You, second from the right. Don’t worry, you didn’t race in knee warmers and all those warm clothes. You wouldn’t embarrass your Belgian teammates like that.
Imagine you’re asked to do a race the evening before. A teammate’s mother comes knocking on your door, requesting you race the next day at another Interclub, supposedly a hard one that just a few days ago was a “Belgian-only race,” which you weren’t invited to. Of course you say yes, despite your nagging cough that you’ve had since the beginning of August. After all, you’re in Belgium to race, not to sit around playing Grand Theft Auto and reading books on the back lawn. In preparation for the race, you make sure you’re bike is ready. Looking at it, you shrug your shoulders and deciding that the ripped bar tape will have to do since the shop is closed. Then you pack your bag for tomorrow. 1 liter of lemon soda for after the race. 1 bottle of whey protein for afterwards. Two flasks of sugar. Three cookies in tin foil. Rain clothes. Safety pins. That’s about it.
The next day you wake up at 7:00 when you hear your roommate, Jake, rummaging about downstairs, eating breakfast and readying for his race in Holland. You don’t have to wake up for another couple hours, so you turn your lap top on and set the alarm clock app to 9:00. You go back to sleep.
As you walk out the door with your bike and your backpack, you realize that the bad weather your heard pounding on the roof earlier in the morning will most likely stick around for the rest of the day. The trees are blowing violently in the wind. Rain, earlier, has made the roads slick. The warm, sunny skies of yesterday are gone. You ride your bike a half block to the bike shop, where Patrick is supposed to pick you up at 10:00 with the mini bus. No one is at the shop. It’s 9:55. You lean your bike up against the bike shop and pace back and forth for a few minutes until the sprinkling starts up again. Great. You’re going to be soaked before the race starts. At least there will be no shock to the system when the racing gets underway.
The sprinkling turns into misting rain, which turns into light rain, which turns into rain blowing sideways in the wind. At this stage you move behind the shelter of a tall team truck in the parking lot. Making yourself flat against its side, you’re completely out of the rain now. The wind is blowing so hard the horizontal downpour is blocked entirely by the truck. You’re stuck there. It’s 20 minutes past 10 and you begin to think that there’s been a mix up and either you’re laptop’s time zone was set incorrectly and it’s 11:20, not 10:20, or that no one was informed that you were supposed to be picked up. You decided to ride back to your house. You’re now soaked.
Patrick comes to your door 10 minutes later and drives you to the race. You arrive at the race, over two hours early. You sit in the van for an hour, putting on all the clothes you own and listen to your ipod as countless people access the back of the van and walk away without closing the double doors, letting in cold air. Eventually you go out and realize it’s slightly warmer outside.
The race starts. You’ve been told there’s a nasty steep cobbled climb one kilometer into the race. You had tried finding it during your warm up, but after 40 minutes gave up. So instead you do a sidewalk attack in the neutral roll out and chop 80 people, arriving near the front just in time for the race to begin. Your legs feel good. The climb approaches. There’s a wide downhill road, also partially cobbled, leading into the cobbled climb, which is wide and has sidewalks that are non-cobbled, meaning everyone tries to ride on the sidewalks, forcing the spectators to make themselves narrow against the retaining wall. You make it over the 20% grade in an okay position, though you realize you rode on the cobbles at the front too long and lost positioning and extra energy by doing so. Next lap you know how to do it. There are 10 laps in total; the first one is all about learning the course and staying near the front yo make any splits that occur. The rain starts. Actually, if your memory serves correct, the rain started a few minutes before the race began. The rain REALLY starts now, coming down full blast. Good thing you chose the clear lenses for your glasses.
The next 20 minutes of the race are slightly downhill and flat with a few uphill bumps and many tight turns on super narrow roads. The pack is strung out for almost all of it, especially with the rain coming down so heavily. Everyone takes the corners extremely cautiously, braking hard before them and sprinting out. Gaps open. You feel your rear tire slip out around a corner. How? You were barely moving! You sprint back onto the wheel in front after the corner and continue moving up in bursts when you can.
Happy with your positioning at last, you breath a sigh of relief as you know that if there’s a split during this downpour, you’ll be in it, sitting 15th out of the 180 riders. Only half a lap done, but you’re feeling a bit shaky. Shaky is not the right word. Whatever the word is, you’re not feeling 100%. You’re breathing too hard for this early in the race. You cough up snot.
You crash in a corner as your rear wheel slides out on the slick pavement and your front goes into the rear wheel in front of you. Landing on your already-injured side and tearing off half the bandage on your hip. The other half is ground into your re-opened scab, which just grew by 70% in diameter. You have enough time to think that you might as well crash on the side that already has the road rash. No sense in messing up both sides of your body.
You hop up fast, and grab hold of your bike as people pass you on both sides. No one crashes into you. Since you were up at the front you have plenty of time to hop back on the bike and still be mid pack by the time you’re up and going again.
Second lap and you go into the cobbled descent and climb mid pack. It’s a mess, with people in the middle of the road trying to get out of the cobbles and onto the sidewalks on either side. The cobbles are slick and slow, the sidewalk is cluttered with hedges, cracks, and spectators. It abruptly ends in a few places too. You yell at the guy in front of you to move as he seems to be unable to make up his mind on which sidewalk to head towards. He chooses the closer one on the left and hops/barges in line. You, sensing that you’re maybe not quite fit to be racing, decide to just stick it out in the cobbles for the time being and not worry about making it over in the top half. A large pile up on the left hand sidewalk leaves you happy with your choice. So many people now behind you. Good. Now the climb begins, that was just the approach.
After the climb you take all the corners in the rain even slower this time and you resist your bike’s recently-learned desire to crash. Good thing you didn’t put on new bar tape yesterday. You have trouble breathing now. Your lungs feel asthmatic, which translates into your legs feeling dead. Pretty soon you sense that you’re near the back of the strung-out peloton since there are maybe 40 or 50 fewer riders in it already. You continue racing, though your heart is no longer in it. At last you realize that continuing will prolong your cough and sub-par performances and what you really need is to fully get over this cold. You pull the pin. No, you don’t pull the pin just quite yet. You sprint around the guys who just let the gap open up, get back onto the tail end of the single-file line and stay there for another minute. You don’t want to be taken out of the race because you were gapped off. Now that you’re back in, you can take yourself out.
You ride to the cobbled climb, backwards on the course which takes twice as long (dumb), to let the team sougnier know you’re done with the race. The sun comes out. You eat a cookie. You can either sit in the van for three more hours and get a lift home (which will take another hour as well) or you can ride home in an hour and a half by yourself. You decide to ride home at a slow pace, despite not really knowing where you are. You get home an hour later than expected due to getting lost. Now you must rest and not race or even ride until the cough goes away entirely, because you don’t want to waste another month being sick. The next day you go to the pharmacy again and buy another bottle of cough syrup.