This is what saved me in the end. I barley made it, but I managed a 1K solo move at the finish (at first an accident when someone didn’t hold my wheel) and took I took 1st in my group at the finish (wow, big deal since we were like the fifth and last group on the road at that point). I came in 39th, completely shattered. I had no energy left at all, so much so that I was barely out of breath after the uphill sprint, even though I’d been going all out for 90 seconds straight. No glycogen. My legs were just barely turning over.

After the race I had a number of people come congratulate me for riding so strongly, which I believe is saying quite a bit for over here. One of them assumed I’d finished ahead of him in the top 5 or 10 at least. I told him I was at best 40th. He was confused at first. “Huh, maybe you don’t attack so much in beginning of race next time?” Yes. Good idea.

I found out the first two laps were not KOM point sprints, and that the first lap was also NOT a sprint prime at the finish line. So I only won two primes and took 2nd in one KOM, which meant I wasn’t in contention for the KOM. It was still enough money to pay for groceries today though. That’s one of the great things about racing here. You can make some good grocery cash if you race three times a week and consistently place top 20 or 30 or win a few primes, since the racing only costs 3 euros and there’s no gas money to pay if you ride there. Though, all that racing and riding adds to your grocery bill, so maybe it doesn’t really make monetary sense in the end.

Anyways, the winning move went with 1.5 laps to go at the KOM climb. The guy who won wasn’t in a single move off the front and he was not the strongest guy in the race. It all came down to attrition. Live and learn I guess. But then again the other hilly race I’ve done here saw the winning move go on the third or fourth of 13 laps. And the race the day before this race the move went 1.5 laps in. I attack early, the move goes late. I don’t attack or follow moves early, the split goes immediately. I can never get these damn kermesses right!!! But once I do, I’m going to lay down some Oregon law on these damn Belgians!

It was a long, slow, tiring ride home. Luckily Jake pulled Justin and I home the whole way since he only lasted three or four laps.

I know all of you hate reading and are only here for the pictures, so here they are:

My leftover coffee from the day before, saved in a tomato sauce container and being heated up on the stove. This is moments before I opened it and it blew up everywhere.

Jake and Justin on the ride out there.

Me throwing in an attack.

Justin, as usual flipping the camera off.

Justin’s mate, Dan, from the Check Republic rode a strong race for 2nd.

“Shatt’ed, but me hair’s neatly done ‘n ready for tea ‘n crumpets with me auntie and the Queen,” is probably what’s on this English bloke’s mind.

Photos of recent stuff

Robot leaf picker-uper on our walk to the train station.

A day of being a tourist in Brugge! AKA, hey Geoff let’s go eat a lot of junk food.

Winger, the Belgians made a shirt for you

Candy being made

A tower

Another tower

Waffle stand

These horse carriages stormed through the city crushing people’s toes who didn’t get out of the way fast enough


More chocolate

The market square. Learned via Wikipedia the night before: Brugge was discovered by the Vikings, who’s lust for chocolate and waffles lead them to create a city devoted to producing only two things: chocolate and chocolate-covered waffles. Sometime later the French got angry at Brugge for outclassing their chocolate production and sent an army to destroy the city. The army didn’t make it far though, losing interest and growing depressed from the gray, drizzly weather shortly after entering Belgium.

After nearly an hour of starving to death and growing severely weak, we finally bought food. Friets groot. (large).

French fry museum. I snuck in. People actually paid for this! There were two stupid little exhibits and a bathroom and that was it!

A kermess in Brugge would have been brutal. Every single road was cobbled.

Secret garden

Not sure what this means, but I’m assuming you’re supposed to take a leak on the wall in 50 meters.

Back into the town square where there’s food. Basically once you got outside the restaurant/chocolate/and waffle places the tourists disappeared. Like us, they were here strictly for the treats.

Same went for the horses

Finally! Down to business! 250 grams of chocolates all for Kennett. That’s over half a pound for all you non-metric readers. I ate it all in an hour and a half after REALLY trying to save it to bring home for my family.

Next up were pitas

Hiding out at the back of the train because we “tried” but couldn’t find where to buy tickets. haha. yeah…

New day–Saturday. Something smells, but for once it’s not me. It’s the giant heap of onions in my back pockets.

Thanks farmer John for being out vegetable sponsor for the day!

New day–Sunday. Obligatory pluming work photo.

Just hanging out.

Post-race waffle.

I don’t know why it made these last photos so small. Click to enlarge.

