Sunday, September 04, 2005

Accordion magic

It has been brought to my attention (by none other than Briony Neilson) that I failed to mention a rather important part of our afternoon in Gent a week and a half ago: The accordion player. I've mentioned him now, but I suppose I should go into more detail.

By his colourful attire and his casual deportment, he struck me immediately as some sort of a travelling minstrel. I struck him back, but not before he had serenaded us (if you can do such a thing with an accordion) at our table where we were having hot chocolate and cake. To our concealed horror, he then had the audacity to ask for funds in a small plastic vessel. We waved him away and spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding him, requiring my mathematical skills to be utilised to a high degree, as I could calculate his expectation times based on a flimsy knowledge of his regular haunts.

That should suffice for the accordion player.

Another interesting development caught my eye at one of my local Delhaize supermarkets. I only go there when I do my washing (i.e. at least once a month), so I was surprised this week when I walked in and it had been redesigned. Basically, the fruit and veg section had been moved to one side a bit, and a whole lot of other fairly useless aisles had been sequestered in the name of a vastly expanded grog section. Instead of the finest Belgian table wines occupying a measly two half-aisles, there are now at least 10 or 20 aisles all bearing wine of the white, red and pink varietals. To my dismay, the beer section has not been expanded.

What it means for the average consumer is that there is less food available. Also, everything has been moved around and that can really bake your noodle if you're not careful. I noticed many elderly Belgians just wondering around lost, or some even rooted to the spot in shock because the Earl Grey teabags were two aisles down from where they were previously. Quite frankly, that side of it has been managed very poorly and I demand answers from the powers that be.


Just one race for me this week, in Zottegem-Erwetegem last Tuesday. I wanted to do it because a) it was hilly and b) I could cruise back to Scott and Sabine's place for dinner afterwards. Haven't seen them since about March, mostly because Scott has been on the road for much of the year. You think being a pro means time away from home? Try being a director!

It was a nice day (28 degrees) and I left at 12:30 with a big backpack for the 25-30 km ride to the start, which was scheduled for 14:00. But disaster struck halfway at Mortsele when the tubular on my front Zipp exploded! Bugger. I had a spare tub, but even if I had the time to put it on, I wouldn't have been able to race on it because you need to glue it. So I rode to Balegem where there was a bike shop, but unfortunately it was closed between noon and 14:00. Double bugger.

I was thinking of riding to Scott's to see if I could borrow a wheel when the door opened and the mechanic came out. I turned around and asked him if he could change my tyre, and luckily he agreed. But then I realised that there was no way I'd make it to the race in time and even if I did, I couldn't race on a tyre that hadn't been glued on properly. So I asked him if I could borrow a wheel just for the race and this fine gent agreed, and gave me an ancient box section clincher with about 60psi in it. In my haste, I forgot to pump it up a bit more, but I did make it to the start with about 20 minutes to spare and signed on as the 20th rider, just behind Nathan Dahlberg, who was doing his third race in a row to prepare for the Tour of Indonesia next week. Nathan rode the Tour (de France) with 7-Eleven in 1988, and told me that he'd done this same kermis 18 years ago, which makes it 1987, and finished third.

I was hoping for more than 20 riders because there is nowhere to hide in a bunch that small, and you end up on the rivet all the time. Even 30 is OK. Also, this course was hard enough as it was: 12.5 km lap to be done eight times, two climbs per lap, including a seemingly endless one up to the start/finish. It was about 2 km at maybe 4-5 percent, with a tailwind. The rest of the course seemed to be a headwind. The other climb was about 1 km and quite cool, going under a railway bridge and on some twisting roads until you got back up to the main road again. The whole circuit was sort of a figure eight, cutting on and off the main road between Zottegem and Brakel.

At the start, the commissaire asked us to stay together for a couple of laps, for obvious reasons. We sort of did on the first lap until Kurt Van Landeghem attacked on the bloody hill, and then it got a bit harder. We actually worked together for maybe another half lap and then the attacks started. It split to bits on the downhill leading to the main climb, and naturally I was in the wrong end of the bunch. There were six or seven ahead, and another couple attacked at the bottom of the climb to get up to them. I just glued myself to Nathan's wheel and we got onto the group before the top. The result was that we had dropped eight riders and I was left in the "front" group of 12. Better than being left behind!

We got into some sort of rhythm on the third lap, although people weren't afraid to attack a bit. At least on the climb we rode up at a steady pace, and I was even able to do a couple of turns. It gave me a false sense of confidence, but it probably helped. It was on lap 4 that things started to get painful, because the attacks started in earnest. I did my best, but it was impossible to stay out of trouble without being dropped. At the end of the lap, some total loony drove it on the finishing climb and had us all strung out for three quarters of it. I was swapping between my 53x19 and 17 because we were doing 36 km/h and it was seriously hurting. Heart rate = 192 hurting.

When whoever it was finally eased off, we all slowed down except for one clown who attacked. Argh. Bastard. That almost put me off the back at the top, but I chased back on again. Then it was only a matter of time. The next climb halfway through the lap was just about enough, and I was too slow out of the corner to stay in contact. I gave the only guy behind me a small handsling so he could get back on, as I was definitely cooked. He ended up winning.

I rode another lap and a half on my own pretty hard, just to ensure I completed 6/8 laps before I got pulled out. 12th was safe, so that was OK. The other guys who'd been dropped on lap 2 were already out. On the seventh lap, the race was in small bits: a group of three was chased by another group of three, then one guy, then two, and another two. On the last lap, the front two groups sort of came together and the dude who I helped attacked and no-one chased hard enough to get him. Jeroen van Rij from Bodysol got second ahead of Nathan (18 years doesn't change much), with regular Schelde guest rider Goswin Laplasse in fourth. Then a fair bit of damage back to fifth, sixth, etc.

I ended up 22 euros to the better, which more than covered the cost of the puncture. I rode back to Balegem with Nathan and returned the wheel in exchange for my own. The dude only charged me 15 euros for the tub, glue, labour, and lend of an ancient wheel. Bargain!

Then it was back to Zottegem for tea with Scott and Sabine and the two kiddies, who are increasing in size (not around the waist region). It was great to catch up with them again and I got all the goss. I missed the last train home so I borrowed some lights and rode 20 km back to Gent, which wasn't too bad. Fairly dark though.

The rest of this week has been rather busy.

Saturday: Trap Op in 4'55, which is one of our quickest times. I was on the front for the first km or so to stretch the legs a bit.

Tomorrow: Erpe-Mere, where I don't want to destroy myself. That could be it, but I hope it isn't the last kermis I do. I'm sure it won't be.

Finally: get well Philippe Blanchaert. I hear you've broken your arm after crashing on in the Deinze-Gent run. It didn't sound good so I hope you mend well! Season over, alas.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeff.Thank you for your wishes.I hope to recover quick, so I can start working soon again.For the moment that is my greatest concern.Cycling, we will talk later about it. Maybe, maybe not?

Kind regards, Philippe Blanchaert.

Jeff Jones said...

No worries Philippe, I can imagine that you want to get your ability to work back as soon as possible! I guess you know the right people to help you, so that's good.