Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Schellebelle: Deep in the final!

But first, a report on Reinhard Vanspeybroeck's Grand Opening of the Great Australian Bite: the first Aussie pie shop in Gent, and perhaps in Europe. Oohlala.

It was a grand occasion actually, as I cycled down to Walpoort Straat on a warm June evening on my completely untrustworthy MTB. Still got three busted spokes and the right pedal is threatening to walk out on me at any moment, but it's hangin' in there.

There were a whole lotta folks down at the Pie Shop when I got there, all scoffing pies which was very good to see. I mean, Belgians love their food but it's a bit less multicultural than in Sydney, where you can get a bloody awesome slap up Thai meal for about 5 bucks anywhere you like as long as it's King St. So it will be interesting to see how the Belgians take to the Great Aussie Pie.

Reinhard explained to me that most of the folks at the shop were Family, and I had a good chat to his dad who is Belgian, lives in Perth and had just been to China for a business thing. He also ran a cycling team a couple of years ago but it failed, even though he had some good Aussies like Luke Roberts on it. They couldn't hack the Belgian style of racing and were generally cod ordinary.

He has big plans for the Pie Shop though - he wants to franchise it and open shops all over Europa. Good on him, even though it was actually Reinhard's idea.

There was one other genuine Aussie there by the name of Ryan, but he had to bugger off early to meet some Swedish chick for a hot date. He's definitely got his priorities arse up, as you don't get free Aussie Pies every day but dates with hot Swedish chicks are a dime a dozen.

The "Aussie" thing is a bit of a furphy actually, as I was chatting to the Irish cook/entrepreneur dude, who said all the pies are imported from his business in England. hmmm. Well they still tasted like Aussie Pies and I didn't get food poisoning so I reckon it's double thumbs up for the Great Australian Bite!

Other things

I got the Kraftwerk Tour de France CD from mein liebe Schwester yesterday too. Very very cool and thanks sis! It's a must for any TdF/Kraftwerk fans, to state the bleedin' obvious. Think minimalist electronica, with French cycling terms spoken with an electronic German accent.

Speaking of the Tour, it's only two and a half weeks away. Jeez louise. At least Der Kaiser is still leading Tour de Suisse, so he's got my vote for LA challenger number one, followed by Tyler and hold the Mayo. I wish Ullrich's teammates would keep their bums firmly planted on their bikes. Vino and Steinhauser both out. Maybe Steinhauser will make it back in time for Le Tour.

And speaking of LA, the Posties announced their new sponsor today: Discovery Channel! Can you imagine? I can't wait to see the jerseys. I hope they put a wildebeest on it. Always been fond of wildebeests. It's a much better name than Gnu.

Drinking: Hoegaarden Grand Cru because I like it and it was cold. Also Chimay (Peres Trappists). Crikey this is powerful stuff. I'm running low on beer again. Must invest in more.


OK now to today's racing fixture in Schellebelle, which is probably 14 km from Gent as the crow flies. I'm not the crow and I can't fly so it was 19 km for me and my velo. However, I was listening to my The Crow CD this morning as psych up muzak. You see, everything is fundamentally interconnected. I was also getting into a bit of Nick Cave (Live Seeds) and I'm indebted to Anna for opening my eyes to Mr Cave (and the Cardigans!).

Anyway, I rocked up to Schellebelle's Dorp and the Cafe 't Steksken, where sign on was. The kleedkamers were up the road at the local footy field, so I found them and pinned the number on, did a couple of stretches et al and was ready to rock. They were playing Madonna's Holiday at the start, which is always good to get you in the mood for a balls-out kermis race.

There was no holding back today, that was for sure. 73 starters and plenty of good riders for 16 laps of a 7.1 km circuit with 9 corners/lap and a bit o' wind. There was an interesting crosswind section next to the railway line which I quite liked, but The Others didn't.

I started at the back and by the time I had clipped into my pedal, the first break had already gone. It was rather quick at the start and non-stop attacking, which is to be expected of course. I couldn't really be bothered but had a little dabble after about 3 laps and quickly thought better of it. Back to...oh jeez this beer's making it hard to think...purgatory towards the tail end of the bunch for me.