Rollin’ in the dough here in Zingem (got the Z backwards, whoops). 10 euros for 21st place out of another large field of 120. I missed the massive 19-man move that went right after the first of 13 laps. Today was the first day I haven’t attacked in the opening two laps of the race and today was the first time the break actually went then…typical. Apparently to get in the winning move you need to know who’s who, only moves with specific riders will stay away. If someone named Mario or Guy is in your move, you’re golden (both being living legends here in Belgium having won more than 400 races each). Tomorrow…

Ying & Yang

*Before the race*

Downtime in Belgium. The first half of my day:

I’m bored right now. Very bored. I’m so bored I wish I could find a book in English to read. When I’m not on the bike, there’s very little to do here. Going to town to get groceries is probably the most interesting thing in my quiver. But that requires work: a 45-minute round trip ride on a busy road with a heavy backpack full of food. Other activities that keep me busy while I’m on a rest day or waiting for a race to start include spending time on my computer and talking to the other guys here—there’s only so much to talk about with other cyclists though (bike racing and training pretty much sum it up).

Fortunately for us here in this shit-hole apartment we have internet, which means facebook, cyclingnews, youtube, movies, skype, and email. Enough entertainment to last years. But that all ended a few days ago. Apparently some types of internet packages only allot for a certain amount of data usage, ours being 50GB, which only lasted us two weeks since there are five of us here with computers. I’ve been downloading movies, and with Jake’s excessive porn obsession, 50 GB didn’t stand a chance.

Now our only internet option is to steal it from the McDonalds across the street by standing at the kitchen windowsill or sitting up in the living room windowsill. It all depends on where the magic wifi spot decides to show up. It’s a slow, crummy connection that doesn’t work on my computer most of the time so I’ve been forced to find other things to do.

Geoff, Evgeny, and Jake getting McDonalds wifi in the kitchen.

Me in the living room windowsill getting some blazing slow internet.

Right now I’m writing a blog, which is a good time eater. Earlier I went down to the fruit store to look at the overpriced fruit, taking up five minutes of the crabby store-owner’s time while she waited for me, then walked out without buying anything. Before that I spent a good hour, hour and a half playing Reckless Drivin’, a demo game I’ve had on my computer since 2005 that employs graphics from 1990. The premise of the game is to drive recklessly and smash into other cars, motorcycles, school buses, etc, to rack up points and get to the finish line before the time runs up. Police cars chase you and try to run you off the road to blow you up. It’s a very complex game that requires great attention to strategy and much deep thought:

Here’s a screen shot to ease your eagerly awaiting minds of what this game looks like:

This is actually a helicopter view of Spencer going to the grocery store. SPENCER WANT CAPPN’ CRUNCH!!!

Here are my high scores:

Since the nearest city is pretty far away and all that extra riding and time spent on our feet would reduce recovery, we’re pretty much stuck here on the side of the highway in the apartment. The only things of interest here is the bread machine downstairs and the increasing insanity of Michael, the Greek. Last night he told us that the black gangs in LA (who control all the white politicians in Washington) were tracking his credit card statements via the internet and were perusing him here in Belgium to steal his brainpower and all his ingenious ideas for inventions. He also knew 9/11 was going to happen weeks before it occurred, and all the way back in the 80’s he’d already foreseen the economic meltdown of 2008.

My race doesn’t start until 6pm tonight, and I’ll be getting back from the 111-mile ride out there—the race—and then ride home at around 10PM if I’m lucky.

*After the race*

I got lost heading out there as usual and barely made it in time to start. In fact the officials weren’t even going to let me start at first; they basically postponed the race by five minutes to let me in. It took a lot of quick convincing, me explaining I’d been riding for two hours to get there, and they decided to be nice. I made a mad dash for the start line after the officials scrambled and ran around to find me a number. Someone in the crowd pinned my number to me as the gun went off and I began another race in the rain.

I thought the it would be a typical kermess with laps between 8 and 10 km, but this was more of a crit: 102km with laps between 2.5 and 3km with one slight uphill drag (so maybe 40 laps in total). There were only four 90-degree corners and a few S-curves, though there was plenty of sprinting to be done despite the lack of corners. The finish line was on a downhill, narrow road bending around one of the S-curves. And it was wet. Perfect.

The course was not hard enough. With 119 starters, it was too easy to sit in so I attacked throughout the entire race and spent roughly half the time off the front in moves that only lasted one to two laps at the most. It was the typical Belgian breakaway style of riding off the front: one guy takes a big pull, no one pulls through, everyone yells at each other, guys attack, pull through briefly, half the break is dropped, four new guys bridge up and attack…

With seven laps to go I decided to sit in and wait for the finish, believing that nothing could stay away. Somewhere in the final 5 or 10 laps four guys did get up the road and stuck it. I have no clue when this happened and didn’t find out about it until well after the race finished.

I was positioned pretty well until a half lap to go and got swarmed and was back to 50th place going into the final corner. With around 600 meters to go on the uphill drag I attacked on the sidewalk and got around almost everyone, bridging up to a few guys just off the front and taking fourth or fifth wheel. I could win this thing! (or take fifth actually, but I didn’t know that at the time). But with 300 meters to go I got swarmed on both sides and had nowhere to go as the downhill sprint started. I actually had to put my brakes on about 10 meters before the finish line. I took 12th in the sprint, 16th overall, finally getting into the top 20 at least. There’s some hard, hilly races coming up soon that will be much more selective, which are really what I’ve got my eye on.

