Official police business

(Written on Wednesday).

I raced yesterday and had the worst race I’ve had over here.  Ever.  Except for maybe a month ago when I was also racing while being sick and run-down.  But I was determined to get back on the Belgian draft horse before it was too late.  I think I can still salvage the last sling of races I have planned for the next two weeks if I get some miles and intensity back in my legs.  So far I’ve had a cumulative two and a half weeks of good health since I arrived here in late July.  It’s just been one of those years I guess.  But hey, I felt strong as an ox for those two and a half weeks!

The more exciting news comes with the intensively, painstakingly, investigatively investigation done today by Will and myself involving his hit and run incident on Monday.  Yes, like most bike vs car crashes, it was a hit and run.  Sort of.  The guy T-boned Will while he was on the bike path.  The suspect then stopped, got out to see if Will was alive, and then tried persuading Will that he should ride himself to the hospital.  In his semi-conscious state of mind, Will luckily had enough sense to say no and demanded the guy drive him to the hospital, which was only like four kilometers away in downtown Oudenaarde.  “Please kind sir, would you be ever so good enough to deliver me to the hospital? I’d be forever grateful, good chap.  Later we’ll have tea and biscuits and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off at the country club and tell grand tales of the War while sipping brandy and puffing cigars.  God save the Queen!”  Will is a southern softy–a derogatory term used by the ‘hard’ men of northern England.  I find it amusing that anyone from England thinks they’re hard.

Being the noob that he is, Will didn’t get the guys license plate or name, but did get a great description of him.  “He was sort of tall, had black or brown hair and was of medium height.”  As Will was being carted off to the X-ray lab, he politely asked one of the nurses to get the culprit’s credentials.  The nurse, being the noob that he was, politely asked the culprit to go over to the police station and turn himself in (the police station is right next to the hospital).  That ended up not happening for some reason.  The guy took off and no one had any clue who he was, despite cameras capturing images of him in the hospital as well as his car in the parking lot.  The surveillance camera in the Hospital parking lot wasn’t able to get the guy’s license plate because Belgian security cameras are made out of cardboard, black spray paint, and semi-functioning kaleidoscopes.  There aint much crime here.  No CSI magical “enhancing” could grow new pixels out of thin air and the photo of the car’s license plate will forever remain a useless blurry image.

Police were informed to keep a lookout for this black VW hatchback.

With his bike smashed to bits, his bleeding, aching liver in need of a stiff drink, and his sensitive soul yearning only for an apology, it seemed like Will was out of luck.  All was lost.  Abandon all hope, all is lost, abandon all hope.  But just like WWI and WWII, ‘Murica stepped in to save the day in the last second.  Detective Inspector KPburritos arrived on the scene.

After a trip to Colruyt to whet our appetite for crime–I mean crime-solving–, we stopped off at the police station for a shake down.  Will had already been there earlier that day, but now he had backup and his soft English expression had turned to a slightly more hardened, brow-furling grimace.  We took seats in a room with a police officer behind a desk and tried to find out what Will’s options were and what progress the investigation had made in the last 80 minutes.

No, the police would NOT be covering the cost of his bike (for some reason Will thought they had said this earlier).  No, the hounds had not been released.  No, no suspects had been captured.  No, there was no police line up, due to the lack of suspects being captured as previously mentioned.  No, they would not issue me a police horse for the day.  While Will calmly talked to the police officer I sat with a stern face, arms folded across my chest, head nodding in disapproval…trying to stay awake.  Classic case of good-cop, bad-cop vs. real-cop.  This got us nowhere.

Will attempted using one of the police computers to show where he’d been hit on Google maps, but the police station internet was too slow to use Google maps.  I asked if the photo of the car (which we hadn’t seen) could be sent to Will’s email address so he could look at himself (it was on a CD).  But it was five o’clock and the “computer expert” had already left.  In the police officer’s defense, taking an image off the CD in front of her and then sending it as an attachment on gmail would require the internet to be fast enough for gmail.  So that was no option.

The interrogation of the police officer was just about over and obviously not going anywhere so we decided that we should A) find the local VW dealer in the area and contact them about any suspects coming in with a dent on their car’s hood and bumper.  They guy would want to fix these things soon; B) we needed to go survey the route through the city that the guy had taken to drive Will to the hospital and see if there were any more surveillance cameras that might have captured the license plate.  I was pretty sure there was one next to the draw bridge that might have caught an image of the bastard; C) return to the crime scene to see if we could find his car anywhere near by.

There turned out to be two cameras on the draw bridge, one aimed perfectly at where the guy would have driven.  But the camera wasn’t able to read a license plate number.  We went into the operator’s booth next to the bridge and had him show us the screen and it was too wide-angled to be of any use.  It was just for safety to make sure no one got crushed.  Pfff.  Stupid.

