A few days ago Kennett decided that he’d write in the third person for the rest of his life since he had grown bored of writing in the first. Although he knew this couldn’t possibly last for the rest of his life, he decided to give it a try. Then, upon taking a quick reflection on what he’d just written, he noticed that even today he’d accidentally reverted to the first person in the title of his most recent blog post. The first person had been ingrained in his mind. Kennett wasn’t sure why. What was the point of having all these different persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) anyways? In the end they all had the same thing to say.
The Wervik interclub was a 170km race held an hour’s drive from Oudenaarde, the home base of the ASFRA Flanders team and Kennett’s apartment, which was located 100 meters down the street from the Flanders bike shop. Kennett woke at 8:45, made a massive bowl of oats with rice pudding, three eggs, salt, and a spoon of butter. He ate all but the last few bights. He didn’t want to be too full for the race. It was going to be hard if it was anything like last year.
Crisis number one of the day occurred at the shop where the team was supposed to meet and leave at 10:00. But the last person to drive the team van hadn’t returned teh van keys to the cup holder in the door where they normally sat. The problem was eventually solved 50 minutes later when a handful of random keys had been brought out from the bike shop with the hope that maybe one of them would start the van up. After all, the real van key fit so loosely in the ignition that it regularly fell out while driving. With a bit of luck, one of they keys worked and the team got underway.
Wervik had five “categorized” climbs with KOMs, all of which were in between kilometer 65 and 85. The first two came back to back. The Monteberg was a paved, not even that steep of a lump that flattened out at the top for a kilometer before heading down hill. The downhill was short and the course took a 180 degree turn that shot straight up the Kemmellberg, a steep cobbled climb. The next climb was the Rodeberg, a stair-step paved climb that was also really steep. After that it was one more time up the Monteberg and Kemmellberg before the race headed back to Wervik for three long finishing circuits. The rest of the course was on small, rolling farm roads with wind. Just over half of the 200 starters would finish. Kennett enjoyed such days.
Kennett entered the day with a plan. He knew what the course was like and how the race would most likely go since he’d done it the year before, though the locals had been doing it for years, so maybe Kennett’s plan was pretty well known. The pace would start out fast and be strung out until the break was established, most likely around 50 kilometers. Then the pack would slow down for a few minutes before the panicked 15 kilometer sprint to the base of the first climb began. Then the field would split over the first time up the Kemmellberg and that right there would be the race, with the first 10 or 15 over the Kemmellberg breaking off and merging with the breakaway. Kennett knew he could stay with the best on the Kemmellberg, so long as he was positioned well going into it.
The race went exactly as Kennett predicted, sort of. Okay not really. He attempted to stay up near the front in the beginning, though he did eventually drift a bit too far back. His legs felt good though, despite still coughing from a cold. He could move up whenever he wanted except for when it was completely strung out in the wind. About 50K into the race the chase of the early breakaway was abandoned. It was a large group of 15; Kennett expected they’d be brought back during the climb-heavy section of the race. Heading through a town a few kilometers before the climbs, Kennett was positioned well. The hard part, of course, was maintaining the position. At the very last moment, he sprinted around 40 guys to chop them all and enter the final 90 degree corner in first position. Next was a downhill that lead into the first climb. Someone crashed on his right as he tried moving up in the gutter. So far Kennett’s positioning was to the T.
20 guys came around on the downhill, which Kennett knew was perfect. They started the Monteberg with Kennett tucked in away from the wind. He moved up three or four times as surges came around. He hit the top of the climb 15th, five or 10 more passed him on the one-minute descent when he braked to avoid hitting a van parked on the left. They turned the 180 degree corner at the base of the descent and went straight up the 20% Kemmellberg. Kennett took the lower part of the climb easy, making sure he could surge at the top if necessary. He was always amazed at how terrible a lot of the guys in Belgium were at riding on cobbled climbs. Half of them swerved about and looked like they were about to fall off. Kennett went by these ones quickly, fearing they’d crash him in one of their violent bodily jerks. Only 10 were in front of him now. He began going hard. No only two were in front as they reached the top, both were haggard, barely pedaling when the cobbles ended and they hit the pavement near the top. Kennett decided he might as well make everyone else behind him suffer as much as possible, so he nailed it over the very top of the climb as it flattened out. He kept it up on the false flat descent for the next couple hundred meters. Two guys had managed to grab onto his wheel. The front of the peloton was now broken into small groups of twos threes and fours as they hit the fast, technical part of the descent, still on a road no wider than a bike path.
After the descent a group of ten formed, which slowly swelled to 20. Before long it likely contained fifty or sixty guys, Kennett had never looked back though so he couldn’t be sure. Now was the time to be super attentive. There was another longer climb a few kilometers after the Kemmellberg descent and Kennett bridged across solo to five guys that had attacked at the base of it. The effort put him deep in the box. He wouldn’t come out for a long time.
But the effort was well worth it. Five or six more guys bridged and the 10 of them all worked to stay away until the top of the next steep climb, the Rodeberg, where an additional ten guys managed to bridge across to them. This would be the winning move. All Kennett had to do now was smash it up the Kemmellberg again and help shatter the group back down to 10 or 15, then roll through for the next 30 kilometers to town, where there’d be three long circuits, each 15K long or so. Things would break up on the circuits of course, but by then they’d have caught the breakaway and at least Kennett would have a good shot at the top 10, maybe even win if he played his cards right. Yes sir, Kennett was getting pretty excited as his group rolled up the Monteberg for the second time. Then he crashed.
It wasn’t a hard crash and he only got a bit of road rash, but he instantly knew that it had ended his bid for the podium. He’d hooked bars with another rider when the other guy had swerved to take a feed from one of his sougniers on the side of the road. “Fucking idiot,” Kennett had yelled as he crashed. Race over, well metaphorically race over. He got back on, got off. Put his chain on. Got back on again, tightened his shoe which had almost come off, loosened his bakes all the way since the wheels were rubbing, then got caught by the pack, which was only a minute behind at that point. He was completely demoralized and shot all the way to the back during the rest of the Monteberg climb. Fuck this race, he thought. One minute he’d been in the winning move, the next at the back of the 100 riders that were left in the field. Well shit, he thought. Might as well keep riding hard. So he smashed it up the Kemmellberg to stay in the main group, then stuck near the front up the next climb as guys drilled it in the crosswind after the Kemmell descent. Pretty soon it was just Kennett and one other big guy. Two bigguns. So that’s how things were gonna be, eh? This is where the race to be in the second group had formed the year before. Best to start it rather than be left behind, so they rolled together for the next 15 minutes as the pack chased. Kennett took a wrong turn at one point, did a quick U-turn and got back onto the other guy’s wheel. They got caught.
As the peloton reached the finishing circuits and the race for the top 30 was obviously over, large groups snuck away as guys on the front sat up and blocked. Kennett made some hard efforts to leap frog up and finished well and truly depleted. Later he learned that the group he had been in when he’d crashed had been whittled down to 10 riders, probably over the Kemmellberg where Kennett would have CRUSHED it had he been there. The break had also been cut down to 10 or fewer guys, but those 10 survived to the line. Strange; the early move is almost always caught. So in the end Kennett wouldn’t have been going for the win, just 10th. That made him feel a little better about crashing out. A little. He thought it was a good day though, and was happy how his legs had felt. The next day he went on an easy ride and stole a bunch of carrots from a big field. Then he took those carrots and fed them to two horses. One horse bit him on the arm when Kennett ran out of carrots. True story. The end.