The process of collecting race money took forever as usual. 60 guys crammed into a tiny room in the back of the bar, all trying to see the finish line footage on the computer and pick themselves out on it and prove they were in the top 30 (this race’s pay-out number). Half an hour into the argument, the box of cookies on a tray for coffee (not for the racers) had disappeared. Another half hour later the results were finally figured out and everyone collected their measly 15 euros. The top five or ten must get all the money because there was 800 euros in prize money.

In a bizarre stroke of luck three of the Israelis that I knew, from when I came here to Belgium in 2008, were at the race. We caught up afterwards during the long, drawn-out prize money dispute and they decided it wasn’t safe for me to ride home 50 kilometers in the dark (it was pitch black outside by now). There wasn’t room for me and my bike in their car, so instead of me riding home on my own with front and rear lights at a safe pace on back roads with nice slow speed limits of 50 km/hr (30mph)—instead of that they wanted me to draft and hold onto the car for 50 kilometers going 50-60 km/hr on those same back roads.

I collected my money and left the crowded bar, and after posing for a picture with a drunken cougar and receiving a quick kiss, I took off in the dark to partake in the most dangerous and exciting part of my day (the race only taking a close second place). With high levels of caffeine and adrenalin left over from the race still running through my veins, I was ready for danger. I started out by drafting, then switched to holding onto the left side of the car for most of the trip, making myself skinny when oncoming traffic passed or when road islands suddenly popped up out from the darkness out of nowhere. As I thudded heavily through potholes and over speed bumps at 45 miles an hour, I felt my wheels ache in pain, the single hand I had on the bars wavering an alarming amount from the violent jolts. I’d let go of the car and sprint ahead during roundabouts or sharp corners or when the potholes got too bad I’d let go and draft for a moment. The gps on the Israelis’ iphone took us down wrong roads and through every road construction zone in Belgium, all littered with raised manhole covers, gravel, road barricades—everything revealing itself from the darkness at the very last second before I’d either slam my brakes on or sprint to get in front of the car. I ended up doing a lot more sprinting on my ride home than I would have liked, but it saved me a considerable amount of pedaling time.

After the crazy nighttime “second race” of the day was completed, I was home at 11PM instead of 12AM. I didn’t come off my high for another couple hours and finally crashed heavily at 1:30AM after a seventeen large bowls of muesli and fish and lettuce sandwiches. The first half of the day was spent napping and being bored out of my mind, the second half with cortisol levels maxed: anxiety over getting lost on my way to the race, the excitement of the race, then the blistering suicide mission home hanging onto the side of a car driven by an Israeli equally high on race nerves as me. Ying and yang. Sweet and sour, hot and cold–Katy Perry style.

Getting my money’s worth

I’ve raced four kermesses in the past six days and now my jaw literally aches from grimacing so much the last race.

SUNDAY’S RACE: Skip to Monday’s race if you want to hear about a real Belgain kermess.

Yesterday was a lumpy course with one good-sized climb. I rode to the town of Meerbeke with Geoff (the New Zealander), Evgeny (the Russian), and Justin (the Brit). It was a quick but joyous jaunt out there at 40 kilometers of strong crosswind, which made riding easily very difficult. I was feeling good despite the large volume of miles in my legs for the week (22.5 hours worth). I attacked immediately out of the second corner and got up the road with four guys including Justin. The four of us held off the pack for a lap and a half, losing Justin and one of the other guys on the steep climb. Shortly later after the technical corkscrew descent the already shattering peloton caught me and the other guy. I continued attacking for the next two laps as the pack broke apart on the climb, came together after the descent, broke apart on the climb, etc. I thought one of those many moves would work for sure.

I missed the massive field split the fifth time up the climb (typical). I’d gone over the top of the climb either first or in the top 10 the first three times up. The fourth time up my positioning was still OK, sitting around 20th or so. I was never in huge difficulty on the climb since it was only 2 minutes and steep, just to my liking. But that damn fifth time up the climb I came into the base of it way, way too far back out of mindlessness or maybe because I had attacked shortly before; I don’t remember. Either way it wasn’t any harder than any other time up the climb, but by the time I worked my way to the front at the top of the climb, two huge groups of guys had gotten away. They were only at seven seconds though, so I figured we’d be fine considering I’d been up the road in groups multiple times with over seven seconds and had been brought back on every attempt.

I pulled, pulled, and pulled some more and tried attacking and bridging up there with groups for the next four laps until it was obvious that they weren’t coming back. Even when they only had 10 seconds the majority of the 40-50 guys still left in the pack just sat on, content to race for 28th place. It was bullshit. I was furious, yelling at everyone, swearing and throwing my hand up in the air again and again in frustration when guys wouldn’t pull through.