Next, I rode on by myself, since Will was on foot, to where I thought he’d been hit.  I went up and down a few streets searching for a black VW hatchback with scratches or dents on the hood.  It turns out roughly 97% of cars in Oudenaarde are black VW hatchbacks.  My thinking was that the guy probably lived near the area where he’d hit Will since that area is just houses, no businesses or cafes.  Although I did find a half dozen black VW hatchbacks that matched Will’s description, I didn’t find one with any damage to the front.  It turned out that I hadn’t been in the right area (I’d never seen the exact location on Google maps).  Will had been hit a few kilometers further north. I went home eventually because I stared getting cold and bored and hungry, but Will continued on later that evening by himself searching for the car in the area where he’d been hit.  And he found it.  Parked in front of the guy’s house.  Criminals always return to the scene of the crime.  Especially if they live there.

Will took pictures of the license plate, the inside of the car, and the damage to the front end, and then came to got me.  Should we go back to the man’s home with rubber gloves, ski masks, and socks full of soap?  Or should we go back to the police station with the photos?  I wanted to go to the guy’s house and have some words, but knew that the police station was a better idea.  Besides, it would take forever for Will to walk back there since he had no bike.

We busted through the station doors in slow motion, ACDC blaring on the soundtrack, black leather jackets unzipped and blowing in the wind revealing our colt-45’s, aviators covering our stone-cold gazes, women police officers swooning.  Everyone dropped what they were doing and stared in awe and admiration.  We’d busted the case wide open.  The biggest hit and run bust in Oudenaarde history.  They’d write books about us.  This was the stuff of legends.

I expected the police to offer us jobs as detectives; they were astonished Will had managed to track the guy down.  They seemed to ask, “What?! A case solved?  Really?  By leaving the station for a few hours and looking for clues at the crime scene?”  The police got their SWAT gear on fast when they realized that this guy might and could likely have been the same man behind the unsolved Chocolate-Covered Waffle Heist last month up in Brugge.  There aren’t that many criminals in Belgium; and the police believed that the two crimes Belgium has had this year could very well have been committed by the same person.

And that’s the story of how Will and Kennett solved the case.  The reward: knowing that justice would once again be restored to the innocent townspeople of Oudenaarde.  Plus a new bike for Will.

Hospital visit

The fall is an exciting time.  This is in part due to the season’s name being the only one of the four that’s a verb–and a shocking one at that, but the excitement is also due to the end of the cycling season and the beginning of another.  You know, I’ve it before and I’ll say it again…on second thought I guess I won’t say it again.  So if you want to know what it was that I was just about to say, go back and re-read everything in this blog because I said it in here.

It’s an exciting time because, like a normal person’s New Year’s Eve, the fall is a cyclist’s time for a fresh start.  All those bad races and missed opportunities can fade to forgotten memories while the next season’s fantasies take over.  Aside from the normal fantasies of 2013 race glory, new team prospects, and hard winter training, I’ve also been fantasizing about finding a real person type of job for next year.  I had an interview for a job that would pay just short of infinity percent more than any past job I’ve had, and just thinking about all the money I’d make and the things I’d spend it on have been the most disgustingly selfish, capitalistic, consumeristic…and rewarding thoughts I’ve ever had.  There are so many things I want to buy!!!  I’ve even been checking out ebay to get some price quotes (on a side note my ebay account has been frozen due to an unpaid balance of $6.21 on my last transaction that I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY!!! The bastards).

My wish list includes a Garmin 800 with the overly-priced K-edge alloy mount that’s a complete rip off but I’ve got to have it anyways because it’s so cool and I’ll be rich so it won’t matter, a 50cc scooter for motor pacing, a new top of the line time trial bike, a set of rollers, a Quarq power meter, maybe two–one for my TT bike and one for my road bike, a nice single speed for commuting that’s equipped with a front basket for carrying groceries, a mountain bike, a fancy metal snow shovel–no scratch that I won’t have to shovel snow any more–, a massage every week, a year’s membership to one of Boulder’s finest Bikram yoga studios, a new cycling winter wardrobe, and 10KG of steal cut oats.  Now I haven’t gotten this job yet, and I haven’t heard back from them in almost two weeks, but I’m keeping positive.  I have to.  I’ve never lived a life of this kind of carefree spending luxury, and like I said, just thinking about this lifestyle of richness has turned me into a spoiled prep-school delinquent hell bent on spending dolla dolla bills.  I can’t go back to living like a bum, scrounging craigslist for third-hand mattresses, stealing onions from fields, and marking the expensive nuts from the bulk food aisle as peanuts.  Oh dear me, Winston, the humiliation of my unkempt former self is quite repulsive indeed!  I’ve been corrupted by nothing more than my own fantasies.

Jake and I visited a cycling friend in the hospital this evening.  Will was hit by a car on his ride today.  Will and I had planned to meet up this afternoon for a trip to Colruyt to shop for groceries/mainly just eat free samples, but he never showed so I went by myself.  Turned out he was in the hospital with some minor internal bleeding.  He didn’t miss much.  The samples at Colruyt were minimal today.

Violent wind and rain had shut down Jake’s race today.  Only 15 riders were left after just one lap.  Everyone else had been either blown off the road or gapped off by those who’d been blown off the road.  It was violent today.  When Will facebooked me asking how my ride had gone (I rode earlier than him and he wanted to know what the weather was like) I told him it wasn’t too bad.  I guess I should have warned him.  Beware of the forty mile an hour gusting wind, torrential sideways rain, and cars that cannot see you in said conditions.

