Held in the province of Gronigen, in the north of the Netherlands; the Ronde van Veenkolonien is run around a maze of tiny roads that weave through the region’s fertile farmland. In the technical guide, the organizer has no need to include an altitude profile as the there is hardly a metre gained or lost in the entire route.
After a false start in Haarlemerliede, I needed to put in a better performance in this, my second classic of the year.
For the first two hours of the race the peloton was a swarm of bumping and jostling as every rider fought for the front at fifty kilometres per hour. Having moved past the shock of my earlier races, I managed to stay poised and maintained a good position in the bunch without burning many bullets.
While the day was breezy, the really decisive Dutch wind was missing so the peloton managed to reform and stay largely intact despite breaking into echelons on several occasions.
In the chaos of attacking in these early hours, a group of ten to fifteen managed to get away and build up a bit of an advantage.
With a group up the road and eighty-odd kilometres to go, things started to settle in as riders tired from the aggressive start. Sensing an opportunity, I went to the fore just as a group drilled it into a cross-wind section and broke free from the peloton.
In this group, I was with fifteen or so riders and we had momentum on our side as all save one contributed to the effort.
I was in a great position, we were coming up to the leaders and I still felt fresh, but I made sure to conserve my energy and not do too much in the chase as I was wary that, without any real races in my legs beforehand, my condition was not good enough to pull any superman-stunts.
Coming into the finale, the early break had split several times and we had picked off the dropped riders, leaving only a few ahead.
Then, as we got inside the last twenty kilometres, the group started to ride very negatively. We had enough of an advantage on the peloton and a few teams were intent on setting up a sprint. I had my hands tied; I was alone, it was too early to attack and try and make a difference by myself, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pull the others to the line. So we dawdled, a group of ten came across, I waited and waited, we got inside the last five kilometres, and I decided to give it a crack. The first two times I attacked came to nought and I was swiftly brought back into the fold but inside two to go I went again and this time forged a good advantage with one other rider. Unfortunately, our momentum was lost as he took a wrong turn on one of the final round-abouts and I lost a few seconds processing what the heck had just happened.
Spent from the effort, I was not in position for the sprint and finished at the rear of the group in 32nd place.
The result is nothing to write home about but I have to be satisfied with my effort. I rode a smart and aggressive race, made it to the finale and was able to attack. This indicates that my early season form is solid and gives me a lot of motivation for the events ahead.
It requires all of one’s wits to race at the front of a klassieker. In the thick of the action, the mind enters a state of hyperawareness where senses are heightened and actions become almost automatic. The environment up front is extremely dynamic and even the slightest hesitation, just a moment taken for mental respite, is likely to send one arrears.
After a winter away, my racing instincts have been dulled. Today, in the peloton, where swift, assertive action is needed, I was a half-step behind. In a waaier koers, there is no forgiveness; from the gun, throttles are opened and the game is on until echelons form in the wind. Today, I was too far back when the peloton split. At that point, it was over, despite a protracted effort to make it across to the front selection.
While not many made it to the line, I wasn’t one of them and that is disappointing. Naturally, I can’t expect to come out firing on all cylinders in the first race of the year but missing the battle is a let down. I feel strong physically but there’s no doubt that I need to spend some more time in the trenches to sharpen my wits.
At its heart, cycling is about the exploration of landscape; surely, cycling is unmatched as a means of experiencing a diversity of geography in a visceral way.
As a cyclist invested heavily in the sport, illness and injuries are incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, I ran into both of these this past week.
After last weekend’s competition in Belgium, I ended up with a really sore hip flexor. Early season racing always makes one susceptible to minor afflictions as muscles, joints, and tendons are overstressed in the wet and cold. This case, however, was enough to keep me from training properly for the whole week and left me lying in bed at night with aching pain. It was not pleasant.
I rode very lightly for an hour or two each day and things improved progressively , then, on Friday, I woke up with an infection in my throat. Shit.
I tried riding but felt awful on the bike, leaving me with a conundrum to face; to race or not to race.
After a long deliberation, I reluctantly picked up the phone and pulled myself from the weekend’s racing.
I hated making the decision, but it was probably for the best; pushing too soon could have put me back several weeks. I feel a lot healthier today and was able to train normally. I’ll remain cautious but it seems like I’m back on track.
So, I had a false start and now my classics season will get underway next weekend in Haarlemmerliede.
Hectic, nervous racing was the story of this past weekend but that is the nature of the sport here in the spring. For me, being back in a frantic peloton was a rush in itself; both days drew huge fields (250 plus) and everyone was chopping and fighting for every position. At first, my reactions in the bunch were a bit dull, as is to be expected in one’s first races, but before long all of the familiar instincts began to come back and I was up in the thick of the action.
Saturday’s race, Molenbeek-Wersbeek, was 112km long ‘round a large, straightforward loop of 7km with a bit of a hill in it. Early on a group got away and from then on the race was a series of chaotic attacks and parrying moves that never really got anywhere. I waited until the last couple of laps to get involved, joining a few attacks up the hill and into the cross wind section but each escape brought out only a few riders and was shortly brought back into the fold. The race finished with a peloton sprint just behind the early breakaway and I finished in the middle of the bunch, not ready to risk the fracas at the front of the sprinting group.
Sunday’s kermesse, Neerlinter- Heide, was marked most notably by the atrocious weather. I wore more clothes than I have ever raced in and still I was soaked and frozen to the bone. Despite the rain and the cold, another big field of hardy Flemish (and spattering of other nationals) was brave enough to take to the start and fight for the finish line. The course was flat and fast and in the wet you could barely see anything. For the most part, I wasn’t a protagonist in the race; the field was aggressive but I waited in the peloton ‘til the end where I played a few cards in the final three laps but all was for nought as peloton stayed together to the finish line. Again, I lost confidence in the last couple of kilometres and opted out of the sprint . Coming across the finish line at the tail of the bunch, I was in a pretty sorry state; I’d hardly had a gulp of drink or a bite to eat and mud and grit was pasted all over my bike and body, filling every available cranny. Still now, two days later, I am picking sand out from my eyes.
All in all, it was a decent start. I felt strong and was less shocked by the accelerations and necessary leg-speed of racing than I have been at the beginning of previous seasons. I quickly found my way again in the peloton and am confident that my level will rise over the next few weeks.
I race next this coming Saturday at the Witte Kruis Klassieker in Den Haag, my first classic of the year.
Like an alcoholic craving the first drink of the night, when I close my eyes right now, I taste blood, metallic in my mouth.
My season gets swinging this weekend with a couple of kermis koersen in Belgium. It has been a long winter and I’m chomping at the bit to get racing.
The whole atmosphere is flooding back to me; the nerves and the adrenaline mixed in with the smell of liniment and the din of honking horns and hollering locals.
This is what I do it for; I fucking love bike racing.