On the ninth lap I nailed it up the climb with two guys able to hold on. I drilled it across the top of the climb on the false flat/crosswind section and we had a good gap by the bottom of the hill. I did a lot of work and we stayed away for the next lap, with one guy bridging to us on the climb the next time up. Now we were four-strong. We worked it, me and the new guy mainly, and came through the finish line with one lap to go. The final time up the steepest part of the climb the new guy drilled it, dropping one of our breakmates, but unfortunately a large group bridged to us with about 4K to go following the descent.

We came into the final K with seven guys. Somehow I ended up getting second to last in our group’s sprint after being outwitted when two guys got a gap and no one wanted to pull them back. Of course I ended up trying to sprint up to them with 400 meters to go and I lost the valuable placing for 28th and took 34th instead. Terrible result. I had the legs today but apparently not the brains or positioning skills. I never know how these kermesses are going play out. I thought the move either goes in the first 30 minutes or goes with about an hour left to race, but apparently that’s not how it always works–or has ever worked since I got here. So far the winning move has been very late in the race or, like today, mid-way through. It’s almost as if it’s planned and the strong guys who usually win know about it and just sit and wait until the pre-determined lap to get away. The legs were there but not the local course-knowledge.


Today was a different story. Today I didn’t have the legs OR the knowledge. I came to Belg telling myself I wouldn’t race back to back days, especially since I’m riding to and from the races, totaling 5 to 5.5 hours on the bike every race day. But I broke that promise today. I was told it was another “lumpy” course out in the town of Erondegem, this one sporting a nice cobbled climb in addition to an uphill finish. I couldn’t say no and I convinced Justin to come race with me. After a massive breakfast we set out under dark cloudy skies. A minute into the ride the sun came out and I made sure to jinx us by commenting on what a nice day it turned out to be despite it spitting rain all morning. “We sure got lucky with this tailwind and the sun coming out for the ride there. The weather gods must be feeling kind today. As long as it doesn’t start raining before we start racing I’m happy.” Stupid. So, so stupid. *Hitting self on forehead with fist*

We pulled off the main road to a bike path to take a piss with about 10K to go to the race. An old guy riding a scooter came up on us from the other direction, mid-flow. If you stop to take a pee and you make sure no one’s around it’s a given that once you’re half way through peeing, a car will show up, receiving a full on glimpse of your tiny, cold, shriveled “saddle dick.” It’s because of this cycling ‘law’ that I no longer even try to conceal myself when I piss during rides. I often wonder how many little kids and old women passing by in cars I’ve shocked and horrified as I stand there on the side of the road looking up at the sky in deep daydream, whizzing my last bottle of Perpetuem away, accidentally all over my tire in many cases.

Anyways, the guy on the scooter ended up chatting with us and explained he was on his way to the race to watch (people come watch the races here, crazy right!?) and he wanted to give us a tow. He didn’t speak a word of English but it was obvious what he wanted to do, so we happily obliged and he motor-paced us the rest of the way there, but not before it started raining and I got real cold.

I started the race with numb fingers and toes even though it had stopped raining; I figured I’d warm up once things got started. Plus if I had attempted to start in my wind jacket I would have been laughed out of the race and out of the country, because no self-respecting Belgian wears anything more than a short-sleeve jersey and bibs. Arm and leg warmers are only for before and after the race. Or for January.

The pace started fast. Very fast. Gone were thoughts of being cold or worries of the rapid growth of my saddle sore, whose girth is approaching that of a ping pong ball. I was in the mindset to crush, and got away a multiple times on the first lap. I felt strong somehow. I was a bit shocked. I figured it was the caffein talking because there was no way I should have felt this good after the long ride and race the day before. I drilled it up the cobbled climb on the second lap and briefly got away in a small break again. We were caught, but then I was off again immediately in a counter attack with one other guy shortly after. We got caught half a lap later. I kept given ‘er until finally by the fourth lap I got into something that seemed like it would stick for good. I crushed it up the cobbled climb, bridging to one other guy and pulling another with me. The three of us were soon joined by four or maybe five more and we rolled through super hard and fast. Pretty quickly I was no longer capable of pulling through and a few of the guys started getting angry at me. I wasn’t dumb though, and sat on until I could sort of pull through, otherwise I’d have been dropped immediately. I wasn’t the only one in difficulty. We dropped two or three guys and it was down to five of us three fourths of a lap later. I was completely on the rivet the entire time, just dangling. Getting gapped off, suffering back on, gapped off on another corner (I think there were about 50 corners per lap x 13 laps on tiny roads), flogged myself back on, tiny tiny pull through, then immediately shot off the back again to battle my way back on.

Despite the ridiculous speed of our break, the pack caught us. I found out when all of a sudden a guy bridged to us, seemingly out of nowhere, as I came off the front after taking a pull. We’d just started another short climb as I slotted in behind him and he got popped right then as he made contact with us, gapping me and himself off in the process. I looked back to see the pack and breathed a sigh of relief as I had an excuse to get out of the move without having given up. The rest of the guys were gobbled up a minute later. That was the last time I spent time at the front.

