Sunday, June 27, 2004

A celebratory blog or three

Ik ben a tad moe, maar gelukkig na mijn laatste koers voor de Ronde van Frankrijk. Yes, today (Saturday) was my last race before the Tour madness takes over in July, and it turned out to be a good one that called for some post race celebratory drinkypoos. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Somehow I think that it wouldn't have affected the quantity of beer consumed.

But first, to the footy and stuff.

Europe appears to be in the grip of footy mania, also known as Euro 2004. Kinda like the World Cup but not quite as big. I only realised it was on the other day when Portugal beat the poms which was strangely gratifying. It's the quarterfinals and today was Sweden versus The Netherlands.

I generally can't stand soccer so I didn't watch much of it. I think I turned it on with 8 minutes to go and it was still nil all. I couldn't bear all the excitement so I turned it off. Then about half an hour later I turned it back on and it was still nil all and each side was taking turns booting the footy somewhere in the vicinity of the opposing team's goalie. I'm not sure I understand the attraction. I think the Dutch finally got it past the Swedes and that was it.

Today's Match of the Day report was brought to you by Hoegaarden and Maes.


Firstly, I'm not going to explain how to pronounce Zwijnaarde, suffice to say that it's only 5 km from my place, so it presented an ideal diversion from a somewhat heavy day worth of national championships.

TV interlude: Chantal Beltman (2nd in the Dutch women's RR) has braces. Hmm. Rabobank's Thomas Dekker the Younger and Bas Giling 1-2'd them in the U23 RR and Giling won. Nice. I can watch several championships tomorrow on my newly working TV. Cool.

Back to TMF. By the way, I'm not actually doing this reportage under the influence, despite the celebratory repast pictured below:

Who needs champers? Beer and chocolate ice cream are all we require. Sorry about the dodgy background.

A closer inspection of this photo and these results reveals that somehow I managed to swindle fourth place in the race. I think my previous best in a kermis was about 12th way back in 1999 when I was riding "full time", and since then I've dreamed of finishing top 10. Thus today took me a bit by surprise.

It was a weird day. I had spent the morning working on news and didn't really feel in the mood for a race, mentally more than physically. It's been a very busy month with a lot of late nights (hmm, I wonder why?) and I wanted to get this last race out of the way so I could have a bit of a break before doing some more in August.

The weather was weird too. It was overcast but not too windy, unlike a couple of days ago. But we had this strange rain that kept falling throughout the race, although it was never enough to make the roads wet. It was annoying me, and I'm not easily annoyed by the weather.

There were only 25 starters and a few strong riders, including Christophe Bracke (John Saey), Didier De Lannoy (Maximize), Tom Vlerick (St Martinus), Bart Velghe (Keukens Redant) and Andries Verspeeten (Jong Vlaanderen 2016). There were also 10 Kingsnorth International Wheelers(!), plus another ring-in kiwi and pommy, which meant half the bloody field was anglo! Matt Chessum (an Aussie) was one of them and he's always consistently in the top few. AKIRA Wong was there too, but no Welsh Mari Lywd today. Maybe he was singing in the dudelsack skele-chor. Dem bones, dem bones dem...dry bones! enzovoort.

Musical interlude: Kraftwerk!! very fine.

Course: 19 laps of 6.15 km, 10 corners, lots of speed humps and a short cobbled section with a kink in it after the start/finish. This is all according to my speedo which may or may not be accurate as I don't think it's calibrated for Einsteinian relativity and Hartree-Fock Theory. I haven't yet done much testing of its quantum tunnelling capacity as I only got it the other day after my other one finally went bung. I also got a new rear tyre after Henk's fietstocht - it's an orange and black Maxxis Un Categorie. Hate the colour but the tyres are generally excellent.

Oh dear this is really rambling. Get to the point man. I'm watching monkeys trying to type out the complete works of Bill Shakespeare on keyboards on MTV. It's not working. I am one of those monkeys. I have now turned off the TV and my head suddenly feels better.

Start: Rolled out, and straight away Bart Velghe attacked, allegedly inspired by a bunch of beautiful girls, and he spent the next three laps in front as is his wont. There was an interesting cheer squad at the start/finish - I think a whole lotta cyclotourists rocked up and had a few beers. Very loud. Especially when they got on the PA! Funny though.

After we caught Big Bad Bart he started yelling at everyone in general for the rest of the race. Maybe he was yelling when he was out in front too. I really don't know why he does this as it creates unnecessary tension. I think he should be more considerate of others' delicate feelings. He also had a tendency to do turns and/or attack in the 53x12 (a rather big gear for those unfamiliar with the jargon). It didn't matter how fast we were going, here was Bart mashing away in a monstrous gear, showing us all that he was super strong. And yelling. Make the yelling stop please. Calm blue ocean.

I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this is merely part of his character makeup. I will not cast aspersions on the Bartman. Nup. Not I, sonny Jim TV.

So the usual attack-fest followed, and I went with one or two but I got the idea that people were anxious to keep things together for a bit. Didier De Lannoy went with (at least) every attack and probably more that I didn't count. He was strong and I noted this on a piece of paper. Christophe Bracke was always there too, but he punctured and was somewhat peeved, as he probably would have won today.