Pretty much the first thing that came up as we sat in his hospital room talking to Will was the question about the food.  “They said WHAT??  You can’t eat?  Oh, so they did give you something eventually then?  Just some bread and cheese?  Damn.  That’s rough.  Oh, by the way how’s your spleen doing?”  Actually I think we asked about the damage to his bike before we asked about his spleen or liver or kidney or whichever stupid organ was damaged in the collision.

Before we took off Will asked us if we could stop by his house and bring him back a few things from home (including food).  Jake, the lazy bastard that he is, tried to convince Will that he didn’t need his laptop or food because he should be going to bed early tonight.  But we ended up agreeing to Will’s selfish demands and went out into the night to ride to Will’s house for his belongings.  Just as we stepped outside we realized that visiting hours were long gone and there was no way we could get back inside.  The front door was locked and all the staff from the front desk were gone.  So we did the only sensible thing and went around the back side of the building and started throwing sticks up at what we thought was Will’s window to get his attention and let him know we wouldn’t be bringing anything back.  (Turned out to not be his window).  As we were throwing sticks, Jake noticed that a back door was cracked open.  We crept inside, ever so silent and ever so stealthy.  We found the staff lunch room.  Jake and I gasped and squealed like little girls.  We found cookies and the expensive kind of mineral water that’s in glass bottles.  After more creeping and sneaking about, we delivered the stolen goodies to Will’s room and told him that this would have to do because we couldn’t get back into the hospital because the front doors were locked…and I suddenly realized how stupid that must have sounded.

Anyways, Will had just gotten off the phone and someone else was coming with his stuff and the staff was going to let them in, so Jake and I could just go home.  We snuck back out the way we’d came and I grabbed one more cookie on the way.  We were caught just as we stepped outside in the ally way where we’d left our bikes.  Luckily our lack of Flemish lead to a short and confused (faked on our part) conversation before we hopped on our bikes and rode home.  For some reason foreigners are all thought of as being dumb, lost, and oblivious to everything that’s going on around them, and therefore can easily get away with things that the natives wouldn’t be able to.  This is probably why we’ve been conned into believing Canadians are so innocent and well-intentioned.

I started getting sick again last Thursday so I haven’t raced in almost a week now.  I start up again tomorrow and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ve recovered enough.  I’m attempting to fit in eight or nine more races before I leave.  People are dropping like flies.  Belgium has become a sea of coughing and runny noses.

 

Onions

This song is sung to the tune of Peaches, by the Presidents of the United States.
First click on the youtube link to get that peach sound in your head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvcohzJvviQ

Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat me a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions

Onions come from the ground
I stole an armful without a sound
In a farmer’s field by the rooooad
If I had my little way,
I’d eat onions every day
Rain soakin’ bulges in the mud

Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat me a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions
Movin’ to East Flanders
Gonna eat a lot of onions

I took a little crash where the road is dirty
Squished a rotten onion with my hip
And dreamed about you, Victory Salute,
Pulled back the layers one by one
Made that sweet wet onion glisten in the sun
Nature’s candy in my hand, or pan, caramelized

Millions of onions, onions for me
Millions of onions, onions for free

Millions of onions, onions for me
Millions of onions, onions for free

Look out!

Secret race strategy

After missing out on 95% of the winning moves over the last two years here in Belgium, I decided to get scientific about bike racing and find out how this stupid, stupid sport actually works.  For my scientific and mathematical journey into the depths of bike racing strategy, I used a combination of Einsteinium algorithms and my vast understanding of quantum physics.  The result: the winning move has a high chance of going late.

This may seem like a given to many of you.  A “no duh” if you will.  But think, just think for a moment, please.  Do you actually know this for a fact or is it based on assumptions?  Have you ever gone to the trouble of solving this equation?  Didn’t think so.

Or how about this one:

Yeah, you didn’t, dummy, because you don’t poses the necessary skills.  The truth is that both of these (very simple) equations are of the minutest necessity when it comes to figuring out how bike racing works.  I did all the leg work though so you’re welcome.  Here it is.  Please use this knowledge for evil, not for good.

Out of the 35 races I’ve done here in the past two journeys, I divided the races into three categories: flat, rolling, and climbing.  Then I went back through my records and found out when the winning move would go: either first quarter of the race, mid way (the 2nd and 3rd quarters), the final quarter, or a pack sprint.  The overwhelming evidence my equations proved true was that there’s roughly a 25% chance the move will go in the first quarter and over a 50% chance it will go in the final quarter, so there’s not much point attacking or following moves off the front in that middle portion of the race.   I might as well attack hard for the first couple laps, sit in for half the race to conserve, then attack balls to the wall in the last couple laps.  This is not what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been attacking hard from the beginning until the final quarter of the race, then conserving for the finish.  This is dumb because chances are that I’ll miss the winning move by doing this and things rarely come to a pack sprint here so why “conserve” for the finish if I’m not following the majority of the moves in the end, I’m not a sprinter, and the race won’t be decided by a pack sprint?  If the break hasn’t gone by the last lap, chances are that it still will.  Never wait for the pack sprint.  It just won’t happen here, at least not in interclubs or non-pro kermesses.

