Honesty in sport

The other evening I was at the Goodwill looking for a Halloween costume and jeans. The place was packed with people doing the same thing I was and all the costumes were way overpriced, so Kim and I ended up slumming  from the Salvation Army instead.  But the strange thing I noticed at Goodwill was the unusual amount of normal-looking people, and even one attractive girl, who were employed there.  Had my standards decreased this rapidly after my time in Belgium?  In the past, Goodwills were employed by raggedy people (like myself) who needed a hand, people who required donations from those who had extra to give, hence the name of the store.  It was a place for poor people to shop and struggling people to work.  Goodwills employed men and women who’d been out on the streets, were alcoholics, drug addicts, or had mental handicaps.  Now with the economy in the toilet, it seems that Goodwills hire anyone they choose.  It’s an employer’s market, and Goodwill’s now hire psych majors.

While the investment bankers in Wall Street helped to collapse our economy, the chain reaction of their dishonesty and greed caused an entire shift in the job market, forcing everyone below them down a notch.  Smart, super qualified workers who’d spent years at high-level careers have taken pay cuts or have moved to lower-end jobs, forcing college-educated kids and motivated young people to take jobs in restaurants, Kinkos, and Goodwill, which has forced the least qualified people back out on the streets.  A similar thing is happening in the cycling world.

A large part of the crisis in cycling is due to the bad economy, but the other half comes from the dopers, the liars, the corrupt SOBs that have been infesting the sport for so long.  I’m glad USADA grew a pair of balls and rooted some of them out–though don’t kid yourselves, the “victims” (as they would have us believe) of Armstrong and the doping culture of their era who finally came out and told (some of) the truth only did so because they would have otherwise faced jail time.  They don’t actually give a shit about honesty or integrity or helping the sport to clean up, otherwise they would have come out a long time ago.

Now that the sport is in ruin and teams are folding left and right, it won’t be the super stars that take a pay cut or lose their job on a pro tour team, it’s everyone below them. Some of the less #winning and possibly cleaner pro tour riders are having to move down to the pro continental level.  Some of the unfortunate pro conti guys are stooping back to continental teams, and some of the unfortunate conti guys have retreated back to amateur.  Meanwhile, us idiots can’t even find a job pushing shopping carts back from the parking lot.

Just like those rich bastard CEOs who all ended up with bonuses, the cheaters and liars in cycling are still doing fine.  Look at Contador.  Look at Vino.  Look at Valverde and Baso and the majority of every other super star you can name.  They’re all just fine.  Some are even more popular now that they’ve doped, served their time, have seen the light, been baptized and cleaned of their sins, and are on personal crusades to stomp doping right off the face of the earth…or to sell some books and win the hearts of their overly-optimistic fans.  One or the other. (On a side note, in case you’re still unaware, there’s plenty of evidence supporting that doping has life-long lasting effects, so even former dopers still reap the benefits when they’re “clean”).

The problem with giving known dopers a second chance is that there are plenty of honest people who never got their first chance.  Cycling isn’t life or death after all.  Second chances are fine in real life.  It would be irrational to lock someone up in jail for life because of a misdemeanor.  Cycling isn’t real life though.  It’s sport and anyone who’s fortunate enough to pursue sport as their livelihood should honor that gift and respect the hard work and dedication of their competitors and realize that there are people with REAL problems out there and losing a race is NOT a real problem.  The integrity of sport is something that should be held to an even higher standard than real life because the consequences of failure are much less drastic.

Sport needs to be the epitome of honesty, hard work, and perseverance–something that can be held up and admired for the rest of the world to find inspiration in and strive towards, because in a perfect world real life should be what sport is meant to be: an arena where intense but friendly competition drives progress but no one dies or gets thrown out on the streets if they don’t win.  Unfortunately sport is not like this, and real life is even further removed.

If dopers really want to help clean up the sport the best thing they can do is to leave.  Just go away.  You aren’t doing anyone any good by serving some bullshit six-month ban (or two years for that matter) and coming back to the sport and taking away an honest person’s potential job.  There are plenty of equally or more-talented, moral people waiting for a chance and you’re in the way.  Move.  As the saying goes, “Those who got us into this mess won’t be the ones getting us out.”  As an even more relevant saying goes, “Eat shit and die.”  Haha, just kidding.  Don’t eat shit.