After a bit, three guys got 20-30 seconds on us: AKIRA Wong, Andries from Jong Vlaanderen 2016 (very cool jersey) and Michel Dult. We sorta moseyed along behind them, keeping the gap constant for a few laps before things het up at halfkoers. Tom Vlerick, Bart Velghe and Didier bridged up in quick time, then Matt Chessum (playing the dummy hand today) steamed across on his own. A couple of other guys got up and there were suddenly eight in front because AKIRA was knackered from being in the early break and came back to the fold.

Despite having 10 guys in the race, Kingsnorth only managed to get one rider (Matt) in the break. However, they still didn't bother chasing so on the next lap, I had a bit of a go with a couple of other dudes and although we thought the front eight were gone for good, somehow we got across to them without killing ourselves. Proof that my speedo and I can do quantum tunneling and Hartree-Fock Theory.

"You can't do it alone," said the Belgian dude (possibly Steven Goossens) with the funky multicoloured long socks on the previous lap before we attacked. He was right and I am glad for his insight and wisdom.

Anyway, once I recovered from the shock of actually closing the gap to the front group, I thunk to meself, 'This is a bit of alright,' (sorry, get confused with grammar and tenseness). Why? Because there were now 11 of us and I could see the police car in front, which meant that I was actually in the kopgroep and with a realistic shout of a top 10 for the first time ever in the History of the World Part I. We weren't deep in the final yet though...

Being somewhat paranoid that the group behind would close the gap, I did a fair bit of work. I mean, it wasn't so hard for us to get across so why not them? So easy is it. Fortunately it didn't happen as I think we broke their spirit with such an audacious move.

The hemi-semi-demi-rain was really giving me the pip at this moment in time.

I think I was a bit lucky that there weren't too many toppers in the front group, as we rolled around pretty steadily for the next few laps, with Bart Velghe yelling at all and sundry. People started yelling back for fun and it was quite a family party atmosphere in our groepje. Silly hats, cocktail umbrellas and all.

Inspired by the lunatics on the start finish line, I even went for a prime (sprint cash prize of €12) on one of the laps, after seeing Didier take one on the previous lap. Unfortunately my synchronisation was off yet again, because after I charged across the line unchallenged (and got yelled at by Bart) I realised that the primes were only every second lap. D'oh! How misguided of moi.

Started to get the old cramp feeling in the last few laps, so I kept drinking my cold tea and water. No spare bottle today, as despite my generous offer a few weeks ago for someone to be my begeleider called Janet Jones, I did not receive many applications. None in fact. Not a sausage or a brass razoo (spelling has been corrected, thanks Josh). I think that's why I'm so bitter and drink tea.

Prime-less but still keen for a top 10, I kept beetling away until about 3 laps to go when the attacks started. Didn't really have the right kind of legs to make a Massive Attack but I tried and chased down a few. Didier seemed to have been in every one of them, and Matt Chessum was quite strong too. I think I was on the front just before the overpass bridge with 2 laps to go when Didier and Matt cleared out, and there was no stopping them. Yo later dudes!

By the end of the lap they had 20 seconds and we were definitely racing for third with 1 lap to go. Wow, never been in this situation before in a kermis! Surprisingly there were no more counter-attacks. Maybe people were subdued by the leaders having 30 seconds (by now) and more of Bart Velghe's yelling.

The finale was a bit tricky, as there were five corners in the last 1.5 km or thereabouts. I knew that the idea was to get to the second last corner in the lead, because it was very difficult to get past anyone in that last 400m. Despite this, almost everyone went past me before the third last corner and I thought that 10th was looking like a probable option. Somewhat fortuitously, someone (I think it was Bert De Wispelaere) attacked on the long straight with about 1 km to go, and as it was the first real attack, everyone chased...

Then I realised that I could execute my cunning plan and it took absolutely zero hesitation on my part to counter as hard as I could down the right side of the road. There was about 400m to go to the second last corner and my aim was purely to get there first. Only one guy got my wheel - Tom Vlerick - and he kept urging me ownard Christian soldiers! I didn't need that encouragement at all as I was playing the percentages. I definitely didn't care if he beat me for third!

Tom had no problems getting around me before the last corner and I followed him over the line for fourth, with the tenacious Bert De W. finishing fifth. Mr Velghe was 10th (and last of our group, as Andries' stem had come loose on the last lap). I'm sure Bart was not particularly gruntled with the way things panned out. In Bottelare I remember him crossing the line yelling "Klootzaken!". Here's a tip: only use your 53x12 for sprinting and switch to decaf.

Incredulous, I rolled back over the start/finish, congratulated Didier and then went into the rustic, open air kleedkamers to listen to the tales of woe from the Kingsnorth riders. Poor old Our Don Gamble had punctured too. Then I could pick up my fabulous prize in the back room upstairs. Cool!

Quelle fabulous prize! Should almost cover the tyres...

Note: There were no mentions of Arse Sport riders in this report because there weren't any in today's race. I repeat, there were no Arse Sport riders. Pity.

Oh dearie me it's late.

No comments: