Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Have faith in Frank

Frank is one of the TV weathermen here in Sunny Belgium(tm). He is not always right, but he serves an important role. Together with Blackadder, he helps make TV worth watching occasionally.

I happened to switch onto Frank on Sunday to get the lowdown on what weather delights we were due for this week [we did actually have a good weekend, so it's not all bad]. "Monday will be a terrible day," he said, and I quote fairly loosely as I've just been to Marimain with Reiny and Gerald and my memory isn't what it once was. "Heavy rain with occasional hail. Tuesday will be stormy in the morning but in the afternoon it will clear up."

I trusted these words, as I wanted to race on Tuesday afternoon in Erwetegem. It was 'only' an Open race, so U23/Amateurs/Masters can also race with the Elite zonder contracts. But that was OK, as a) I really liked the course and b) I wouldn't necessarily get a complete arse sport kicking. There was another elite zc race on in Oordegem, but I chose this one instead.

Frank was right in that it rained for much of the morning. But it seemed to be clearing up about lunchtime and I thought 'bonza, I'll get a dry ride out'. It goes without saying that as I rode up the Hundelgemsesteenweg 2 km from home, the heavens opened and I got very drenched very quickly and I noted it was 11 degrees. I was determined to race today, so I continued, and by Bottelare about 5 km later, it had stopped. Another 5 km up the road at Balegem, the roads were bone dry although there was a black cloud that stretched from right to left in front of me. It was not moving towards me, so I figured I'd avoid it (for once). That proved to be correct, and the rest of the afternoon was rather pleasant.

Thanks Frank.

I was number 42 of 44 starters, and it seemed to be a reasonable sort of field. The course was 12 km long to be completed just seven times (84 km), and it had a 1.3 km climb plus a 500m climb each lap. Last year, I finished 12th/20 but it was all elite riders. This time, I hoped for a bit better.

First lap, two guys get away and hover 30 seconds in front for the next two laps. I sat in a strategic position towards the back, as is my wont, but moved up a bit on the long hill up to the start/finish. On the second lap, I started to get itchy legs and had a go with Krijn Verschraegen (4th in this same race yesterday) plus another guy. Unfortunately, he didn't have yesterday's legs. Or more correctly, he did, and we got caught on the descent.

I decided to stay active after that. We'd almost caught the two early leaders at the end of lap 2, and we finally did halfway through lap 3 following the first short climb. At the end of the lap, I went with all the moves on the start/finish hill, and did a hard turn at the top and kept going with it. I ended up with five others for company, but they weren't working that well. Another six quickly joined us and I thought we had a good group of a dozen.

Alas, despite being the lead group, the cooperation was either a) quite appalling b) totally crap or c) bloody terrible. We had managed to gap the peloton, and I hoped that no-one would be working there so we could stay away. That's sort of how it went, but we were doing our chances no favours. On the next two start/finish climbs, I rode a solid tempo to try and extract the best six riders out of the break, but it wasn't to be. I'd end up going over first with a 10 second gap, but would have to sit up because all the others were still together. Argh! It was possible, but you need the right mentality...

At the end of lap 6, I stayed behind another guy on the climb, but that didn't help matters much. On the previous lap, I'd heard someone say "peloton komt terug" but no-one paid it much heed. We were caught by the whole goddamn bunch at the top of the climb with less than one lap to go! Double argh!!!!

There were now 40 riders in the race instead of 12, and I had to rethink my strategy, which up until now had relied on the fact that I would be the only one left at the finish and would therefore win. Maybe if the whole race went uphill, that would have worked. But it didn't.

I probably shouldn't have drifted as far back as I did, as I missed the two four man moves that went in the next few km. I was actually figuring that it would come down to a sprint up the last climb, but halfway through the lap, that was looking improbable. I went with a counter-counter attack, which at least made life difficult for the rest of the bunch, and we hit the final climb about 10 seconds behind the leading eight.

Naturally, no-one wanted to lead out a big sprint on the climb, so about a third of the way up, I thought 'bugger it, I'll go myself'. Surprisingly, no-one reacted until Nico Savat (winner of a few kermises this month) flew past me as I was almost on the back of the lead group. But they just started sprinting and I was already on my limit. I hung on for 10th, which was OK in one sense, but I felt it coulda woulda shoulda been a top five today. The gap between the winner and me was 10 seconds, same as it was at the bottom. That's racing for you.

Cool course though, and I was generally happy with how I was going. Got a few cheers too from my fellow crashee Luc De Loor, who was watching. That's always noice. Post-race recovery meal: a pie, a sausage roll, and five beers.

Congrats to Philippe B for finishing the Criquielion in 6hrs7min. Gold, gold, gold!!! And an even better time to Henk B in 5hrs40min. Not so bad at all!


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

Congratulations with your race. It looks like you were the best man in the race. That must give you a good feeling.
Maybe next year, when I can start with the better riders in the Velomediane, I try to ride bellow 6 hours. I think that must be possible for an old horse like me.



Jeff Jones said...

Hi Philippe,

No, I wasn't the best, 'cos I didn't win! But at least it was within range, and it was a relatively OK field. In hindsight, I should have just stayed with the break all the time and tried to get everyone working, but I thought it would be better with five or six. At one point, three of us had a bit of a gap with 2.5 laps to go, and although the other two were good enough, they just didn't want to work. Pity - that would have been fun.

I think for sure a time of under six hours is achievable for you in the Criquielion. It's not the age, it's the training. You did all the correct base work with the hills + long kilometres. Maybe a few Berchem or Saturday Schelde rides would get your speed up. They knock me into shape very quickly.

Henk told me that Gerben de Knegt won it in 5 hours. Ouch.