Recent stuff in boulder

I flew back to the States the other week on the 11th.  Though I was looking forward to getting back to America, I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to Americans.  I’m not sure if Belgians are that much better or nicer or more conscientious than us, but I had very few negative encounters over there.  I mean, the only person I hit in a race this year in Belgium was a Japanese rider (he swerved into and elbowed me before the sprint) and even then we both ended up laughing about it later in the showers (though that wasn’t really what I was laughing at).  Just kidding.  I’m not racist.  Some of my best friends have small penises.  But anyways, it was so much easier getting along with people when I couldn’t understand them when they spoke.  It was nice not knowing what anyone was saying.  There were so many fewer arguments to try to win.

I wasn’t even technically in America yet when I had my first negative encounter with one of my countrymen.  I went through US customs in the Toronto airport on my way to Portland.  I wasn’t even aware this was a thing, and it didn’t seem like anyone else did either because there was a lot of confusion. There was a line to get into the line. I pushed my cart up parallel with the line before the line and began cutting through it to get to my bike bag just to the left of the line, which was sitting in the oversized luggage area.  Before I got to my bike some guy said, “excuse me, the line starts back there,” pointing to one person behind him.  As if I would cut just two people.  At first I thought he was joking and laughed.  He didn’t smile back, just glared and shook his head holding up his hands questioning what I was laughing at, why I was still standing there in front of him now looking confused, who I was and where I came from, my societal worth, my moral being, my sense of right and wrong, how many nuns I must have murdered to become this unquestionably horrible, evil human being standing there before him…I could tell all this from the expression on his face.  Once I realized he wasn’t joking, and I knew how to handle this perfectly.  Perfectly.

I nodded at him, walked six feet to pick up my bike bag, made and held eye contact with him as I walked back to my cart and put my bike on it, stood in front of him as his expression turned sullen and he looked at his feet, and I said, “I bet you feel pretty dumb right now.” I stood there for another couple seconds while he said nothing, and was just about to push my cart off when he said, “Sorry. I’m sorry, I just saw two other people cut so I was just…actually you know what? I DON’T feel dumb.”  I told him, “Well you should,” and that’s when the line moved a bit and he pushed his cart forward shaking his head as I laughed.

Now, obviously I know this wasn’t the nicest thing to say or best way to resolve an argument due to miscommunication, but that’s not what I was trying to do.  There’s no point in resolving arguments or coming to terms.  There’s right and there’s wrong.  There’s no middle ground.  And I’m right, pretty much ALL the time.  So he and everyone else can fuck off.  America: one of your own had returned.

The next 45 minutes were pretty damn awkward, since the line we were in crossed back and forth in a square, forcing us to pass each other face-to-face about nine times.  The first time we both just looked at each other shaking our heads.  I knew he was fuming about it because I was too, plus I’d gotten the last word so I figured he was concocting something to say for the next pass.  He got his chance three minutes later and we had round two.  I won’t go into the details, but I  won.  I was on a roll so I started an argument with a customs agent a while later when he said something I felt was condescending.

Ironically, one of the things I’d said to the guy who’d thought I was cutting earlier was that it was people like him that make the rest of the world hate Americans.  We hate most in others what we hate in ourselves.  If there’s one thing we like to do it’s being right, no matter what, and jamming our ideals, politics, Big Macs, and pop-culture down the rest of the world’s throat.  If they don’t like it we’ve got the war machine to back us up.  The US is the ring leader bully in fourth grade who’s backed up by his posse, the rest of the first world.  Our knuckles and wedgies come in the form of corporate greed, drooling over stocks and pulling on the strings of our puppet government and mass media, designed to convince ourselves that there’s a just reason why we’re in the middle east, why our trade with South America is fair, and that Jersey Shore is newsworthy while 16,000 children starving to death, daily, is not.  What’s sad is that we really don’t need these distractions and covers to hide our cruelty, because the worst thing about the first world is that we just don’t care about the third.

It seems that I always have something to rant about, and I don’t want to mislead people into thinking I’m a negative person all the time.  It’s just that it’s usually boring to write about how good things are.  But on that note I’ll keep a look out for a feel-good, humorous story that brings out the best in humanity and sheds light on the rising global compassion that’s spreading like an incurable disease that leaves you completely paralyzed but still able to feel pain (in fact it’s heightened by 10) and you can’t move at all and are confined to a hospital bed and you have an insatiable desire to scratch yourself since a symptom of the disease is a thick rash that slowly eats your flesh over a period of 60 years and you grow more and more insane every day as you stare up at the white ceiling, confined in your own mind’s torturous prison.  Shit.  I can’t even do it for one sentence.