The last line shows which lap the move went on, though my records for this aren’t very accurate because many of the races I’ve done I wasn’t sure which exact lap it escaped, meaning the record isn’t complete and there are a lot more races where the winning move went on like lap two or three but I didn’t document it.  But as you can see, the first lap and last couple laps (even with the record incomplete) make up 37% of the winning moves and that’s just a small percentage of the total race.

The main thing to look at though is the TOTAL race category (35 of them) and realize that the final quarter of the race is the time to blow it all out.

I did a race yesterday and again missed the winning move, this time on the very first lap.  The move went right after I’d been up the road attacking with a couple others a few minutes after we’d been un-neutralized.  Five guys went over us from the pack when we were caught and no one on their wheels responded in time.  I attacked and followed moves and was off the front a lot for the next two thirds of the race, missed the next two moves that just rolled away as people looked at each other, and finished behind a lot of guys that I was stronger than.  So the majority of my attacking was in that portion of the race that doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t get gapped off the back or crash.  Race smarts will always beat strength or un-channeled aggression, and the problem is that the guys who get on the podium are both really strong and smart.

Hoegaarden and GP de la Momignies

For my own records as much as for the entertainment of my readers, here’s a brief run-down on my last two races:

Wednesday was a kermess out in Hoegaarden.  I was hoping for something hilly, and though it wasn’t dead flat, it was far from being hard enough to break things up with the little bumps the 15km course provided.  I attacked more than my fair share, followed moves, bridged across in the crosswind to dangerous-looking things, but nothing I was a part of ever stuck.  The racing was too negative and the course was wide and easy enough for a lot of guys to sit in fairly easily and wheel suck all day.  I attacked just before we came through the finish line with one to go (break usually goes with one to go if it hasn’t already gone) but sat up when the field caught me and the couple guys that I’d tried slipping off the front with.  Right then to my right I saw a move of three take off and get a gap.  I slid back a bit further to recuperate and a split of like 15 guys went off the front in the tailwind section.  That ended up being the race.  The break of three was caught with 200 meters to go (just needed one more guy) and the rest of us came in 15 seconds later.  I was 40th.

I spent the next two days doing two-hour easy rides then did a two-hour race-simulating group ride on Saturday to open my legs up for the BVB Interclub on Sunday, which was down in Momignies in the Wallonie region.  Again, I was hoping for a hilly-enough course to really smash things apart, but like Hoegaarden the 16km lap didn’t have anything serious enough to create true havoc.  It had a number of small hills and a tiny bit of wind, but most of the field was still all together with one lap to go.

After downing a large fake Red Bull 20 minutes before we started, I was primed for some pain right from the gun.  About six guys got away right as we started and I began my bridge on a fast descent.  It quickly went up hill and the next couple minutes on the roller coaster section of the course was the hardest effort I did all day, but I made it.  Unfortunately the group split up and fell apart when more groups bridged up there and pretty soon the entire field was on us.  We did the first lap averaging 30 mph.

On lap two I went again on the same section of the course and got away with six other guys.  It soon became a group of 15 or 18 and once the strongest team bridged a few guys up there, I was certain this was the move.  Every strong team seemed to have at least two guys.  We were pulling through full gas, maybe too hard, because everyone started skipping pulls as they blew up.  Our gap went up to almost a minute (the biggest gap of the day) but we were caught again near the end of that second lap.  I was baffled, simply baffled beyond regular bafflment.

I attacked off and on for the next four laps until I decided to sit in for a spell.  Splits came and went and we seemed destined for a field sprint, but of course that didn’t happen because that never happens here.  Eight lucky guys got away on the last lap when we weren’t even going that hard and their gap shot up pretty quickly.  Despite a hard chase effort with like 10K to go by one of the teams that had missed out, they stuck it by like five seconds.  The last two kilometers (really the entire last lap) in the field were super sketchy. I almost had a good position for the slightly uphill sprint but 300 meters before the last corner I didn’t take the necessary risk to squeeze and muscle may way through to the outside, chop thirty guys, and avoid getting swarmed.  I was just about to do this but got beaten by two other guys and had to slam my brakes on to avoid their back wheels.  I just finished in the pack.  On a bright note my form is coming back after all that time being sick and I’m feeling stronger each race.  I have 11 more races until I leave on October 11th.  Maybe one of those will be the one.  Hopefully my off season in August will give me some freshness that others are lacking.

Backwards

For this post I’m going to start at the present and make my way backwards through time, instead of starting at the start and working forward like most readable stories. Here it goes.

.eog ti ereh. seirots elbadaer tsom ekil drawrof gnikorw dna….okay on second thought I’ll allow some exceptions for simplicity reasons.

I’m sitting at the computer right now (I wrote this on Wednesday) sipping on a bowl of hot chocolate before I head to the race today out in Hoegaarden. The best mug was broken a month ago and I don’t like using the other ones because they’re too small and require endless refills to feel satiated. Plus they’re all dirty right now. The downside to using the bowl instead of mug for hot chocolate is that the hot chocolate cools rapidly due to the poor insulation and design of the bowl and it becomes warm chocolate, usually within one and a half minutes. This means I take a few sips, put it back in the microwave, take a few more sips, put it back in the microwave… At this rate I’ll be finished with it in half an hour.