Minutes after getting caught we entered a series of tight, downhill technical corners followed by an uphill drag at 30 mph where I couldn’t hold the wheel in front of me and 20 guys had to come around to close the gap. That was followed by a tiny portion of flat, then the 250 meter cobbled climb immediately after. I was so deep in pain for the rest of the race I could hardly believe I was still on earth and not on some distant meteor that hosts a sadistic prison labor camp for violent criminals in a futuristic, alien-dominated galaxy where a rare mineral called Suffernyte is in great demand and for some reason the only way to get it is (after a lifetime of pain and hard work on the meteor prison) to feed said prisoners to giant sand worms with millions of poisonous spikes lining their esophagus and it takes weeks of tremendous pain for the victim to die before the worm poops out a golden brick of suffernyte that smells like Hammer gel and spit.

It had began pouring rain on lap five or six, just dumping like crazy and the temperature dropped from a beautiful balmy 60-degree Belgian summer evening to a dark, frigid 48 degree TYPICAL summer Belgian evening. If I could have seen where I was going through my mud-covered glasses and blood red eyes I would have seen double, because today I got what I came here for and my eyes were finally crossed good and hard.

We’d slow to 10 mph for the tight, rain-slicked corners, dodge the manhole covers and metal grates, then sprint full on. Almost every corner was an all out sprint followed by an all out seated effort, over and over again. Like I said, there were at least 50 corners per lap.

The increasing power of the wind tore the pack apart; gaps were forming everywhere. There’s probably no worse feeling than sitting behind someone when it’s dead flat, pushing as hard as you possibly can, seated because you can no longer get out of the saddle, and see the gap continue to grow as the wheel gets further and further away. Two feet, three feet, four, five, six, six and and a half, seven, eight, nine ten, eleven feet away. It holds at eleven…twelve, thirteen, fourteen feet. And then, after you astonishingly catch that wheel 20 seconds later, you look up to see that there’s an even bigger gap to the next guy since the guy in front of you just blew up.

As I grew colder and colder the race became harder and harder. The rain increased from pouring to SUPER pouring. I was actually doing OK until it had started raining, but now my legs were completely drained. I was immensely cold. I thought my race was over about 30 separate times, then somehow I managed to find the strength and willpower to get back onto the wheel in front of me and continue the suffering. I asked guys how many laps were left or how many people were up the road. No one seemed to know and all I got were slight shakes of the head and a gasping mumble. Everyone was maxed out, except for whoever was on the front. Jesus Christ that motorcycle NEVER got tired.

I thought we’d been racing for 30th or 40th place but it turned out no one was off the front. There were 37 of us left in the race. And then sadly I got popped once and for all on one of the many short climbs after I’d been gapped off on the previous corner; a few guys came around me but there was nothing I could do to hold their wheels at that point. My ticket was so full of hole punches it had ceased to exist. The conductor came and told me I wasn’t allowed aboard the train as I held up my empty hand to show him my ticket, confused and scratching my head seeing that where my ticket had been was now just thin air. I’m happy to say that there was no possible way I could have hung on for even 1 second longer. We’d only been racing for 1:45. The 36 guys who finished must have been polar bears…on roller-blades…with rockets attached to the roller-blades…and more rockets attached to those rockets.

I got out of the rain as soon as I could and found my way to the race HQ pub where we’d signed on. I was shaking uncontrollably, definitely hypothermic, and in way more of a post-race daze than normal. There was no car to go to to warm up, no dry clothes to put on, no money to buy any food or hot drink from the bar. I didn’t know where Justin was. I didn’t see him once during the race so I assumed he had dropped out a while ago and was now probably with one of his teammates who we’d left our bags with before the race. I stood there in the middle of the pub after eating my two cookies in my pocket, face covered in road grime and snot, shivering and hunched over with arms crossed trying to warm up, not doing or thinking anything at all except about how cold I was and how I better not get sick because I was just getting over my last cold a few days ago damn it. Eventually I found a seat in a corner and shivered there for half an hour, dreading the ride home. Even when I got home there would be no hot shower since we only have warm water between 12AM and 8AM (it’s a rare, grim day that I get up before 8). I began to believe I’d never be warm again in my life. I came to terms with that.

I went out a few times in the pouring rain to see if I could find Justin, but quickly returned to the crowded pub to sit and shiver in the relative warmth of the bar some more. The waitress felt bad enough for me to come give me a cup of coffee, two lumps of sugar, cream and a small cookie. I mumbled an extremely appreciative but slurred “donk you” (flemish for thank you) and held the tiny warm espresso cup in my hands, enjoying the warmth of it even more than the actual drink.

Finally Justin showed up. Now began the second hardest part of the day: forcing myself to step back out into the cold, dark evening and riding 20 miles home in dumping rain, already hypothermic in wet clothes, absolutely no energy left…into a headwind and to an empty cupboard of food. It was almost too much to cope with after the brutality of the race and I weighed my options: 1) take a train home: no trains in sight, 2) beg for a ride from another racer: haha not a chance that would work, 3) find a hotel: there are no hotels in Belgium, 4) just continue to sit and shiver in the bar and not think about it anymore. The final option seemed best to me, but Justin wasn’t as cold and was therefore thinking slightly more clearly. We waited another 15 minutes until there was finally a break in the rain and two weak as rainbows came out. I did NOT exclaim my joy of seeing a double rainbow. We began the cold slog home.

