2011 race season officially over

October 9th. It’s 12:07 AM here in Zingem, Belgium. I’m in bed right now with eyes stinging red in fatigue, holding off sleep for my final thoughts to be typed out before I forget them by morning. I raced the final race of the season today with a decent result, coming in 11th. It was the same course in the town of Hooglede that I did a week ago, though today was infinitely harder due to the weather. It was cold, windy, dark, and with five laps to go the clouds opened up and rain turned the dirt on the road to a slick film of road icing.

Justin, Jake and I headed out to one last race in the red team car, putting along 10 km/hr under the speed limit because we’ve had four camera speeding tickets in the past couple months. Jake had good enough legs today to attack a lot and put the hurt on, but missed out in the finish. Justin held on for a lap or two. Here’s how I did:

I started out at the front and lasted there for a good lap and a half before retreating back to the depths of the bulge, somewhat sheltered from the wind, while fearfully avoiding covering any of the splits. I had no killer end-of-season form today. None at all. Just the opposite. I’m completely, thoroughly, 100% cracked. After the race on the 4th in Sint-Lievens I took two full days off the bike with one easy ride yesterday to open back up for today. And yet I was still blown by the second lap today. With 20 laps remaining I promised myself that as long as I raced all out today and fully depleted the fumes in the tank I’d reward myself with NOT racing three days later on the 11th, which is the very last race of the year in Belgium. So I set about making sure I’d make it to the end, which meant conserving and moving up when things got dangerous.

I survived. I never let the wheel go but half a dozen times when the guy in front of me did I wouldn’t have had the will or strength to close it down had he or someone from behind not done it. There was a considerable amount of time spent seated, head down, staring at the tiny gap of pavement between my wheel and the wheel in front of me, stomping as hard as possible, twenty guys back, with the only thought in my mind being, “WHY is the guy in front of me so damn short!!!!” It was one of those races where you pray to whoever’s listening that if you could just finish the race on this lap in the position that everyone’s currently in, you’d be very grateful (and you’re only mid pack).

With seven or eight laps to go the peloton was down to 40-50 guys and the pace seemed to let up temporarily–the reason being that the two guys were up the road were slowly getting out of sight on some of the straight-aways. I moved up and began following attacks. With five laps to go, like I said before, it began raining. Almost immediately, on the same corner that I crashed in last week, someone’s wheel slid out and he hit the pavement. I shot through the gap (slowly), following and bridging up to the front split on the hill over the next few kilometers. We had maybe eight guys and a good gap to whoever was left behind. The field was in complete disarray at this point with groups of five and ten (judging by how we were eventually bridged to). I thought we were good to go but our cooperation stagnated and we ended up just letting everyone regroup a lap later (I don’t think it was out of kindness though, just cracked legs and even more severely cracked heads). Once we were caught I went straight off the front and pulled away by myself for the next kilometer just in case either someone crashed in the dangerous corner again or the field just took it super slow and the field sat up like it did when the two guys up the road had got away. Not the case. I got caught but felt good enough to spend the next three laps attacking and following moves, though I was pretty far-gone at that point and never had much to offer once I got up the road with whomever.

We were sprinting for third place (though I thought it was for 2nd) and I came into the final three-corner uphill 800-meter drag a tad bit too far back. It would have been the perfect spot had the pack been larger and people’s legs been fresher, but that was not the case. Someone about ten spots in front of me let the wheel go with 400 meters and four or five guys rode away with a big gap. I came around the couple guys who’d blown up with 200 meters to go and died very shortly afterwards with 100 meters left to the line. I had to end the sprint seated. Luckily everyone else was equally screwed as me and I held off the surge from behind to earn some good Colruyt cash for 11th place, though I don’t have much desire to go to Colruyt anymore. We completely overdid the samples the past couple days.

And so ends the 2011 season. I’ve been sick since the beginning of September, which wasn’t hard enough on me apparently because just recently the bike gods decided to give me nonstop diarrhea–for the past five days. My body is dying and it needs a full horse-trough of salad and fruit to halt the self-destruct count down sequence. I head back to Oregon on the 11th. It’s going to be weird not being here in Belgium racing my brains out every couple days, while in between riding to Colruyt for free samples and stopping off to feed the cows grass along the way.

From left to right: Justin, me, Michael, Jake. In reality we’re all cracked. It’s been a trip of a lifetime with hopefully more to come.