Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Lovendegem, or Chopin's Nocturne Op posth.

It's still hot, Damn Hot. 33 degrees at 6:00pm according to my Polar S725 HRM (tm). It's the heat you know.

Yes that's right, another race report! Why? Because I just raced my third race in nine days, but from now on will space it out a bit. Starting with this report, which I can assure you will be spaced out.

The title is full of hidden meaning, as all my titles are. Let me deconstruct it. Firstly, Lovendegem refers to a place approximately 15 km from Gent, and I didn't get lost either so it was in fact 15 km via the north circular, as Bazza McKenzie would say.

I did this race last year and was sort of looking forward to it, as it's on a nice 10.5 km loop (10 laps) with long straights but one pretty hairy cobbled corner. I really don't think cobbles should be cornered. It's also a fun race because it starts at 6pm or 18:00 hrs in the new speak, which means that the finish is around 8:30pm or 20:30, which means I didn't get home until 9:56pm or 21:56. And it was still light!

Hence the Nocturne part of the title, and it has to be Chopin because I like Chopin. The Op posth. refers to how I feel after the race i.e. like death (warmed up today). Legs were good though.

I seem to be repeating myself but it was 33 degrees celsius or 306 kelvin on the start line, along with 48 other riders. There were 15 (mostly Aussies) from the notorious Kingsnorth International Wheelers, a team run by the inimitable Staf Boone, mostly full of anglos, that is based in Gent. It has a few Belgians too, one of which (Hans Ardeel) won the race in Zwijnaarde on Saturday. Mario Willems (John Saey) and Stefan Vermeersch (Mez) were there too, and they could be seen concocting a cunning plan before the start.

We set off at high speed (50-55 km/h) as there was a tailwind for the first bit. Halfway through the first lap, the peloton had split into three big bits which didn't bode well for me, as I was in the third bit. Oops.

By the end of the lap, the front two groups had come together and we were about 30 seconds behind them and I thought it was all over red rover. But it was only the first lap, so I went to the front and helped get the train working smoothly. We averaged 45 km/h on lap 2 and picked up the leaders, who weren't really working hard to stay away. I was back in the race. Life begins anew!

But the attacks continued non-stop and it was keihard. Much tougher than last year, when the bunch more or less stayed together and we finished in a bunch sprint. I went with the ones that I could, as that's the only way to get in the right break, but the terrible heat and the blocking tactics by Kingsnorth and the Litouwers (Lithuanian team) were making it tough. After halfway, the race had broken up into lots of little bitty pieces, and there were about 20 guys up the road in various bunches while I was with the peloton, wondering why my heart rate kept going above 180.

I actually needed an extra bottle today, but unfortunately I have no begeleider (assistant/handler) to give me one. I have a licence for one with Janet Jones printed on it (sorry ma, had to put someone on the application form) so if anyone wants to be Janet Jones for a few races and...er...happens to live in the vicinity of Gent, then they can have the card. I have no idea why you need a licence card to give someone a water bottle during a race, but watching some of the handups today I think some of the begeleiders need to be better trained.

"Don't wiggle the bloody bottle all over the place, hold it still!" quoth Kingsnorth's Andrew Benson on about lap 5 as his begeleider withdrew the bottle into his chest just as Andrew was about to grab it. Result: dropped bottle and Andrew has no water left.

Verily, Andrew waxed sorely pissed about this unfortunate turn of events, especially as it was still 305K in the shade. The same thing happened on the next lap, hence there was only one thing left for him to do: attack you fool!!

At this stage, there were three guys dangling about 20 seconds in front of us including Don Gamble (Kingsnorth), a Litouwer and a Belgie. We won't mention the other 20 guys up the road because for the purposes of this race report, they didn't exist any more. If a break goes in the forest and no-one is there to mark it, did it really happen?

As Benson proceeded to motor across to the "leaders" - sans water but with a lighter bike, always look at the positive - I thought 'bugger it, this lot hasn't shown much interest of late in this terrible, terrible heat, so why don't I hurt myself for the nth time and attack?' Surprisingly my legs agreed and it was the tailwind so I caught Mr Benson, esq. just before the cobbled corner and then had to re-catch him because I was cod ordinary around that corner on every lap.