In some strange turn of luck the weather gods’ guilt caught up with them and they blessed us with sun and an increase in air temperature for the rest of the ride home; within 30 minutes I stopped shivering and came back to life. Today was the most suffering I’ve done all year on the bike. The combined fatigue of all the race days, plus the rain, the cold, and the difficulty of the course made for one extremely hard race. The thought that this is the absolute one and only thing I want to do makes me seriously question my sanity.

Here I am all chipper and ready to go smash it before I left for the second Lokeren race last Friday.

Smashing it up at Lokeren, though if you remember I was thoroughly disappointed in how easy this race was.

A new day, this Sunday reg-ing for race number 3 at Meerbeke.

Either the last or second to last time up the climb at Meerbeke.

Hanging out in the changing room tent after the race.

Evgeny on our ride home.

Behind the back camera work to get this shot of Geoff

And Justin.

We splurged and got pizzas at the pizza restaurant downstairs, whose aroma has been tantalizing us for days. Note: Belgians do not know how to make a proper pizza, but it tasted marvelous anyways.

On Sunday night the TV show House is on, which is a nice break from the network “Jim”–basically MTV but it actually plays music videos. The bald guy there is “the Greek” aka Michael, who’s really from South Africa but calls himself Greek because his parents are. He’s insane, and I’m not just saying that. He’s 50 years old and believes he’s training like us for bike races, though he’s never done one and rides roughly 1 hour a day. He lived on the streets in New York for years before he decided to become a professional bike racer last year and came here to Belgium to live the dream. He never shuts up and is paranoid that people are trying to sabotage him–including a network of black, gangster spies in LA. Add about 10 IQ points to Forest Gump, a huge dose of racism, and a never ending blather of mindless talk and self-righteous argument and you’ve got Michael. I’ve come very close to taking a pillow to his head while he’s asleep. He’s entertaining in small doses but not after hard races.

New day: Monday

There’s no screwing around here in Belgium. Justin has a BAG of pure, unadulterated Columbian caffeine.

Finally home after the torturous cold race…

…home at last, but to an empty cupboard. Luckily there’s a huge stash of community pasta, which Justin and I put a large dent in.

Reasons Why Belgium Is Better Than The USA:

The bread machine outside our apartment downstairs. Fresh bread from the bakery every day except Sunday.

They start them young here…with beer, that is.

Just one of many bike racing statues. This one was right at the finish line of the Meerbeke race.

Bike trophies in the pub at Meerbeke.

Also in the pub, a framed picture of ????

…Even better.

And last but not least:

Euro mullets are in full force over here.

And to further prove my point:

That there is a rat tail in combo with a beaded rat tail. Dirtiest possible bike racer haircut. This guy probably won the race with that haircut btw.

Race number two in Belgium.

I never thought I’d say it, but damn that kermess was easy. And BORING! I made the long journey up north through Gent and out east to Lokeren again for what I hoped would be another slobernocker. Same field of riders, same town, same prize money. But completely different atmosphere. These Lokeren kermesses are a three-part series that started on Monday–the day I missed unfortunately, due to fighting off that cold (I’m 100% healthy now though). The lack of guts in today’s race could have been because everyone was tired (unlikely) as well as the top three series leader’s teams chasing everything down and keeping the field together. Each day has a different course, and today’s didn’t include any serious cobbles, which was probably the biggest factor in how the race was raced.

Like last time I got lost again today. This time ending up on a tiny gravel road winding through corn fields. I was coming to terms that I rode all the way out there for nothing, seeing as there was no possible way I’d make it to the race on time (or at all) and then just like that I popped out of an ally way and was at the race.

I came prepared. I had extra coffee in a water bottle 30 minutes before the race started, more race food, more caffeine during the race, an extra water bottle in my back pocket, a great Ace of Bass song stuck in my head…I was ready for some hurtin.

One and a half minutes into the race three guys were already up the road and the field seemed content to let them go. Huh? Screw that, I didn’t ride all the way up here to sit in. I bridged the gap, went to the front of the now four-man break attempt and drilled it. Over the course of the first lap four or five others bridged up to us. But no one wanted to really pull hard except me and one other dude, both of us doing double duty pulls when others skipped out. In fact, the others in the group got upset at me for pulling through too hard. I couldn’t figure it out. Just two days before everyone was riding like the moon was focusing all of its gravitation on circulating the peloton’s legs with as much force as possible.