When I got back to the States I had a few days to spend with my parents and brothers Galen and Thomas.  I went down to Corvallis for the weekend to hang out with Galen at his college and met his new girlfriend, who instigated a huge tomato-throwing fight a bunch of us had in a friend’s garden.  We were supposed to be picking vegetables, not throwing tomatoes for hours, but we couldn’t stop, despite the pleas of the guy who owned the garden, who was also throwing tomatoes and also couldn’t stop.  You know that saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”?  This idea revolves around the concept that there are only two sides in a fight.  This is not true.  Two of the guys eventually ended up getting pissed, wrestling, and breaking through a fence.  Galen and I took this opportunity to chuck tomatoes at them as they wrestled on the ground.  Two enemies of one another are also my enemies, and when they’re preoccupied fighting each other they make an easy target.

My time in Oregon was short, as I had to get back to Boulder on the 16th to start a new job the following day.  Yeah, that’s right a job.  I mean like a real job.  For most, this would be a time of rejoice, but for me I feel like it’s a bit different.  Every time a free-roaming, gypsy cyclist gets a job an angel dies up in Heaven.  You may be thinking, “Shit, if Kennett ended up getting a job there must really be no hope left at all.”  Well, there isn’t.  You should quit your ambitions as a serious cyclist and put that college education to use before the diploma accumulates too much dust.

Nah, just kidding!  I’m not giving up the dream just yet.  Though it certainly is hard to make a living as a cyclist, I still haven’t ruled it out, though I have changed my perspective on the sport and what it means to be successful.  My goal coming into each season used to be to sign with a continental team at the end of the season.  My goal wasn’t to win or do well in a particular race.  Of course all I dreamed about was winning races.  Most rides I’d have a particular race in mind and think about it and the ones following it, dreaming up different scenarios and letting my imagination run with the taste of glory.  I’d dream about a single race for hours during a ride, and I still do.  But winning races was a means to getting on a team.

My new outlook on things goes like this: continue racing and training just as hard as before, target specific races that suit me and be 100% peaked and rested for them, and that’s it.  I still want to win races and get on a conti team, but if I can continue racing the NRC and other good regional races and train hard up in the mountains, then I’m happy.  I think the job will actually inspire me to make some beneficial changes, and having money won’t be too bad either.

The office of Smartetaling is just 1.5 miles away from my new apartment where I live with my roommate, Kim, from the place I was living before out on Arapahoe.  Smartetaling is a company that writes about bikes, wheels, other bike parts, accessories, clothing, etc. for a gigantic online catalogue that thousands of bike shops across the country use.  So basically my job is to write about bikes.  Not bad eh?  The office has 13 of us in total, all cyclists, all witty and super sarcastic, so I feel right at home already.  On Thursday all of us went on a two-hour ride during lunch break.  It was originally going to be an “Uphill Thursday Throw Down,” but got tweaked since there were three of us new people and doing Super Flag wouldn’t be the best way to make good introductions.  But we did do a few small hills.  I told myself I didn’t need to be first up it, and started a bit off the back with a couple slower riders by the time we got to the first climb.  I could see up the road that the throwing down had begun, despite the suggestion by our boss, Will, that today might be good day for just a slow, casual ride to get to know one another.  Well, in a cyclist’s opinion, there’s no better way to get to know someone than by putting the hurt on them, and by the looks of things, Will knew this too as he was the main culprit shredding the group apart.  I couldn’t be last, so I passed a few guys.  Then I passed some more, then pretty soon I decided to catch up the Will who was up front by himself at this point.  I rode next to him, unsure if it would be wise to drop my new boss on the second day of work.  So instead I just half wheeled him the rest of the way.  Haha, just kidding sort of.  It definitely felt great to be back riding in Boulder and I can honestly say that every single one of my coworkers is cool.  I couldn’t ask to find a better set up, as the job is flexible and will allow me to train during the week, race the NRC schedule, and mot importantly everyone there is super chill.  They’re all cyclists after all.  It reminds me of the banter that I had with my teammates on Hagens Berman.

