Last week in Belgium

If you want a spot on description of what my time in Belgium has been like thus far, look no further than this song, Loca People.

It’s a completely accurate picture of my normal day to day…minus the drinking. And the dancing girls. And the partying, the sun, the fun, the night club, and the guy named Johnny. Other than that it’s the same, as in:

“When I came to Belgium and I saw how people race bikes I thought to myself, ‘what the f—?’”

All day, all night. Bike racing. Everywhere. Every day of the week. In a country smaller than Oregon’s Willamette Valley, having eight races to chose from on a Wednesday is pure insanity. Eight hard races with equally hardened riders, all willing to tear themselves inside out, get in a fist fight at 50km/hr, and tear themselves inside out all over again…just for 38th place and 10 euros. Belgium: the land of cycling that we all dream about.

I’ve only raced twice since my last post about the Denderhoutem kermess, and although I said I wouldn’t write about a race unless I got top five, here I go anyways (I didn’t place top five either day).

The past two races I’ve done have been interclubs—those 100 mile races that take between 3:20 and 4 hours.

I woke on Monday morning with a slight trickle in my throat. The slightest of trickles, which I passed off as just needing a little more protein and fluids (a trick I tell myself to keep my worrying at bay and continue training/racing). So instead of rest, I upped my food intake a little and continued on with my week, racing on Monday with good legs. Tuesday was an easy ride in the rain–just an hour spin with one good hard effort to keep my legs open for Wednesday. The trickle was still there.

Wednesday was the interclub. It took place in the city of Wingeme and was named thusly. It was 12 laps of a 14.8–13 km circuit (the circuit varied). It was pan flat and fairly windy. In fact it was one of the more exposed, windier races I’ve done. Lots of cross wind sections made for a hard day. We began with a short, 2km neutral section, which saw my heart rate skyrocket and my legs burn in agony to turn over as we sprinted out of the still-neutralized corners. In fact, after 10 minutes of racing I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish. I was feeling pretty cracked already and I could tell my energy levels were already low from my cold. I continued on of course.

Fighting for position was a big one today. I’d get up on the sidewalk in one particular corner and make my way into the top 15. From there I’d slowly drift back for the majority of the lap (not on purpose) until the next time we got to that particular corner, where I’d again chop 100 people with my brilliant sidewalk maneuver.

Six laps went by until I gave it a go off the front. No dice. We were still clipping along at 55-60 km/hr in certain tailwind portions, and the early breakaway hadn’t been caught yet. It was still dangling, just 20-30 seconds up the road.

On lap seven or maybe eight, just when the break was finally caught, I threw in another few attacks and followed wheels off the front for a bit, but it was still too early for the winning move to get away. I was feeling better and had figured out which way the wind was blowing on each section of the circuit by now, so my confidence was fairly high compared to how I felt at the start.

On lap nine my teammate Michael (the Scott) moved up past me. I knew to follow him since he has a keen sense of the winning move. We were both hovering around the front in the top 15 or 20 when he followed some wheels off the front. Someone sat up a few places behind him and let the gap open. I had been on his wheel 30 seconds earlier but lost it temporarily. I thought of jumping to close the gap, but feared it would ruin the move’s chances, plus I assumed someone else would cover it. Even though the gap was only10 bike lengths, every second spent in the wind adds up and every free ride helps.

I cursed myself for not being directly on his wheel as the gap increased to about 10 seconds over the next few kilometers, finally getting up to 30 by the end of the lap with three to go.

The next lap was the hardest of the race. I spent the first four kilometers of it following moves and bridging gaps as everyone tried to get in the next move. A group of 20 got away, chasing Michael’s lead group of 16, and the front end of the peloton dwindled to just 15 of us as we punished ourselves to catch that second group of 20. We made it…and were doomed to spend the next half lap suffering at the back in the crosswind. I was so cracked at one point that I just prayed I’d either crash off the side of the road or that we’d get caught by the peloton. Neither happened unfortunately, and I was subjugated to a severe amount of torture. There’s no worse pain than that being dealt to you in a crosswind section, especially as you look back and see everyone behind you has been dropped and there’s no place to retreat to. You’re at the mercy of those in front, those lucky few who are in the relative comfort of a well-formed echelon, protecting each other from the crosswind as you surge at 500 watts for 20 seconds, let off the pedals and coast for four seconds, surge again for 16 seconds, let off for seven, surge again for 40…it’s never-ending.