I came into the last corner second wheel, 400 meters to the finish line. I pulled through and looked back, saw a gap had formed to the other six or seven guys, stopped pedaling to wait for the others to get back on my wheel, annoyed and shaking my head at the way things were looking for our success, finally took my pull and they all sprinted by 150 meters from the line. NO!! THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING AGAIN!! I specifically asked people before the race about the prime laps. 50 euros a prime every other lap starting on lap #2 and ending on lap #16. But this was lap number one. Apparently I was misinformed and lost a for-sure prime winning sprint, seeing as I could have just NOT sopped pedaling and won the stupid thing. 50 euros down the drain.

I later came to the conclusion that the first 10 laps were all prime laps. Guess what the next lap number I came through in first position was. Number 11 of course.

The break did not stick. We were caught half a lap later. I went with some other attempts but could see that the race was super negative and that everyone was half asleep or something. It could have been a hard course with all the wind and turns, but no one wanted to make it hard. I sat in for a long time, waiting. Just conserving for when it would get hard. Because I KNEW it would eventually go ballistic.

Wrong. It never did. I made it really hard for myself a handful of times, doing monster efforts to bridge up to a number of different moves when I sensed the race was just about to blow apart and I HAD to get up the road to that winning move, but sadly the field always came back together. I spent most of a lap off the front with one other guy with four to go, got caught, then sat in, still waiting for it to get hard and for things to shatter. Hoping.

I was 20th or 30th wheel with a lap to go when a large break got away with all the represented teams, and their teammates blocking. Game over. I finished in the pack then rode home, upset that I could still see straight at the end of the race. No race in Belgium should leave your vision fully intact. Lame. I hear Sunday will be much, much harder.

It only costs 3 euros to bang your head against a wall for 3 hours

(Written Wednesday evening)

Today I raced in Lokeren, 25 miles north-east of my town, Zingem. It was hard as shit. If said shit was frozen. Because otherwise shit normally isn’t hard. Especially mine this morning.

I woke with massive diarrhea, ate breakfast and ruined the toilet again about 45 minutes later. I’ve been eating a ton of these fruit-flavored dissolvable magnesium tablets because Justin told me magnesium was an important mineral for going fast and since he speaks with a British accent he has a lot of clout. They sell the magnesium here at the supermarket for 1 euro for a Nuun-like container of 20 magnesium tabs, so of course I’ve been downing them like candy. Turns out this kind of candy (magnesium) gives you the shits. Another symptom of magnesium overload is a feeling of weakness and tiredness, which explains why I was so tired last night after only riding 2 hours. I wasn’t tired when I woke up this morning though, until I read on the Google about the magnesium OD symptoms. Then I got real tired.

So with the power of suggestion I suddenly became drowsy and lethargic 30 minutes before I left for the race. Not to worry, where one drug fails you, another shall take its place. A few sips of coffee and I was good to go (though later I was told it was decaf coffee, which further proves how potent the power of suggestion on the mind really is). No just joking it was regular coffee, but that would have made for a good story though.

I was a bit worried this wasn’t the best way to start my first race over here (still coughing and now consistently shitting every 45 minutes) but I felt great on the ride out to the race and it ended up not affecting me at all. I’ve had plenty of rest and my legs were good today, so that was an accomplishment for the day right there in itself.

Geoff, who hasn’t been able to get his racing license from NZ yet, decided to roll to the race with me for his afternoon workout. It had been raining in the morning, but things were clearing up and it was warm and humid and overcast. Perfect racing conditions.

I got us pretty lost about 20K from home when we got to the large city of Gent. Long story short, after asking a bunch of people how to get to Lokeren and not getting sufficient answers, I said goodbye to Geoff and went off on my own. It was getting too close to the start of the race and there were still 20K to go to get there. My cortisol levels surpassed the psi of my tires at 120, and my easy spin to the race became a mad dash through the busiest intersections of Gent, buzzing through red lights, drafting off buses, dodging cars and pedestrians and cyclists and train rails, hopping off the curb, back up, flying through roundabouts. It was a good warmup for the race actually. Somehow I got through Gent and found the correct road to Lokeren. I think I used up almost all my good luck for the day right there by A) not getting killed in traffic and B) making it to the race on time.

The race was only 114km and would take 2:40 minutes or so. It was a pan flat 13 laps on an 8.8km course with plenty of turns, brick pavers, wind, potholes, narrow roads, and three cobbled sections–one about 400 meters long and the other longer one about 800 meters.

There were 100 starters and would only be 49 finishers, which is actually quite a few for a hard kermess. I started mid pack and picked my way forward until I was sitting in the top 15 about half a lap into the race. As I took off past the front on an attack I heard a crash behind me right after we rounded a corner. Perfect! I didn’t look back and drilled it for about a half kilometer by myself. I looked back eventually and saw a few guys dangling off the front of the peloton in persuit. Two of them got onto my wheel as we got to the long cobbled section and I drilled it for an entire K by myself, feeling pretty good I guess. The effort took it out of me though. After the two of them pulled through ONCE, they yelled at me to take my pull. WTF!! You’ve got to be kidding me! We came through the finish line and I sat on for a few minutes to rest. Two more guys bridged to us. It was hard for the next three laps or so and finally we were away, the pack out of sight after some slight reshuffling of the break with six of us away for what looked to be the winning move.