Speaking of Hagens Berman, I am no longer with the team.  I knew this would be may last year with them at the beginning of the season, since it was my third year with them, which is a fair time limit since the goal of the team is to have a good turn-over rate and develop new guys.  Well, in my opinion HB accomplished its mission with me as I’m definitely not the rider I was when I first joined the team.  I’m super grateful of everyone that was a part of the team and the amazing sponsorship that allowed me to race as much as I did and provide the organization that’s required do get to quality races, work as a unit, not just a smattering of individuals like a lot of amateur teams do, and go head-to-head with the best in the country.  Later, in the next week or two, I’ll have a big post about Hagens Berman and everyone that’s been a part of it since I joined in 2010.

Speaking of ear wax, I finally went in to see the doctor and get my ears checked up.  I’ve had ear aches/itching for months now.  Basically ever since 2008.  It comes and goes, always with both ears at the same time, and they’ve been bothering me pretty bad since last November.  At first the doctor said it just looked like some built-up wax, no ear infection.  The nurse poured in some hydrogen peroxide to loosen it up, then used a big plastic syringe thing and flushed out about 600 grams of wax from my left ear alone.  He made a big fuss at one point when something extra special came out and said, “You’re gonna want to see this.”  I looked in the plastic container thing that my ear drainage was pouring into and I almost threw up.  There was an enormous amount of greenish-yellow ear wax floating in the water, and one BIG chunk of dark brown hard wax that the nurse said had probably been in there for a long time.  When the other ear was done the doctor came back and she looked in my ears a second time, this time saying, “Oh wow, yeah you do have an ear infection.  Both ears actually.  And you have fluid trapped behind your eardrum in your left year.  It must be painful.  Does it hurt when you pull down on your earlobe?”  I said I guess, though I couldn’t remember a time when it didn’t.  I’m using an antibiotic ear drop for the next week and it already cleared up so I’ll probably just stop using it now, since that’s what you’re supposed to do with antibiotics.  You don’t want too much of em, just one or two doses to whet your appetite, sort of like doughnuts.

I had more stories to tell but I’m tired of writing so I’ll just end it there.

2012 is a wrap

I won’t pretend like my last two races are worth more discussion than this single paragraph has to offer.  I did one out west in Hoogelede a few days ago.  Took the train most of the way there, road the rest of the way on damp roads.  It was a cold, nasty Fall day.  Fall is the absolute worst.  I hate it when people say that Fall is their favorite season.  Really?  You enjoy death and gloom?  Look at the plants and trees and grass! They’re all turning brown and shriveling up in suspended death.  You like the marvelous and uplifting colors of brown and gray?  You like the days becoming short and everyone’s mood turning black?  You like being cold and miserable and not being able to go outside and sit in the sun?  You enjoy going back to school?  That’s what the Fall is all about.  Kids back in their shackles and everyone cold and depressed again.  People who say they like the Fall are either demented or in denial.  Fall is the worst season.  After Winter.

Anyways, I’ll have to start a new paragraph after that rant so it turns out that these races will get some more talk than planned.  Hoogelede was a small, 4.7km course with a tiny hill that we had to do 24 times.  The race organizers know how miserable, tired, and unmotivated we all are at this point in the season and know that the more laps we do the more miserable we’ll be.  They’re a sick bunch.  Twisted.  You can do a 115km race with eight or 10 laps no problem, in fact most kermesses seem to top out at 12 laps, that is until you get to the end of September and beginning of October.  That’s when all these 20+ laps on short courses start materializing.  Having to do that many laps is demoralizing and mentally fatiguing.  I think  at least 10 guys dropped out in the first 10 minutes of the race.  I was in no mood to be racing either, but I’d spent good money on my train ticket.  It was wet, had been raining, the race start was delayed by 45 minutes so they could clean off the downhill through town, which had a rainbow of oil spilled all over it.  My only guess is that it was friet grease, spilled from a drunk old man tripping over a garbage can of old friets.

