The Ronde van Midden Brabant was certainly the windiest race I have ever done. Started out like a bat out of hell and within 3kms the peloton was shattered into pieces, each echelon racing full throttle on tiny exposed roads. When all was said and done I ended up in the second group on the road with 20 or so others, after a hell of a lot fighting in the wind. Our race ended after 3 and a half hours, apparently 30 or so finished ahead. Not satisfying, but some hard racing in the legs and experience to take forward. I ended frozen to the bone, shivering from the cold rain that was falling and happy for a hot shower.
Wednesday, I did the U23 Dwars door Vlaanderen in Belgium. This event is part of the big professional race and was absolutely stunning. There was such a massive organization, and thousands upon thousands of fans. At the start/finish all of the pro tour buses were lined up, TV helicopters in the air, and big names milling about. It was pretty exciting.
I was feeling good, but unfortunately coming over the Patersberg some riders in front of me touched wheels and hit the deck. I flew into and over them and landed in a ditch, I was not banged up too much but it took me a minute or two to straighten my bike out and then the real running of the race was gone. I chased in a group of 40 for a bit but wasn’t making progress so left them and did a two up time trial with a Chocolade de Jacques guy for another hour before our day was called. It was a bit frusterating, but still an amazing experience to be racing on all the cobbled climbs of Flanders. Hitting them is like running into a wall, the noise is so loud and your brain is just rattling in your skull from all the vibration. They are crazy steep and all you can think about is keeping the power to the pedals. All around guys are climbing off and trying to run up or coming to standstill and falling over. It is pretty crazy. What I need to do is hit them closer to the front so I can avoid all this carnage and give them a good smashing.
Tomorrow is the Ronde Van Midden Brabant, another big Dutch classic. It is sure to be another fight for the first wire.
This past Sunday I competed in the Meeus Race; a 160km long event in Lierop (near
Eindhoven). It was part of the Beloften Competitie, which is a
national series of classics for u23, with a year long classification towards a championship. The race was all in farmland with lots of changes of direction and transition from bigger
to tiny roads. We did one big round of 100km then 5x 12km circuits.
The race was fast (I clocked 46km/hr for the average), and, with the
wind and rain, super nervous. Guys were crashing left right and
centre. I admit I was having a tough go staying near the front line. When its really going, it takes only a moment of hesitation or touch of the brakes and you go
from the front to the back. That said I was more comfortable this
time around and avoided the major splits in the peloton.
With 50km to go, and not at a particularly decisive point in the race a break of 12 finally broke free and gained a minute on the peloton. I was too far back and could only see it going away in the distance.
As we got later and later in the race, I could tell that guys were
getting cooked from going beserk all day and that the chasing teams
were starting to unravel. I still felt really strong however. With 7km left I hit out on a small hill, attacking really hard and then just put in a big gear and tried to find a rhythm to maintain my advantage. My gap was slowly coming down and at 4km to go the bunch had me within 50m, however a turn later, I had the wind at my back and the gap started to grown again. Behind the teams getting ready for the peloton sprint must have hesitated and looked at each other. I just put my head down and kept riding. At one point I was getting close to the break as they played games with each other, but didn’t reach them and in the end I held off the pack and came away 13th.
So, a pretty good result in a prestigious race here. Its a confirmation
of my form, which I could already feel was good. However, its not
completely satisfying as I wasn’t there when it really counted and the break went away. I want to be fighting for the win,
This Wednesday, I have the U23 Dwars door Vlaanderen in Belgium which I am really looking forward to. The race is short and the climbs come thick and fast. I am really enamoured with Belgian racing and motivated to give it a good shot.
Yesterday was my first classic here in the Netherlands, the series of which form the biggest amateur races on the Dutch calendar. Upon arrival, it was immediately clear that this was an important race. There were already many fans milling about behind the barriers by the start/ finish area and sponsor logos were plastered everywhere. The team cars were lined up ready for the caravan and interested spectators were walking around checking out bikes and talking to riders. I found my team car and had a chat with my director and team mates for the day.
The circuit was tight, lot of corners and changes of surface including a one kilometer section of cobbles. I was in for my first experience on the kassein. The sky was clear, but the temperature hovering around zero and it was blowing a gale.
On the line, there was a noticeable tension. After the gun, it was like a bomb went off. Zero to 55 kilometers an hour in seconds. For people back home, I would best compare it to the finale of a Mardis Lachine but on a road a quarter the width, full of obstacles and with real turns. I was too passive here, I was in the first half of the peloton and thought I was all right. Not the case however, within 5km we came out of town, made a turn into a cross wind and the peloton was shattered. There was a front group of 15, 25 or so behind them, then my group of 20ish and about a hundred others splintered all over the course behind. From then the racing remained pretty well full-gas with quite a fight to stay in the front rotation of the echelon and out of the gutter. For a good bit the front remained within reach but slowly and surely they progressed out of sight. By the 100km point we had lost 3 minutes and our group was pulled. There were only 40 or so that finished.
So, I got my first taste and loved it. Surely this was one of the coolest races I’ve done, the all out, no BS style of racing is just wicked and racing on the cobbles is incredible. I’m looking forward to next weekend. I will take what I learned here and aim to move up the results sheet. Saturday I have another Dutch klassiker, the Ronde Van Zuid Holland (other wise know as the Witte Cruis classic) and on Sunday I go to Belgium for the Kattekoers, a Lotto Topcompetitie. Oh shit yeah!
Each of the past days I have arrived home from training to follow the beginning of this year’s spring classics season on television. These pictures, often distorted by the muck and wet that’s been sprayed up onto the camera lens, serve as a reminder of how downright awesome this style of racing is.
If ever the cliche of sport as war is to ring true, it is a cycle race out in the fields of Northern Europe. On small roads covered in mud and shit, twisting back and forth over kasseien and bergs and blasted by the fierce wind and near incessant rain, riders engage in a death match. They launch assault after assault upon one another in a rolling chess match as their wits and strength are progressively dulled by the accumulating kilometres and cold. Racing here is no holds barred; there are no alterior objectives or secondary motivations, all cards are thrown on the table and the last man, the best man, standing wins. In the words of Belgian TV, “No balls, No Glory”
Nearing the finish of a classic, rarely more than a few remain. The others have been left behind defeated; now worthless to the deciding of the race. Some, too shattered to continue, climb in the team car or worse yet the broomwagon, their will and their bodies broken by the harshness of the race. Others band together in small groups of suffering, adversaries no more, they toil towards the personal dignity of the finish line.
In the finale of one of these races, we witness cycling in its purest, rawest form. The select few engage in man to man combat, bludgeoning one another half dead with all of their remaining might. If a rider falters and his brought to his knees, he is kicked with the power to kill. If his head rises up from the ground, a last gasp of life… kick him again ‘til he’s dead.
Finally, the winner will emerge, mustering an extra motivation from deep within himself, he finds an extra force to do something special and set himself apart. He will emerge from the fog and cross the line first, exit from all of the chaos, the risk, and the suffering of the race with arms a loft… the champion. Is there are a greater glory?
For now, I watch but soon I will race and am intent on proving myself in this arena. I am motivated for the fight and ready for the beltings. One day I want to be first and cross the line a winner.