I didn’t realize it, but every lap, or maybe it was every other lap, (for at least the first half the race) was a prime lap and the break was always splintered here during the 1K cobbled finish stretch–ruining the cohesion of the break for probably only 20 euros a prime. I didn’t know why it was happening and then when I figured it out I never knew which lap it was going to be on, otherwise of course I would have gone for it too.

Also, to make our break have even less chance of success, guys would skip pulls, rest for a minute, then come to the front and DESTROY for 30 seconds straight, gaping everyone off and dropping the guy who had taken the previous pull. We all yelled at each other quite a bit and I was pretty confused as to why we couldn’t just roll through in cooperation like a normal, civilized race. The peloton was pretty far gone and if we just rotated through at a good pace and didn’t skip pulls or take massive I’M GOING TO CRUSH YOUR LEGS IF IT KILLS ME pulls, we’d stay away to the end.

All of a sudden we were caught by the front, splintered end of the peloton as bridging moves worked their ways up to us. I think we’d covered around 5 laps by then and had been riding for 54 minutes. I continued to bash my head against the wall by spending another lap and a half off the front in a dozen different moves before I decided to give up and retreat back into the pack, 1:20 into the race and 2/3 of my bullets fired.

By then there were only about 60 guys left in the pack. The pace slowed up a bit for the next forty minutes. Breaks came and went but nothing seemed like it would last. Then a dangerous two or three moves went with four or five laps to go and it almost looked like game over for about 40 of us in the pack. It got really hard for a lap and it was all back together again, but during that lap, since I went to the race by myself and two bottles were NOT enough, I had tried to steal a bottle in a feed zone but ended up just knocking it to the ground. A few minutes later after a real hard tail wind drag, some big old bloke came up to me and knocked me hard on the top of the head three times and screamed at me in Flemish. I yelled at him and we shouldered each other for a moment in the middle of the pack as we came to a cobbled section. He raised a hand as if he was about to hit me in the face, but decided not to and just yelled some more. At that point I realized it was because I had tried to steal his bottle. I controlled my temper and resisted crashing both of us out, which was my first idea and was so mad I was actually on the verge of doing it right then and there without thinking. But it would have been a bad way to make a name for myself over here, so we continued to yell at each other instead. It was another minute before he finally shut up when it got too hard to talk again.

With three laps to go I began to get more attentive and chased down a few moves. My legs were in pretty bad shape by then and I needed food and water. No gifts here though. I decided to be real conservative, as it seemed like everything was being chased back. Though, I blew up a few times bridging or trying to bridge up to moves anyways.

Finally, with a little over a lap to go, a move finally got away and stuck. Then another. I was in neither and began boiling with frustration, pissed off that I’d done so much work off the front and now wasn’t even going to be top 20. I came into the final kilometer cobbled stretch too far back after being lazy and finished 38th. Turns out we were actually sprinting for 8th place somehow, with one guy winning by 10 seconds and six more up the road by five seconds. Should have moved up more before that final turn. Idiot. Most of the races I did last year were won by breaks going in the first hour, then after that it was usually the break that went with about an hour to go. I don’t remember any winning moves going in the last 20 or 30 minutes. But these races are pretty inconsistent, which is why I like them. The winners are not inconsistent though. The guy who won today took his 400th victory. Yes, 400th. Not only did he have the strongest team, the old 6’5″ behemoth was also probably the smartest and fastest guy in the whole damn field. Not to worry though, with a bit of luck I can tell that I’m strong enough to get on the podium here.

After the race I attempted to get out of my daze with a banana and some sugary “Hotel” bread, drank water from the bathroom in the bar (the race’s HQ), attempted to wipe the dirt off my face, collected my five euros for returning my race number, and started my ride home. Realized I had a flat three minutes later. Fixed it. Arrived home totaling 122 miles in a little over 5 hours. Ate half a million calories, took a cold shower because most of the time we don’t have hot water, ate more food. Body stopped throbbing. Couldn’t sleep though because my room is the only hot place in Belgium. Took another cold shower at 2AM–this time by choice. Other choices: swelter with the window closed or open the window for a breeze but let mosquitos in and get blasted by loud highway traffic noise right outside the house. Actually, even if the window’s open it’s still hot and even if it’s closed they’re still mosquitos and traffic noise. So really there’s only the idea of choice, much like democracy.

Races on Friday (again in Lokeren) and then a hillier one on Sunday.

We’re on the upper level on the far end.

steel cut oats, muesli, apple, banana, blackberries.

Really? Because I’ve never seen this in a hotel. Good ride food though, along with my Hammer Nutrition.

This doesn’t even capture how dirty or tired I really was.

Speculoose and banana…would have made for a great recovery meal but I didn’t have any. So I ate this instead:

Canned HERRING! in tomato sauce, toasted rye bread, cucumber, tomato, sweet chili sauce.