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.