My to-do list today consists of A) breakfast time B) going to a race C) racing D) driving home E) super quick dinner time F) interviewing for a job via a Skype-like invention, so it’s actually a pretty full day, except before noon.  My legs are pretty worked right now. Yesterday (Tuesday) I got back from a three-hour easy ride, not quite bonking but getting that really weak, almost nauseous feeling that lets you know that you’re in bonk territory if you keep things up. I hadn’t eaten during the ride and the races the previous two days were wearing on me.

Monday: I finished my second sardine sandwich wanting another, but deciding against it. It was late, I should just go to bed and dream about breakfast. A couple hours before I’d said goodbye to Will at my door and brought my bike inside, front and rear lights flashing in a trance as I came out of the dark night into the cave that is Jake’s and my home. The ride back from our race began at 8:30 PM, having left from a late race 30km away. Luckily I’d come prepared with lights. Will had just started to feel a bonk approaching with around 25 minutes left to ride and I gave him a waffle, which was the last item of food in my trusty Shimano shoe bag. I hate riding with people who’ve bonked. I don’t necessarily care about the suffering they’re going through, it’s just annoying that they can’t keep up. JK, sort of.

Will and I finally got out of the cafe with my race winnings (10 euros) for my 25th place. Not much, but better than nothing. The race had been hard and my legs were tired from the day before. I considered it a good day of training and a good memory of an evening filled with pain and excitement, though I assume I’ll end up forgetting about it one day, the memory having been used up, sucked dry, nothing left, like a book read too many times, the spine will break and the pages begin falling out as you read them one last time; you crumple the old pages up and toss them in a camp fire that you’re sitting in front of to keep warm and to provide you with light to read by. You can barely make out the words on the pages in the dark, you feed the fire more pages and increase the illuminating flame. The fire will soon be out once the book of old pages is used up, and the memory of everything that has ever happened in your life will be gone to ashes.

I came around him in the last hundred meters and put the brakes on. I came to a halt. I was drenched in sweat despite the cooling air of the late evening; Belgian autumn was approaching. The sweat I was covered in was slimy, dirty, spotted with dead bugs and cow manure, snot, possibly someone else’s snot too. It was the thick kind of sweat that you need a squeegee to scrape off. I coasted around through the crowd slowly making my way to where I’d left my Shimano shoe bag before the race began. I pat a white German Shepherd on the head. The guys racing for first came by with one lap to go. My group had been pulled with two laps to go, sparing us the final 29th and 30th laps of the small, 4km course.

I was done covering moves. Some of these other guys could do it, after all I hadn’t seen any of them doing shit in the first half of the race when it actually mattered.

A group of 10 formed just after the crash in one of the course’s million corners. I hated that one corner specifically, the one with the crash. It was the worst one, requiring you to slow down a huge amount before the gigantic sprint out of it. I always opened up huge gaps to the wheel in front of me on that corner. The split of 10 guys was happening right in front of me and I could have gone with it but who knew that that would be the one that would stick? I’d gone with plenty of others, including the one right before this one. I can’t go with everything.

Finally the pace relented for a lap or two. My stomach removed itself from my throat.

The white team began drilling it. I’d just been brought back from being on the front so I had some recovering to do that wouldn’t take place for another 20 minutes. The tiny, twisting roads were ideal for a single team to split the race apart. I needed to stay somewhat close to the front.

Although the five-man break was gone, I thought there was a chance it could come back. Not likely though. I continued attacking and following moves. I didn’t feel good, but then again I knew that just about no one did.

After the first two laps I realized that this race was going to be hard, especially with my poor cornering abilities tonight/always. Just don’t drift too far back! I figured guys would be coming apart within the first couple laps if they were all the way at the back. The roads were very narrow.

We started.

Will and I rode to the race, which was an hour ride–the perfect distance to make the day a good solid training session at 160 kms. I knew I needed some miles in my legs after being sick for the entire month before.

I wasted time until we had to leave.

Breakfast.

I woke up.

Okay that’s enough backwards story telling, I can’t stand it anymore. I’ll just wrap things up here pretty quickly now. Sunday, the day before that whole fiasco I just explained backwards up there, was another BVB interclub. The BVB stands for “Being Vaguely Belgian” I think, because suposedly it’s a race that only Belgians can do but I’ve done two of them now. Anyways, it was in Rochefort, in the hilly region of Belgium way down near Naumur. It was a LONG drive, like two hours.

I did this race last year (second half of the post) and had been hoping I’d get another shot at it. I knew the course for one thing, so the Belgians wouldn’t have that over me this time.

The course was completely different this year and included a race-deciding climb at kilometer 28. Before we started I’d known the course was changed this year but no one had told me about the wall of Dinant, a 1.5 kilometer climb averaging 10% with sections of 24%. There was a silent rush to get to the front as we came into the small riverside town of Dinant.


This is Dinant.

We slipped through that crack.  It was a tight squeeze for that many guys.

The road narrowed down to a single lane. I’d been sitting near the front five minutes ago but had slowly drifted back, stupidly unaware of what was to come. Possibly the one and only person in the entire race that didn’t know what was just up the road.  Let’s get on thing straight, though.  I did know that there were a lot of climbs in this race, after all, my stem could barely fit all the 19 KOMs listed on my cheat sheet.  But the first four climbs we’d done hadn’t been that bad and I was feeling alright and was actually told by a teammate to just conserve and hang out for the first half of the race “near the back” and then to start following moves and be up front in the final half.  Nothing would happen early on.  I should have known better.