Not a problem. The ol' ticker was doing about 185 so I still had a good 5 bpm spare. In hand, if you like, for when it got really hard. It got really hard when we caught the other three as the Litouwer was sitting on the back. a) He had teammates in front. Join the club, mate! b) He had teammates behind. Ditto.

So there were four of us working, but with Andrew and Don there, it was almost as if we were riding on the Schelde. In fact, Don said "It's almost as if we were riding on the Schelde." He has great insight, Our Don.

So there we were, me swapping off at some ridiculous HR - never below 185 and I even hit 191 a couple of times. The heat typically adds 5-10 beats to one's HR but not to one's max. Real raw deal, I say.

I looked back and the rest of the peloton weren't too close, but then I saw a flash of yellow, blue and red and Lo! Two Litouwers had extracted themselves from the bunch and had bridged up to us in a very short space of time. I thought 'cool, two more guys to work' but this gay ambience only lasted a kilometre or so before first one, then the other attacked us and rode off in pursuit of the next bunch. But we were getting on so swell! It was as if we didn't exist. At the time it reminded me of a quantum tunneling effect. I mentioned this to Benson afterwards and he gave me a strange look.

I am not entirely clear when this happened, but it was probably on lap six. The remaining Litouwer with us now had a good excuse to sit on again, and who were we to argue? And so, the pain continued but at a slow pace because we were a bit cooked and wanted the race to end sooner rather than later.

After coming through at the end of lap 7 with a 3'15 disadvantage to the leaders, we thought lap 8 would be the laatste ronde. We were actually catching a group in front of us, that the Litouwers had probably leapfrogged too, but were stopped by a train crossing signal about 500m after the start/finish. Yea, verily once again forsooth, we waxed sorely pissed, especially when the Litouwer jumped through the crossing and nearly got creamed by the train. He would have been disqualified anyway.

Luckily it was only 20 seconds wait, so the bunch behind us didn't quite get us. Once we got going again, Benson really drove it and we caught the Litouwer and gave him an earful. Unfortunately there was no commissaire there to witness the train crossing so we had to just deal with it in a manly beach fashion.

With about 1km to go, Benson sort of accelerated and I sort of followed him. 'Attack' would be too kind a word to use at this stage. Don "Let's Gamble" stopped pedalling behind and we had enough of a gap to stay away. I didn't bother sprinting around Benson as he had earned the 25th place more than me. It was zero financial difference anyway.

Don was a little annoyed that the Litouwer jumped him for 27th, when by rights he should have been DQ'd. But we couldn't really argue the point with the commissaire as there were no other witnesses. Didn't matter enough to Our Don.

Winner: Hans Ardeel by 10 seconds over Mario Willems. Funny that. I would have liked to have been privy to their pre-race chat.

Heart rate: averaged 180 for the whole 2 hours 5 minutes. I have never done that before for that long (and I thought Laarne was hard). That's about 94% of max. Oh well, it's interesting to find out one's limits.

Once again I'm rich beyond my wildest dreams with the princely sum of 9 euros. Since it only costs 3 euros to race and about 1 euro for the packet of dextro-energy tablets which I either ate or dropped, then I conclude that racing kermises is a win-win situation. I mean, I've more than doubled my money three times in the last nine days. It doesn't take a financial genius to work out that that is far more worthwhile than investing in the stock market or buying a house. Bricks and mortar? That's old hat. I'm doing it my way.

The real problem is getting to sleep after getting home at 20:56 or 9:56pm in the old speak. Even writing two blog entries in a day won't help that. Incoherent, yes. Tired, no.

Speaking of the terrible heat, it appears that I'm not the only one to suffer in it. In Stage 2 of the Dauphine, even Tyler Hamilton was having problems holding onto the front group, while Pena, Rogers, Basso, Hincapie, Jaksche, Cooke, Bartoli, Miller, Dekker, Ekimov, White, Freire were all dropped! Allez Mayo, that's what I reckon.

As it's still about 25 degrees outside, I'm listening to Schubert's Winterreise, which is a very fine piece of music and chills the soul somewhat.

I'd better quit while I'm ahead. Please email me your begeleider applications post-haste. No offer is considered too small!


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