This race was on Saturday so I already can’t really remember how it went down.  I attacked a few times but not much.  I mainly sat in and waited for the last five laps to finally roll around.  But a large break of 10 got away mid-race.  Mid race? That’s not supposed to happen.  Then another group got away without me at just under two laps to go, despite me being attentive and fairly aggressive except for that one moment when the race split up there.  I ended up leading out the rest of the bunch for the entire final kilometer and got 31st.  I took a shower in the school gym and put my cycling clothes back on, then rode back to the train station.  I had a night out on the town in Oudenaarde with Jake for the first time that night.  I was supposed to be going out with a girl I met working in a bakery at a race last week but she cancelled last minute because her friend had an accident that evening.  Yeah, Belgium is a tad behind the rest of the world.  By like 40 years or more.  For them, that excuse is still new and believable.

The next race was close enough to ride to.  I almost didn’t make it there after getting lost and doing a lap around the city searching for signs of it.  I need a Garmin next time I come here.  I luckily stumbled upon the race with time to spare and found out that it was another course that we’d have to do 20 laps of.  20 god damn laps.  I thought about just riding home.  The course was flat with some small roads and one series of turns with broken, patched pavement that was covered in dirt and off-cambered.  I banked on it causing some problems.

Half way into the first lap I contemplated pulling out and riding home.  It wasn’t that hard yet, I just didn’t want to be racing.  My legs were dead and my mind deader.  I attacked at the end of lap one and later on lap two.  It started raining.  Four laps went by and I was still deciding on whether I’d drop out, but now that the rain started coming down hard I figured I couldn’t quit because that would be pretty weak of me.  I could have quit earlier, before the race got hard, not now when there was adversity to overcome.

There was a crash on the corners with the dirt that was now mud.  We went through that chicane so slowly every time.  Like walking speed.  Then there was the mad sprint out of it on a straight road with tailwind over speed bumps.  I sat in for a while then began moving up and covering moves and gaps when it looked like the race might break up for good.  I attacked once or twice but mainly just followed moves.  Actually I mainly didn’t do anything.  I figured that with the way my legs were if I was going to win today it wouldn’t be because of effort or strength, it would be because everyone else tired themselves out and I managed to just slip into the moves and sit on the wheels without being noticed or having to do any work, then magically arriving at the finish line with a perfect lead out.  This didn’t materialize of course.  With three laps to go the race blew apart for good.  The rain was pouring down now.  No knee warmers, no arm warmers, no wind vests or rain jackets.  This is Belgium.  Not even children with Lukemia race with those wimpy things.  If you’re cold, you’re not going hard enough.

I sprinted across the finish line in the saddle, unable to stand up for the last 100 meters and barely able to see through my dirt-covered glasses into the dark evening’s black rain clouds.  Our group had shattered into ones and twos and threes.  There were two other groups farther up the road battling for the top 18.  I took 21st.  With my brakes and shifting hardly functioning, sand everywhere in my eyes, mouth, nose, mud covering everything, soaked to the bone, legs two worthless ragged meat pistons incapable of one more hard pump, I knew there was no way better to end my season here in Belgium.  I rode home in the rain.  I stopped at Colruyt on the way home with my measly race winnings and bought some meat and cheese sauce for my pasta and a bar of chocolate and a bag of potato chips.  I got home in the dark.  I’m done.  So done.  I’m ready to go home, rest, and finally get healthy at last.  Jake and I had planned on doing a huge bike journey through Europe this last week, then we decided that riding 250km a day was a bad way to end the season so our second plan was to fly to Croatia for 12 euros and sit on a beach in the sun and party.  We stupidly decided to continue racing instead.  Belgium kermess racing in October is when you plead for the year to be over.

I always get a little sad when I leave a place.  I’m not sure when I’ll be back to Belgium or if I’ll ever see half the people I’ve met here again.  But it’s a comforting thought knowing that the world will go one without you.  People here will still be eating friets, watching bike races, growing potatoes, and drinking tiny coffees with Speculose cookies long after I’m dead and gone.  Sometimes you think about how big and old the world is and you feel insignificant and useless.  A lone phytoplankton in the middle of the ocean.  Nothing you’ve done, are doing, or ever do will matter or be noticed.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  It’s nice to know that the horses won’t starve here without me feeding them carrots over the winter.

