Wake up WachtebekeI was convinced to do this race, as it was my last chance before Le Tour. Wachtebeke is about 20 km northeast of Gent, and the last two times I raced there (in 1999) I did quite well. The course was a bit different - only 6 km per lap, but also only five or six corners. There was enough wind to make it interesting but not enough that position was crucial. The start time was at 6pm for 19 laps, and it was still fairly warm.
Alas, I punctured about 5 minutes before the start, and I am now completely jack of tubulars. Fortunately, Dave Treacy and his girlfriend Mel where there, along with Andrew Benson's begeleider (who is called Brent) and I managed to get a nine speed wheel from them (they'd given their spare 10 speed to another guy who punctured). Last time I saw Dave and Mel was on New Year's Eve, when Mel had to give me a lift home from Sutherland because I punctured about three times.
47 starters, which wasn't bad for a Monday race, and I noticed a guy in green with huge, bulging leg muscles and braces on his teeth, for chrissakes. Dearie me, what has he been eating? The first break of about six went away on the first corner. There seemed to be a bit of blocking going on in front of the bunch, so the leaders got a decent gap. Dave was up there, which was good...until he punctured out of the break and, um, didn't have a spare wheel. Sorry Dave, I definitely owe you a few now!
The next disaster to hit me was on about the second lap when I hit a big bump and dropped my rear bottle. Argh!! Bloody cages. I had to keep going of course and was going to see how far I could get on one bottle, but then I spied Brent at the feed zone and told him I'd dropped my bottle, and even though I'd dropped it about 1 km away, he said he had it! That was incredibly fortuitous, and he handed it back to me with expert precision on the next lap. Obviously he has learned a trick or two over the last year.
Things got cranking in the bunch, and after spending the first few laps near the rear, I opted to move up and partake in the action. I felt very good, and could close a few gaps at 60 km/h as Christophe Bracke and Guy Smet tried to get a bit of momentum happening. We were rapidly closing in on the break, but after about 6 laps, a group of about 15 split off and I totally missed it. There were about 20 of us left chasing at 30-40 seconds, and in the interests of not giving up, I did a lot of work in front to keep the speed up. Fortunately, the others hadn't all thrown in the towel, so after about four laps of chasing, we regained contact with the lead group.
I was still feeling good, so I threaded my way through towards the front because I knew it would split again, but I wasn't quite far enough up when we hit the long tailwind straight and Bracke and Smet led a group of 12 off the front. I was maybe six or seven wheels back, and I know I could have followed the attack today. Oh well, once they were gone, the chasing oomph went out of the bunch, especially as some of the stronger guys had teammates in front. Guy Smet's bro Kris would mark any bridging attempt, so everything failed.
But there was 13th place to go for, and I made sure I didn't fall back past the top 10, so that I wouldn't miss the next moves. I didn't make too many attacks, but I followed most of them and was always prepared to roll through to get something happening. It was a good tactic, as after another four laps or so, we had it down to a group of 13, most of us working. I wasn't quite sure how many were in front but I did hear someone say 'twalf' so that was good. We were all reasonably cooked, but a few of us, especially the other Aussie and South African, kept rolling through to keep the rest from coming back.
I don't think I missed any of the small attacks that went in the last two laps, but everything came back, alas. With about 2 km to go, I was on the front and one guy took a flyer and was away. I waited for someone to come round me but they couldn't be arsed, so that was 13th place gone. Eventually I could drift back and try my Cunning Plan of attacking with 1 km to go, maybe even bridging up to the guy who was clear. But when I went, Mr Braces and Kris Smet followed me, and although we had gapped the rest, there was no way they were coming through for a turn. There was also no way I was going to drag their sorry arses to the finish, so I sat up. I was a bit stuffed anyway, and when everyone came past at 500 to go, I just got on the back and rolled in for 22nd. The result was OK (not great), but for me the race was very good. I spent the majority of it in the front bit of whatever bunch I was in, and didn't really blow.
Afterwards I saw Reinhard Vanspeybroeck of the Great Australian Bite pie shop in Walpoortstraat, which I will go and visit this evening, being my last Night Off for quite some time. He reckons it's picking up well, which is great to hear. He's been at it for a year now and survived, so good on him. I shall look forward to sampling some of his wares very shortly...
I got home last night at 10pm, and didn't get to sleep until 3am. Had to do some work and thought I might as well take advantage of the fact that I was going to be awake for that long anyway.