I was maybe 30 guys from the very back of the 170 rider field when we came to a stop.  There was a 170 degree corner the packed bunched up at, slowly funneling up the behemoth of the climb looming in front of me.  I had to unclip.  UNCLIP!  Half the guys in the race were already a third of the way up the damn thing and here I was unclipped at the bottom, cursing at the fools in front of me to hurry up.

The race was over.  60 guys made the front group.  I spent the rest of the day chasing my brains out with small groups of guys, at one point up to 30 of us, but then dwindling down to just seven before we were finally passed by the last follow car at kilometer 113.  We’d been close, just at one minute for a long, long time, but every time we thought we were about to catch back on half the caravan stopped at the top of a hill to let us pass without giving us any assistance.

In my opinion that climb was too decisive to have that early in the race.  It should have come at 100 kilometers, not 27 or 28.  I believe fewer than 40 guys finished the race.  It definitely would have been a good one to have ridden well at.  For one thing the trophy was HUGE and the race started and finished in an outdoor velodrome.  But at least next year I’ll know about the wall of Dinat…that is until they change the course again and no one on my team tells me about the new climb at kilometer 17.  What really pissed me off was that most of the guys in the race and everyone on my team had done a race two months ago that had this exact climb in it and still they didn’t mention anything to me about it.  If you don’t speak flemish and you’re on a team with only Belgians, chances are you’re going to be left scratching your head in wonder.  And it won’t be on accident.

A memory for when I’m old

Flat, windy, and narrow roads
Also windy, the kind that blows.
Follow misleading lines that take you into potholes, the gravel,
or a fence since your head is down and your eyes fixated on the wheel in front.
170 riders.
Some strong and
some weak.
The wheels begin to let go after 100 kms.
The wind is fierce for 45 seconds at a time,
just short enough to hold the wheel if you’re not weak,
just long enough for you to want to shoot yourself.
Positioning is the only thing that really matters.
I have flashes of brilliance and I sit near the front.
To win you need more than a flash,
you need a steady beam.
I miss out on the move,
which isn’t the move and comes back.
I also miss out on the actual move(s).
Fuck this race. I have no idea what’s going on anymore.
The moves only go when I’m 10-20 wheels too far back.
One wheel too far back is too far back.
Not far to go now. The pace slows. The real race is up the road.
Guys I didn’t know were still alive come forward.
They’ve been in the back for 150 kms and come to race for 30th place in the last 20 kms.
Teammate chases me down.
Fuck him.
More wheels are let go, free to blow in the cross wind with fewer hangers on.
Now there are seventeen million groups up the road.
We sprint for 50th.
Patrick hands me a tiny Coke.
I take a shower with 40 other dudes in a tiny locker room.
I eat a hot dog.
That doesn’t sound right.
I went outside and bought a hot dog from a vendor.
Bikes are packed, we drive home.
I’m happy to have raced,
telling myself to remember today for when I’m old and cannot walk.

Race at last

Despite the overall lightheartedness of that last post, I’ve been very glum for a long time now.  Until today that is.  I  felt that the time to race was TODAY, not tomorrow or Wednesday, but TODAY god damn it, and I knew that if I didn’t race I’d be tempted to take my own life.  Yes, I’m still “sick” ish, but this time I knew for certain that I was over the hump, and with Contador’s doctor’s cough syrup drugs running thick in my veins there was no way I could have a relapse like I did before.  I’d rather get sick again for another month than go for one more day without racing.  My body is so dependent on endorphins that I’ve been genuinely depressed and ready to just step out into traffic.  Okay that last part isn’t quite true.  I would never step out into traffic, I would take a running leap.  Stepping out would be lame.

The race was hard, the field was small, and there was nowhere to sit in.  I wouldn’t have sat in anyways though and began attacking right away.  Unattached Thomas and I had driven the van to the race, arrived very late, signed in, Thomas pooped, we got on our bikes and made it to the start line with four minutes to spare.  We’d gotten pretty lost on the way there.  I probably don’t even need to say that;  it’s a given.

I did this race last year and knew that there was a cobbled climb somewhere in the first half of the lap (11 laps in total).  I wanted to go into the climb first because last year the winning move got away on the first lap, on the climb I think.  Being very rusty though, I entered the climb close to last place after botching a corner or two and then deciding I shouldn’t blow myself up in the wind before the climb in an attempt to get to the front.  The winning move went on the climb.  Actually it might have even gone just before the climb; I couldn’t see the front at that point.

Anyways, with a break of five up the road and three of the guys in the break on one team and two guys on another team, their cohesion meant they had a good chance of staying away.  And they did, but only by like 20 or 30 seconds.  For most of the race they had multiple minutes and we couldn’t see them.  Basically our entire race was just attacking with very little cooperation for any extended period of time.  Attack or get dropped.  I got into a solid move of six like half way through and I thought it was going to stay away for the rest of the race and maybe catch the leaders, but we were caught with a few laps remaining.  I got away again, this time with four others and that move stuck.