Recent races and humblenss

During the winter months you have your thoughts all to yourself out on the road as you train in the rain, the wind, and the cold.  You begin to think of yourself as the hard-man or hard-woman of the north.  The weather is the lesser of the obstacles though.  The consistently hard and lonely riding is the real beast.  That, and trying to starve yourself.  You slog through your intervals, the five and six hour days, the long climbs all while dodging the idiot cars destroying the peace and quiet of the country side.   You deal with the adversity of triple flatting and hitchhiking home, bonking with no gas station within 2o miles, and having shit legs day after day.  But you get strong.  You can feel it and your power meter confirms it.  By late January you think of yourself as a dmigod. “I’ll kill them all come March.” Then March rolls around you re-learn the fact that everyone else has been doing the same training as you and you’re still mild-grade shit.

Maybe once in a while someone actually gets really, really fast over the winter, but for the most part the gains are moderate to none.  During the winter it’s important to keep in mind that, while you think you’re training hard, you’re likely just training average.  There’s no point in tricking yourself into believing you’re something you’re not.  While self-confidence is vital, modesty may be even more so, especially in a sport where it pays to be lazy and sit in.  If you think everyone else is stronger than you and you sit in while they all slaughter themselves in the first two hours of the race, you’ll have the advantage the third hour.

This happened yesterday (Tuesday) at one of the harder kermesses I’ve done this year in Sint-Lievens-Houtem.  I’d raced Saturday and Sunday, took Monday off, then raced again on Tuesday.  I was tired and my legs were pretty beat up, but I was noticing improved fitness since last week and wanted to get in as many races as I could before I leave.  The course was fairly challenging, with a bit of wind, one long gradual climb, and  one short steep one.  I found myself off the front at the end of the first of 11 laps, chasing down the large breakaway that went from the start.  We were caught less than a lap later after our cooperation faltered.  One guy had been sitting on a bit too much and ruined it for the rest of us.  After we were caught I spent the next seven laps holding on and wishing I had some actual fitness, only going with a handful of moves.  I was in a bit of pain.  The peloton split apart every lap, especially on the crosswind section right after the top of the steep climb.  Each time we entered this section I thought it might be the last time the bunch was still a bunch and not just a scattering of small groups, victims of the grenade thrown by whoever was on the front.  I road off the road into the grass one time and just about blew it.  Each time after the descent the peloton reassembled, to my dismay, and everyone caught back on to the front group.

The early breakaway was caught long ago.  The winning move went with exactly 3.5 laps to go.  I had been on the very wheel of the guy who started it, heading up the low-grade longish climb.  He was moving up the outside of the peloton and looked like he was going all the way to the front, so I got off his wheel still 20 guys back since I didn’t want to go that far forward.  I watched as he attacked, assuming his would fail like every other million attacks that went.  Others attacked there way up there and eventually formed a group of 10 that stuck it to the finish to win.  Maybe more self-confidence at that one moment would have helped me, but it wouldn’t have for most of the race.  For me and the way my shit form is right now it was all about survival and trying to make the front group over the steep climb.  With three laps to go I began attacking again and realized I was one of the least messed up guys left in the field.  The guys who were strong in the beginning had burned their last matches.  I finished 27th overall after a poor job positioning in the small field sprint, so not great, but better than I would have predicted way back on lap five when I was just in it to survive.  I got by today thanks to conservation due to modesty.

What made me want to write this somewhat downer of a post about humbleness was reading a few blogs lately and being disgusted by the amount of self-glorification portrayed in them.  It’s as if people think of themselves as the one exceptionally strong/hard-working/toughest/most talented person and the only reason they didn’t win was because of something out of their control.  “I attacked more than everyone else and they wouldn’t pull with me.  I had bad legs because I was the only one who’d ridden five hours the day before the race for extra training.  I was coming off a rest week.  I got boxed in during the sprint (see above).  I had bad luck and made every single move throughout the entire race except the last one that went.”  (Yo dummy, the last move that went was the last one because it never got brought back).

These excuses and proclamations of strength probably annoy me as much as they do because they’re something I see in my own writing way too much.  I certainly don’t try to sound arrogant, whiny, or completely self-involved, but whenever I read a race report that I’ve written all I see is cockiness and a laundry list of excuses.  And I rarely do laundry so you can imagine my confusion.  On the other hand, I don’t want to write a boring, to-the-point, four-sentence blog about a race either.  No one wants to read something like that.  After all, no one really cares that much about what happened (regardless of what we’re talking about); the main thing that makes people finish the sentence they’re on is the quality of writing.  Content is secondary.  Take this paragraph for example.  You probably stopped reading a long time ago.

