Saturday, June 05, 2004


I pushed the envelope this week in that I did two races, with another one planned next Tuesday. I'm trying to get in as many as possible before the Tour madness takes over in July. Pity, because July's a good month for racing here.

Today's (Saturday) race was in Laarne (where I'm from the USA), about 15 km east of Gent depending on how lost you get riding to the start. I didn't get too lost so it was only 12 km. I got lost later on though. I remember I raced on this weekend last year in Zwijnaarde, which is only 5 km from my place. But I had bad memories of a 70 degree corner with a speed hump around it, so I opted for Laarne. In hindsight it was a harder course, but I guess I had a better race. In fact it was one of the hardest courses I've done here. Luckily it wasn't wet, just windy (but sunny).

The course. 6.7 km x 17 laps. Sounds easy enough until we actually rode it. Lots of speed humps (verkeersdrempels); 13 corners a lap, including one where everyone took the shortcut along the narrow bike path, only to have to jump off the gutter on the other side, but if you went the full way around, you would lose 30m; and COBBLES. Yes, we rode up the length of Laarne's cobbled Dorpstraat which felt like it was 3km long but was probably only 500m. But at the end, we turned sharp left and went across another 500m of cobbles, although these were the lighter red paver variety. Would have been ok but for all the raised round metal platforms. Even the asphalt roads had big bumps!

So all this probably explains why there were only 30 starters, as most had the sense to go to Zwijnaarde. But if I had the choice next year, I'd probably still race in Laarne because I'm a glutton for punishment.

We merrily set off and after about 500m the attacks started, in preparation for the first crossing of the cobbles. I assumed the position about 2/3 of the way back and just tried to ride like Johan Museeuw softly-softly across the cobbles, failing miserably of course. My cornering wasn't quite up to par today, and the bike path-gutter jump corner gave me a lot of grief (as it did the others).

After about half an hour we were still hanging together, but there had already been veel attacks, most of which were instigated by the "local" John Saey team, which had 50 riders in the race and all of them in every attack. I'm exaggerating for the sake of the story. I never do that normally.

Things started to fragment into bigger bits on the cobbles, and I found myself with a couple of others trying to chase 13 leaders. The gap was 10-15 seconds and I was well into the 180+ Danger Will Robinson Danger red zone so I was trying to look incognito and not do too much. Hard when there's only three. Thankfully were were joined by a few more over the next laps, with the leaders still 10 seconds in front.

We had seven of us and I knew this was a golden opportunity to make the front group FOR ONCE but although I could suffer at 180-185, there was nothing extra in the tank for that final jump. One guy almost dragged us all the way to the leaders, but didn't finish it off. Damn him, as I was on his wheel! Gradually, every single one of my group jumped across the small gap and made contact, and I was left with one old guy (seriously, he looked a lot older than any of the guys on the Schelde and they're all 50 plussers!).

It was depressing. He was stronger. The gap was 5 seconds and he was urging me on but neither of us could redline it enough to make the junction, where we would have had a bunch to sit on at the same speed. We continued for several laps like this before eventually the elastic snapped and the leaders went out to 30 seconds, then a minute then more. My chasing partner had spent his bikkies by this stage but once I got below 180 again, I started to come good and could lift the speed and do stronger turns. Order was restored :-)

One lap later we picked up another guy in a purple skinsuit who had been dropped from the front group and the two of us took over the workload while our venerable companion sat on. On the ninth lap I found I could ride a bit faster over the cobbles, and actually dropped him a bit but he got back on. At the end of the lap, we got the one lap to go signal and the third guy proceeded to really wind it up over the cobbles, gradually riding away from me and definitively dropping Mr 80+. That'll show the old bugger. God I hope I'm that fit when I'm his age. I've gotten used to it over here. Older masters riders aren't really like that in Australia, let me tell you!

Anyway I caught Mr Purple skinsuit on the second chunk of the cobbles and we proceeded to press our advantage home. I'm sure the old guy would have beaten me in the sprint. Mr Purple smoked me so I finished up with 20th. That was a lot tougher than the race in Bottelare. Average heart rate was 176 (dunno how long I was over 180 but it was a while), max was 190, and that wasn't in the sprint. I thought my max was 189 but clearly I haven't been trying hard enough. Actually when I'm fresh after a layoff I can hit 192.

Then I went for a cruise (and got lost) with Reinhard Vanspeybroeck, a Belgian/Aussie who I know from Perth. He's setting up an Aussie pie shop in downtown Gent, just down the road from the Vooruit, and official opening night is Monday, June 14. I'm there baby!

Reinhard races too, but he hasn't for a while due to getting things in order for the great pie unveiling. This is a first for Gent. He's hoping it'll take off like the Turkish kebab places and I wish him luck. I'll definitely be dropping in for a few pies.

Speaking of food, my great Stew is no more. I couldn't face it for a fourth night (tomorrow) so I ate the rest of it today. It wasn't so bad and I haven't got botulism yet so it's definitely one for the regular recipe book.

Hmm, it's 1:42am which means it's late. Well I don't have to get up early tomorrow at least. Maybe a quiet cruise on the second lap of the Schelde.

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