I really needed water.  I’d been asking for a bottle, begging, and then finally screaming in anger at the sogniers on top of the climb who were handing out bottles to their riders.  Both of my bottles had fallen out on the first lap going up the cobbles.  I stupidly put my third bottle in my empty cage (the bottle that I’d had in my jersey pocket) and it immediately popped out going up the climb on lap two.  So I did almost the whole race without any water.  One guy in the final break I was in gave me a bottle with about an inch of backwash in it and I was so indebted to him I worried that the only way to repay him would require falashio in the cafe bathroom after the race.  But on that same lap two of the sogniers I’d been yelling at and attempting to snatch bottles from both willingly gave me bottles and the now-empty backwash bottle didn’t matter quite as much anymore.  So with one and a half laps to go I drank like a dog with diabetes. (Dogs with diabetes drink a LOT of water very rapidly.  If your dog is drinking a lot of water all of a sudden you should get him to the vet asap).

I’d been smashing the climb every lap, gapping off all my break-mates just about every time in each break I was in.  Except the last time.  I entered the climb second with a small gap to the guy in front of me who’d attacked just before the corner.  I was about a bike length behind him when I ran into the side of the grassy embankment, luckily not crashing into the fence.  The climb had a very narrow gutter on the left hand side near the bottom and a gutter on the right hand side near the top, so you could go for most of the climb without having to ride in the cobbles, which is a lot slower.  The downside to this is running into the fence, hedge, spectators, or in my case the embankment near the bottom.  I didn’t crash but I was slowed down enough that I couldn’t catch the guy by the top of the climb.  At the top I looked back and saw two guys coming up onto my wheel, so I sat up and let them pass me and jumped on behind them.  The next couple hundred meters had a strong headwind and were fairly flat and downhill, so we’d catch the guy who was just up the road and now had only a handful of bike lengths on us.  The fifth guy in the break was struggling to regain contact just behind us.

The guy in front of me didn’t hold the wheel when the dude in front of him got out of the saddle and sprinted to catch the guy in front of us.  That was it.  Our quest for sixth place was over and we never caught either of them.  You can’t close every single gap that someone creates and you can’t follow or bridge to every move, no matter how strong you are.  Picking the right ones is key.  The three of us worked together for that next half lap, never able to close down the 15 second gap.  I attacked with about 600 meters to go on the slightly downhill section through town and beat the other two guys for 8th place.  The 8th place plus the KOM points that I was never aware I was sprinting for earned me more than enough cash to pay for all the doctor fees and medicine I’ve been taking this past month.  Ironically, racing today might have actually just payed for the next round of cold medicine I’ll have to take for the next month.  I really hope not.  I’m happy though.  If I continue recovering there’s a whole month of racing left and that makes me feel good of myself.

Sick dog

The popularity of German Shepards took a big hit after WWII due to anti-German sentiment.  Likewise, I predict the world will at last see the Labrador Retriever fall from the No. 1 spot on the list after the great maple syrup heist in Canada last week, this being, of course, because Labradors originated in Newfoundland, Canada.  I predict the family-friendly, dopy-faced Lab will be replaced with something quite different.  As Americans realize their impending doom and fall from grace (if you can call world domination graceful) we’re going to become hardened, resentful, scared, and menacing.  This is true with any wounded animal.  Its last ditch effort is a show of aggression.  It has nothing to lose, so a false show of bravado is in order to scare off the predators.   The same thing goes with some bike racers.  About to blow up?  Might as well attack one more time and hope the pack sits up, or go out in a flame of glory.

Labs have been the most popular breed of dog registered with the American Kennel since 2001.  From 1936 to 1952 the American Cocker Spaniel was the most popular breed in the States.  Don’t forget that this was during WWII, a time when nationalism was at its highest, so the American Cocker Spaniel was an easy choice.  Things changed, though, and the Beagle had its days from 1952 until 1959, likely due to its small size and constantly wagging tail.  Americans needed something to calm the nerves after the war, and the Beagle was the perfect dog for the job.  These were good years for America.  As Europe rebuilt itself from the shambles of the war, the US got a good head start on things and prospered.  Times were exciting and we became rich.  Too rich actually.  Pretty soon we began thinking too highly of ourselves and our new-found righteousness during the dark years of the 60s and 70s saw the rise of a truly retched dog, the Poodle.  People may associate the 60s with hippies and the 70s with nothing more than disco, but let us not forget that the 60s and 70s were evil, evil, times for our country as we destroyed southeast Asia and set up dictatorships all over South America.  You may not associate this type of dominating, sociopathic behavior with someone who owns a poodle, but just look at any super villain’s choice of pet: the more evil they are the more lavish and sissy their pet becomes.  The evilest of villains always have white, fluffy, Persian cats.  Nothing is sissier than that.  So the Poodle, as un-American and macho as that may seem, was the most popular dog for over two decades, ending its reign during the recession of the 80s.  And with that recession, Americans realized we were human after all, cut back on the fancy show dog and comforted ourselves with the good ‘ol American Cocker Spaniel once more.  Maybe it could get us out of this slump.