Two laps to go. I sat in, not doing any work because some German team had missed out on the front group and had five guys in ours, working hard to get up there. We got agonizingly close–to within 12 seconds. I’d started taking pulls by then as we came to the finish line with one lap to go. Then it all went down the drain. Everyone began attacking and our group blew up. I missed out somehow, despite getting into a few initial moves. My brain wasn’t really working at that point and I spent a bit too much time in the wind alone. I’d taken a couple corners poorly the lap earlier and had also almost crashed into someone on a straight section of road. I was nauseous and felt more and more flu-ish. My vision and sense of balance were taking a nosedive, as were my energy levels. Just a lap to go though. Got to hold it together.

Half of our group had gotten up the road in groups of threes and fours. The rest of us rode the last 10 kilometers at an easy tempo. The peloton was minutes behind by now. We took even turns pulling through, silent in our defeat. I attacked with 1.5 K to go anyways, just in case a top 25 spot was still available (in the money). I rode in alone for 30th (no money). My teammate Michael was 10th and another teammate, Jake, was 44th. Our team’s top three places were good enough to get us 10th in the team competition (which awarded us 15 whole euros! Divided five ways is three bucks each. CA-CHING!!). 10 overall also made our team director pretty happy since it got some points for the team, which are needed to keep getting interclub invitations.

I felt absolutely awful after the race. Really tired and sick, though at the same time high on adrenaline and caffeine as usual. I was pretty sick for the next couple days and didn’t touch the bike. I spent my days sleeping 12 hours a night and eating split pea soup and oranges and drinking chicken bullion broth.

By Saturday I was still feeling bad, but decided to ride anyways and test out my legs for the interclub on Sunday—a hard, hilly race in the Ardennes (the southern Wallonie region of Belgium). I rode for 17 minutes, felt a near bonk coming on, turned around, and went home. On the mend but still sick. Tomorrow was going to be a long ass day. I’d been looking forward to this race for a whole week and wasn’t going to miss it. Plus the next race after it wasn’t until Univest on the 17th. Plus I couldn’t pass up a free meal of rice pudding sandwiches and granola bars (race food provided by the team).

Sunday: Rochefort interclub. Six laps of varying circuits and 12 KOM climbs. The team van came and picked Jake and I up at 9AM. I slept during the two-hour journey and awoke to pissing rain. TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!

Nah, changed my mind. I’ll write it all now. I fought violently with myself the entire race to not drop out. I felt like shit, though I raced OK. I got in a break mid way through, got caught, stayed near the front and made the front splits with 2.5 laps to go. I died 100 deaths up the next climb and a further 1,000 during the following crosswind section when things broke up even more, made the front split of 10 guys (there were still 10 up the road in the early breakaway though). We sat up a bit on a descent and our group swelled back up to 30. At that point I felt content about my efforts for the day and was happy to just follow the wheel in front of me. I decided to just follow wheels. I would spend absolutely no more time spent in the wind whatsoever. I was too screwed to do anything else and was still trying to just convince myself to finish, let alone continue attacking and bridging gaps. Unfortunatly the wheels I followed up the next climb didn’t work out and the guy I was sitting on didn’t cover a gap over the top section of the climb. Small groups merged and formed a group of 15 that got away from us while our group was eventually eaten up by the rest of the 20-man groups behind us, finally becoming the peloton again when we really sat up with two laps to go.

The final 40km were ridden easily, with a few groups going away initially to take up 25-40th place. After our slow jaunt for the last two short laps, apparently unofficially neutralized (much to my appreciation), the sprint was on with 1K to race. Go figure. came in 57th place on the day. I’m licking my wounds as well as my chops for another hilly interclub like this. Coming into one of these healthy and firing at 100% will be a whole different story, which will probably go like this, “I attacked a lot, felt strong, but missed the winning move and the second move and the third move and got 56th–one place better than that other time when I was ill.” Ha ha, nopefully not. Yeah, I just used the word “nopefully.” When it goes mainstream, remember, you heard it here first.

Wingeme. Enjoying a tasty pudding sandwich.

After Rochefort.

Post race subs on the house!!!

It was a long car ride back. No, that isn’t 1.5 liters of lemonade. The width of this opening requires quite a bit of concentration… aiming into such a small hole. No pun intended there. I redeemed myself today, for the last time I attempted this procedure it ended up in disaster. Sorry Lang, but your old car is in the dump anyways now so you can’t be mad at me for telling you now.

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