From now on I vow to write my race reports as honestly and as humbly as I can.

Rewind to Saturday at Dilbeek:

I took the train to Denderleuw on Saturday afternoon, which is 22km away from Dilbeek.  I knew my legs were shit because I’d felt like shit for the past week, not sick or anything, just not fast.  My form was terrible and since I’m usually always the same mediocre speed, being slower than that is pretty frustrating.  I knew this and had come to terms with it.  Was there a chance I could win today?  Yes.  It was a very small chance and it would involve a lot of luck.  Was there a chance I’d enjoy getting my head kicked in and gain some fitness for next week’s races? Yes.  A large chance at that.

My excitement grew as I approached my destination, not because I was excited about the race but because I still hadn’t been charged a train ticket yet.  The  conductor hadn’t spotted me and my bike.  The fool.  A weekend, two-way train ticket costs 6 euros.  On top of that is an 8 euro two-way bike ticket.  My heart rate increased with each stop we made.  My cortisol levels were jacked.  “I should just get off at this stop and ride the extra distance and get by without the train ticket,” I debated with myself.  There was a risk to that though: getting lost.  I ended up staying on the train all the way to Denderleuw and never had to pay.  The day was already a success in that regard.

After making a hasty exit, I began following my hand-written directions to Dilbeek.  My directions took me to a freeway.  I rode on the freeway and immediately, just after the onramp, had cars honking at me, angrily persuading me to get off their private property.  OOOOOW so I’m on the freeway! Big deal, cars.  Why don’t you go tell it to the judge? There was a huge shoulder and I was safely separated from traffic, but they couldn’t stand me being there so I got off after 10 minutes of non stop honking.

I got lost immediately after I got off the freeway but made it to the race on time with a bit of backtracking and help from the locals.  Side note: many Belgians don’t know how to get to the town 3km away from the one they grew up in.  Either that or they don’t like giving directions and pretend they’ve never heard of it before.

I had enjoyed a good breakfast earlier that morning and was now just finishing a Rodeo energy drink 15 minutes before the start.  Studies show that consuming 200 calories of sugar and 200 mg of caffeine right before a race will improve your V02 by 9,000%.  There were 19 laps on a 6km course with two small hills and a one-kilometer section of rough pavers on a descent and one of the hills through the start/finish line.

On lap two a large group got away.  I bridged to it with two other guys on the third lap.  The 18 of us rotated through fairly evenly for the next half hour and our gap increased.  I tried to do less work than everyone else, but I’d say there were others more successful at this.  I was too afraid of getting gapped off the back to completely sit on, so I helped drive the pace and pulled through as slowly as I could.  This turned out to be a stupid decision.  I should have just sat on and rested as much as possible.

10 or 15 more bridged to us.  Never fully looking backwards, I thought it was the entire field and stupidly helped drive a counter attack for half a lap.  The ‘counter attack’ was just six of us on the front with a tiny gap to the rest of the 30 guys behind who were all pretty much just sitting on us.

With eight laps to go I realized I was in trouble.  Guys had been attacking hard on the climbs for a few laps by now and our group of 30 was the only group still left on the course after everyone else had been pulled.  With six to go we were split into three or four groups, with me in the third one.  I managed to get across to the second group by myself, not because I was strong, but because I sat on and skipped pulls for as long as I could and then tucked away on a descent when my group sat up for a moment.  None of them made it, hahahaha!

I didn’t help pull at all as my new group regained contact with the first group.  My legs had nothing at all left to contribute.  I got dropped HARD on the second climb and gapped off the only guy behind me with four laps remaining.  He cursed the only Belgian curse word, “Godverdomme!!” when I wouldn’t help him get back on during the descent.  I was so dead that I couldn’t even hold his wheel on the slightly downhill road.  He made it to the group and I didn’t.  I let my legs recover for a half lap and hung my head in shame and agony.  When I was recovered I went as hard as I thought I needed to in order to hold off anyone behind me.  As it turned out there was no one left behind me and I buried myself for the next two laps before finally being pulled with one lap to go.  I was 21st and earned 10 euros.