We tricked ourselves into believing the 80s were just a minor set back, not the beginning of the end, and once things started going well again we ditched the boring American Cocker Spaniel and adopted the fun, happy Labrador, perfectly representing the care-free times of the 1990s and early 2000s.  That brings us up to date.  And times are a changing.  No longer are Americans chanting “we’re number one,” and if they are, they don’t really believe it anymore.  Like a bad dog that’s done its business on the kitchen floor, our previously wagging tail has slunk between our legs in shame and fear of the impending punishment.

The Lab isn’t a serious dog.  And what the US needs is a serious dog.  Take, for example, Ukraine.  Do you think Ukraine has Labradors?  No, they do not.  They are a serious country, unsmiling in family portraits, fighting for scraps at the bottom of the food chain in Eastern Europe, hardened by years of war and suppression under the Soviet Union.  They can’t afford to have a happy dog like the Lab running around catching stray frisbees out of the air, interrupting family picnics with a bombardment of friendly licks to the face.  Ukraine has dogs with scowls in their eyes and a hunch in their back.  Dogs that have taken more than their fare share of kicks in the belly by angry, drunk men and stones thrown by cruel children.  Ukraine has a country full of dogs that have survived, dogs hardened by the times of their era, exactly mimicking the people.

So these are the two reasons why the Lab’s days are numbered: 1) because of the maple syrup heist I talked about earlier and 2) Labs aren’t hard enough to lead us through the next phase of our country’s downfall.  Like an aging ex-Olympian who’s glory days are long gone, the United States will adopt either A)  the Greyhound or B) the Timber-wolf.  And everyone hates Greyhound buses so there’s no way that’s going to take hold.  Therefor I predict the Timber-wolf will become the new house-hold pet in every American home.  It will of course require a bit more work than a Lab or the labradoodle.  You can’t take a Timber-wolf on a 10 minute walk around the block and expect it to be satisfied with that as its daily exercise.  Timber-wolves routinely run 100 miles a day over rough terrain in the middle of the forest, tracking prey and keeping an eye on their territory.  So you’ll need to hire a dog walker or two.  All that running will require a massive amount of food.  A typical male Timber-wolf weighs over 150 pounds and can consume 20 pounds of meat in one sitting.  So we’ll have to start elk, moose, deer, and beaver factory farms to create a food source for them.  IAMS won’t cut it.  And hopefully, once we’ve integrated the Timber-wolf into our lives, we can set our sights on surviving the next one or two hundred years as the underdogs.

Did the labradoodle help Hitler get Germany out of its post WWI depression and take over Europe?  No.  No it didn’t.  The German Shepherd did that.

1959-1982.  Our evilness was covered up by this:

The poodle glory days.

The face of the old USA, easy times and easy pickings, will be replaced.

The face of the new USA, fighting for the scraps China throws in the garbage.

In other news, I’m even more depressed now than back when I broke my collarbone last year.  I’ve been sick since August 4th and it is now September 2nd.  I’m SO CLOSE to being healthy that I’m playing around with the idea of racing tomorrow.  I know I shouldn’t do it and that racing too soon is the whole reason I’ve been sick so long, but I’m like a hungry horse with a carrot in front of its nose.  Only this horse is extremely allergic to carrots.

I saw Alberto Contador’s personal doctor yesterday.  He’s a friend of our team.  People had been telling me to go see a doctor for ages, but I was hesitant to go waste money on seeing a doctor who’s only going to tell me to rest.  I told this to someone who was trying to get me to see the doctor and they laughed, “Haha.  Belgian doctors don’t tell you to rest.”  He was right.  I saw the doctor yesterday and I told him I was thinking of racing tomorrow.  He listened to my lungs and said there was “a lot of shit” in there and that I should just do some long endurance rides instead, zone two.  “It’s bad to go too deep with all that in your lungs.”  Very true.  He prescribed me four drugs (all legal to race with except pseudoephedrine, which he explained I had to stop taking at least 24hrs before a race just like WADA recommends) and then he sent me on my way, the whole checkup for 25 euros.  To see a doctor in the States, even with insurance, just the co-pay alone costs more than this.  And there was no wait, all it took was a quick call from Luc, the team manager, and I rode over there and saw him right away.  Now if only the pharmacies were open on the weekend.

The idea of a miracle cure is a strange, irrational thing that we humans believe in.  In this case it literally is a cure for an illness (nasal spray and some other stuff) but we look for miracle cures all over the place no matter what the problem is.  Not respected or appreciated at work?  Buy some nicer clothes.  Can’t find a date?  Tooth whitener.  Can’t pass calculus?  Better calculator.  Can’t lose weight?  Diet supplements.  Can’t find happiness?  Buy a new car.  All of these problems, my sickness included, can be fixed with a change in attitude or with a bit of work (or rest), yet it’s so much simpler if we can just take a pill.

I feel like I’m wasting my time and money here on this trip, sitting in the house staring out the window instead of being out on my bike wrenching my guts out in cobblestone kermesses.  The whole reason I came here.  I can only hope that with just a little more time I’ll be over this damn cold and get a chance to race my bike before I leave.  If not, well I guess I need to bottle up some of this furry for next year.  I won’t be sick forever.  But until then I’ll be waiting, resting, and plotting…