But that was ok. With a big bunch, you can sit back a bit as there's always guys chasing and the speed is generally high. You don't have to be quite as attentive unless you want to absolutely make the front group and I absolutely didn't want to today, despite feeling ok.

A group of 14 got away after maybe 5 laps and there wasn't much I could do about that, being about 50 riders back an' all. "Let 'em go, they'll die in the hills!" A great quote from a classic (and terrible) cycling movie.

We did just under 43 km in the first hour, which I thought was fast considering the course. But it got faster. After a few more laps I heard "peloton met achterstand van achtenveertig seconden (48 seconds behind)". Hmm, that means the 14 leaders would probably stay away and we'd fight it out for the nutritious kitchen scraps.

For the second time this year (in a race), I was proved wrong, as some teams had missed the break and were chasing. Godverdomme. It was probably Arse Sport. I kid you not, there is a cycling team with that printed on the bottoms of their knicks. It cracks me up, but apparently it's pronounced "Ar-Say" and has nothing to do with buttocks/bums/bottoms/arses. Sorry, this beer has fully taken hold now and there's nothing for it but to plough on with more mentions of Arse Sport.

After putting in a few 9'40 laps (about 44 clicks per hour in metric terms) we brought the break back to about 20 seconds. Then it just hovered there like the dark clouds overhead (note: this is atmosphere that I'm trying to create here) and we couldn't quite close the gap. Mainly because as soon as you get that close, people get it into their heads that they're going to close the 20 second gap themselves by attacking. It's rather stupid, as to close a 20 second gap at 44 km/h requires you to ride at 50 km/h for most of a lap. No way Jose.

So the chase sorta continued in stits and farts, and eventually the gap was closeable. I had a few goes in little groups, but I'd get about halfway across and hit the wall, so I fell back again into the Arse Sport end of the thinner peloton. But we - or more correctly They - closed it with about 5 laps to go and I was Truly Amazed.

Interlude: I noticed a Welsh guy today with Mari Lywd Llap Goch or something printed on his jersey. He was riding for Staf Boone's mob, sans the usual jersey. He did a bit of work but died in the Arse Sport near the end.

There were more attacks but the peloton was still pretty big and ugly, but another 10 guys got off the front and stayed there. I was starting to hurt a bit by then, but so was everyone else so there was empathy. After staying near the frontage I got myself into a nice little break just before the crosswind section with 2.753 laps to go. 3 of us chasing 3, then there were 6, then 9, including a few ARSE SPORT guys. That was cool.

"Komaan jongens. Allemaal fietsen! (everybody ride!)" I was a bit stuffed, but did what I could, making sure the Arse Sport team did their fair share. We were holding the peloton at bay by 5-10 seconds, but it was worth persisting for the greater good. Status quo for the last two laps, although I started to come good and do a few more turns. The cohesion was crap, but somehow we stayed in front of the peloton until the final kilometre. That meant I was in with a shout of 11th place DEEP IN THE FINAL. Very nice.

I did two turns too many in the last kilometre and blew myself a bit, so when they sprinted there was nothing left. The front part of the peloton just managed to latch on so I ended up 14th in the sprint, going backwards for Christmas the whole time. Still, that gave me 24th overall which was rather satisfying, especially as we did the 114 km in 2 hours 38 minutes and change (43.2 km/h). ow. The legs hurt een beetje in de aankomst.

When I went to claim my prize money, there was this...odd guy of about 60 who wanted to shake my hand, hug me and whisper in my ear. Or maybe I was supposed to do that. Maybe he'd won money on me with the bookies :-) These Belgians are crazy.

I rode back with a Californian Asian-American by the name of AKIRA Wong and the Welsh Mari Lywd. We didn't discuss manga and the Mari Lywd was knackered, as mentioned previously. Maybe he should eat more.

Don't arks me who won the election because I dunno. Probably Vlaams Blog.

I'm Trappist.

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