Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Jeff TV (and a race in Deftinge)

Today is a Great Day and will go down in the annals of history as a Significant Moment in the Chronicles of Jeff the Younger.


I have CABLE TV!!

I have therefore joined the other 10 million people in Belgium who are able to view nearly 30 channels from all around the world. Well, Europe mainly. There are even Home Shopping channels, which I accidentally deleted with my new found remote control skills. Damnation.

The Reason? Well, being such a cheapskate, I have held off until now and put up with two very fuzzy channels (TV1 and Canvas) using an internal aerial. Now that's what I call cheap. But funnily enough, you can see nearly all the cycling on these channels, so it was OK...until now.

Due to the fact that too much sport is never enough, the powers that be in Belgium have created a new "temporary" channel for the summer called Sporza. They've basically shunted everything off TV1/Canvas onto this new channel, and will be using it for the next few months, including the Tour and the Olympics. So my hand was forced, as it were. Didn't actually cost that much anyway :-)

I got it connected last Thursday but of course it didn't work straight off, and I didn't think it was because my TV on/off button doesn't stay "on". I need a light bulb and a few dictionaries to hold it in position. The cable guy came today and there was a lot of discussion about what the problem was, including waking up my downstairs neighbour (hey it was bloody midday!) to ask if her TV worked. It did, so why the bejeezus didn't mine? I demand an enquiry like the one the Aussies are gunna do into Marky Mark French and the Funky Bunch. Ooh boy, that looks fun and does not bode well for certain members of the Olympic team. I'll leave it at that or I'll get into trouble.

The cable guy replaced all the cables downstairs and the outlet box upstairs and Lo! I have a working cable TV setup with 30 channels of multi-European crap. I was annoyed because I missed Der Kaiser winning the Tour de Suisse by one tiny second. Gotta feel sorry for Jeker - Swiss boy, rides for a Swiss/Spanish sponsor based in Lugano, and he cracks in the last kilometre and loses about 5 seconds to Herr Ullrich. He's 35 and probably won't get that chance again. But I was still going for Jan :-)

After viewing this photo and this one, I've decided to go on a strudel, schnitzel and bier diet. Last year, Der Kaiser finished 7th in the Tour de Suisse at 2'27, then went onto finish second in the Tour de France at 1'01. This year? I'm putting €3.47 on Jan to win.


Today, being Monday and all and an official Jeff's Day Off, I opted to do something a bit different racing fixture-wise: An Open race in Deftinge, which is not actually 15 km from Gent. It's 15 km from Zottegem, so I caught the train to Zottegem in order to get the correct number of kilometres in. An Open race means that pretty much anyone can rock up and race; you can even get a day licence. So in addition to the normal Elites zonder contract (me), there were Masters and Amateur riders. For all intents and purposes it was very similar to a kermis, except it was a tad slower and a tad shorter (94 km). Still a whole lotta attacking.

We had 59 starters and I honestly had no idea what the quality of the field was and how they would race, although I did notice a couple of guys from the Schelde ride including Mr still-hellishly-fit-ex-prof Eric Van De Wiele. There were also a few Arse Sport riders. Excellent. The course was 7.8 km (12 laps) with 11 corners, four hills, one longish false flat and some cool descents. It was quite a tough course, but that's always good.

I started at the back in order to get a feel for the course and the race. After about 2 km I realised that the back wasn't a good place to be, as the course was too difficult. The pace wasn't super high - we averaged 40 km/h which is probably 1-2 km/h slower than a kermis would have been that course. But there was still plenty of attacking and a lot of really slow riding in between the attacks. Same style I guess, but fewer riders willing to put it on the line and attack. Rijden jongens, rijden!

Lap 2 was used to get forwardly mobile and position myself strategically 20 wheels back. This was a better place to be, and opened up countless opportunities to attack or follow attacks, and naturally I took advantage of this prime real estate. But for some or many reasons, my synchronisation wasn't happening today, and I'd always pick the wrong places on the course to attack and end up in the moves that weren't going to work if you paid them.

I eventually figured out using my phenomenal Brian Space there were actually only 2 decent places to attack and get a proper gap, even though there were plenty of hard bits of the parcours. By the time I had reached this rather crucial conclusie, there were 15 guys up the road - including Van De Wiele - dangling agonisingly close (30 sec-1 min) but agonisingly far for a solo bridge attempt. Solo bridging is hard because you have to play three other hands even though one ends up being dummy and so you end up bidding against yourself with the infamous "5 No Clubs" or worse. Then you have to ruff the Ace of Spades using the Two of Diamonds which is dashed tricky, especially when neither you or your partner has the Two of Diamonds in their hand. The trick is to bid Slam No Trumps and then no-one will bother outbidding you any more. And DON'T EVER ADMIT that you play the Short Club. That's a big no-no.

... (A pause to digest this)

At this point, you can probably tell I'm onto the Leffe Blond, which is not my first beer of the evening.

Back to the tale. By halfway, the leaders had about a minute and I suspected they were gone for good. Turns out I was right. Quelle insight Batman. Why didn't I stick to Mr Van De Wiele who prolly knows a thing or two about racing? I could ponder this on the way home.

But there was still Honour and Glory and €10 to be had for the 16th place, and Our Gallant British Lads did not surrender! We actually split the peloton (which was still depressingly large) with 4 laps to go, but only 3 of us were working and that wasn't good odds, even on a hard parcours. But peoples were starting to get tired and with about 2 laps to go everyone suddenly slowed and I kinda moseyed - sidled, if you will - off the front on the false flat after the start/finish. It wasn't an actual attack, per se, but sometimes these sneaky moves actually work.

I was joined by another dude before long, and he actually worked with me so that was good. We put a handy 15 seconds into the peloton, although another guy in a smart fluoro green outfit was trying to bridge across, solo. We let him, because three is always better than two. Especially when the first dude conked out and told us he couldn't do any more. Shoulda thought of that before you came with us mate! Een beetje respect, jongen.

The fluoro guy and I worked for the last lap to make sure the bunch didn't get us and they didn't, which was rather satisfying. We actually put 30 seconds into the chasing group behind and 1'15 into the bunch in general in the last two laps. After the last climb we could see the next group about 20 seconds in front of us, but there was less than 2 km to go at that point so you can do the mathematics.

I can too, but it didn't stop me from attacking the other two as soon as we got over the hill. I don't do sprints. The gap wasn't big enough though, and I throttled it back to save a little for the end, which was 300m uphill then 200m downhill. That worked well, because the fluoro guy led out and it wasn't too difficult to pass him. So 16th place and a princely sum of €10 was mine for the taking. Given that it cost €3 to race, €2 for my squeezy gel and three dextro energy tablets, and €7.40 for the train fare, I think I lost out. My rock solid financial nouse falls to pieces when I catch the train to a race. OTOH, I've finished in the money in every race bar three this season, so that's not too bad.

Cruised 35km home via Zottegem and it didn't rain so I was happy as larry. Never met larry. It was a rather pleasant evening actually. Almost no traffic, some nice late evening sunshine and idyllic Flemish countryside to ride through. I got home at 10:30 and it was still light(ish)!

It's the summer solstice today (well, yesterday) so I could have been one of the 19,000 grimpils who gathered at Stonehenge today and participated in some pagan rites. That would have been some larx. Given that I spent a couple of formative years living in nearby Salisbury, I can definitely empathise with these folks.

Bloody bunch of loonies.

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