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.