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.

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