I ate a waffle, refilled my bottles, then rode back to the train station.  But I never made it back to Denderluew and the train station because I took a different way back that avoided the freeway altogether.  I go really lost this time.  Like, so lost that I ended up riding until it got dark and I bonked, and ended up doing 180 kilometers that day, which was more than I’d wanted to do since I had planned on racing the following day as well.  I made it to the city of Aalst and coasted to the train station and bought a train ticket without even attempting to sneak on for free. I went across the street and bought a shitty Belgian hamburger made out of lymph nodes and scar tissue while I waited for the train to get there.

Energy came back to me as I sat on the train during my short journey to the connecting train.  I missed the connection by approximately 13 seconds and would have to wait an hour for the next one.  By now it was cold and pitch black out so I took shelter in a frite joint (Frite joints sell frites (french fries) and odd assortments of deep fried “meat.”  They are possibly the only thing less healthy than McDonalds.  And they’re wonderful).  The tiny cupboard of a shop was packed full with eight people, all standing in line with everyone hacking and coughing from the first cold rains of the season.  I ordered the smallest size of frites and I the man gave me about a square foot for $1.70.  I ate them all in the warmth of the little restaurant and sat with blurringly tired red eyes until my train arrived.  The train took me back to Oudenaarde and I soft pedaled the rest of the 2km back home, getting in just before 10pm.  Then I stayed up until 1:15 playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater with Jake.  I got to sleep at around 3.  Sleep does not come quickly after late races like these.

Sunday at Erombodegem:

The following day I raced at Erombodegem.  This time I went with Thomas, a big fat American lad from New Jersey.  He lives close by us in Oudenaarde and helps Jake and I raid Colruyt on our rest days.  Thomas is a beast on the bike, and though he dislikes hills, he absolutely smashes fools on the flats, as whitened by me at this race.  We took the train to Haaltert and rode 300 meters to the race sign in, which was probably the most convenient train stop in relation to race sign-in locations I’ve ever had.  I took a long warm up since my legs were trashed from the day before and decided I’d sit in until the last two and a half laps (when I figured the winning move would go).  The course was 17km long with eight laps and a much easier course than the day before.  It had a bit of everything though.  A tiny cobbled section (with narrow strips of pavement to test one’s balance), a couple little climbs, a lot of technical turns through town, and the largest prize list of any kermess I’ve ever been to: 2000 euros.

My plan backfired immediately.  This race as well as the three before it have all seen the winning moves go away in the first quarter of the race, unlike the stats I came up with in my Secret Race Strategy post the other week that told me that the winning move would go late in the race.  The break this day went on the first lap.  19 guys.  Race over for the rest of us.  At the start of lap three I began going with some weak bridging attempts.  I didn’t help that much.  It was enough to just be there along for the free ride.  For the most part, I now condone being lazy.  One split looked promising but we were caught.

With four laps to go I decided that I might as well help real the break back in.  I spent half a lap rotating on the front and brought the gap down to about 12 seconds through the technical part of the course.  Behind me and the five guys that were still rotating through, the peloton was split in pieces as guys miss-judged corners and the yo-yo effect took its toll.  We came through the finish with three to go and looked like we might finally catch the leaders.  But a moment of apathy in the peloton saw all our hard work wasted and the gap shot up and we never saw the breakaway again.

I missed the second and third moves that went away and finished 39th, again for 10 euros.  Thomas beat me and took 29th, bridging up to the third move on the road.  After the race we both got deep fried meat items at an outdoor vendor next to the finish line after we collected our money.  Thomas got a polish sausage and I got a “Mexican,” which was some sort of spicy sausage meat molded into the shape of baby back ribs.  It came in a bun with ketchup.   Then we went back to the train stop.  It was cold now.  Our train seemed to be late.  I hopped down to the tracks and searched for goodies and found a reflecting writs band thing.  We continued waiting.  Thomas began shivering since he was too lazy to put on his arm and knee warmers.  Our train never came.  An announcement came on and an elderly man told us that the train was no longer coming and the next one would arrive in an hour. I knew exactly what the occasion called for…the warm frite shop across the street.  We got the family size.  Two of them.

This is a picture of Thomas, or “Tom” as he likes to be called for some reason, which is an inferior name.

This is another picture of Tom in some race that looks hard.

This is a picture of Jake, since he doesn’t want to be left out of this blog. He’s pictured here with a copious amount of oil on his legs applied by Patrick, the team soignier who’s invaluable to both the AFRA and Geofco teams.

This is a picture of me for my grandparents who don’t have facebook.