Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eneco Tour - Stage 2 (Then Brugge, Oostende, Brugge, Eeklo, and Gent)

Last night it was too hot in our room to sleep. I told Andrew I was going downstairs to crash on the couch. “See you in a few hours dude. That thing is miserable.” Words of wisdom.

By the time I get to sleep it’s past midnight. I wake up at 3 and I’m being eaten by mosquitoes. I wake up again at 4, then 5. I take a count, 15 bites on my legs alone.

At 7 I get up and start getting ready to leave. Yesterday the Eneco Tour came within 10 minutes of our place and I missed it. Today I planned to ride to Ardoie to catch the start.

I get out of the house around 8 and head along the canal bike path. I’ve yet to see a river here but they have tons of canals lined with bike paths.



I ride all the way to Deinze along the canal. Then I take a few turns to head toward Tielt. The nice thing about riding here is everything is really well marked, even the bike paths. I knew the cities along the way so I didn’t have to consult my homemade map.

I get to Tielt and end up on the side of a freeway. Mind you it’s not an 8 lane Cali freeway, it’s just a two lane highway with a bike lane. I think I could have taken the bike path all the way but I didn’t know the rest of the way and was getting antsy.

I’m passed by some Nissans with Eneco Tour stickers all over them and I start seeing signs for Ardoie. Ahh!



I’m floored at this point. My first Euro race!

I have to relieve myself so I pull over against some bushes. Public urination isn’t a crime here, it’s a custom. I’m not kidding. Downtown Gent has urinals on the sidewalk.



I follow the signs until I see this…



Oh boy oh boy! I want to call Jim and wake him up but I don’t have his number. I see this kid with his Flanders flag and the sign out in the garage.



Not sure what this guy was all about. Thus, I was a bit shocked to see him ride out right in front of the PROs! Guess it’s some sort of local tradition.



At this point all the team buses are starting to arrive. One after another they pull up this street. I run into some juniors from the USA Cycling development team. David Kessler, the new national champ is with them wearing the stars and stripes! Cool kids. They all go ga-ga over Mr. Farrar.



Wiggo seems cheery.



They roll over to sign in so I roll wit. Yeah.



(For those of you non-cycling humans, the story gets better… in a bit.)

I catch the Liquigas guys chilling.



Hey look, it’s Svein Tuft!



I head over to the start.



I like seeing how blasé these guys are about it all. They look like they’re at a funeral.

Oh look, it’s Tom Boonen’s head!



Jussi Veikkanen!



Where’d the party go?



I wasn’t kidding about that guy!



Okay okay. I got a big trigger happy but you can see the rest here if you’re interested.

Finally, they all rolled out.



I yelled at Chicchi as he rolled past. He smiled. Good story.

I jumped on my steed and got the het out of dodge. As I rode along the freeway I noticed a few team vans stuck in traffic. I finally saw what all the commotion was about, THE RACE WAS COMING THROUGH!!! Two for one man! I found a good watching spot and waited for the caravan to pass.



Ahhh!!!



“Um, I think being the GC man was a better gig…”

And they were gone…



I headed home with the satiety that bike racing always brings me.



I rolled for a while, contemplating PROdom. Well those guys are riding far, why don’t I? Then, I saw a sign for Brugge. With a tailwind straight outta Kansas I mashed onward. At one point I passed one of those radar boards and it clocked me at 44 kmph. I thought to myself “27.3403325 mph! Not bad!”

I arrived at Brugge not long after. I guess they heard I was coming…



I had a chat with the guy in the orange. I remembered him from the start. He had snuck in and rode out right after the PROs. It was pretty funny.

His name was Marnix. I told him about my voyage. He asked if I was a PRO. Well, not in the formal sense of the word.

After gaining his confidence he whispered to me “I love American music!”

“My man! What bands?”
“Joe Satriani!”

Out of all the people he could have liked. I hadn’t heard that name in years. Immediately I could hear his music in my head, a favorite of days past. I told him about Steve Vai and Joe growing up on the same street.

We chatted a bit more but he had to run so he gave me his email. Before he left I asked him how close Holland was.

“5 kilometer, but you could go to Oostende, that’s 25k.”

You sold me. I rode off into the sun.

Eventually I turned off to go to Oostende. By this point it was about 1 or 2 and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I stopped and got some water.



The trip out to Oostende was no ride in the park. I had a headwind the whole way and the last 10k was an industrial area with a serious stench. I arrived at Oostende to find wind and tourists. I peaced out and headed back.



The tailwind carried me back to Brugge and then I tried to find my bearings. I was getting pretty hungry by this point so before making any navigational decisions I decided to refuel.

10 minutes later…



The frites here (fries) are pretty good. People rave and rave about them but I suppose I haven’t had good ones yet so I’ll suspend judgment. I have had them traditional style with gravy and mayo and they’re quite tasty. This place had neither so I settled for bad ketchup and garlic sauce. They’re also pretty into their sauces. The only other place I’ve been had 27 different sauces. Get out!

I headed back to the canal to try and find my way home. I know I said everything was really well marked here, and it is. The thing is you have to know the trail of towns to where you’re going. If you have a list of towns you can get anywhere. I hadn’t planned on any of this so I was left at the mercy of passersby.

I asked a few people and finally got pointed in the right direction. Afterward I was able to come up with a methodology for getting directions. First, ask a few people. If they see you getting second opinions it doesn't matter, this is science. Second, if they all give different directions-they will-take the one that was given with the most confidence. This isn't a cure-all though. I'm sure of many things I'm completely wrong about. However, given they all differ this is the best bet. Lastly, go 5 minutes in that direction and then ask again.

One tip on asking is to NOT say "Is this (while pointing) the way to town X??" People, in efforts to be affable Biffs, will often say "Yes" just because it's what you want to hear. Ergo, ask like this "Which way to town X?" (Note: In instances where the lingua franca is unknown a simple "Town X??" with a questioning look will suffice. For example: "Gent???")

So I found my way and then per my methodology asked again at a bike shop along the way. (Addendum: Bike shop directions count for double.) Yep, straight onward said the man.

In addition to being bone-flat, the roads here are also straight as an arrow. I rode along enjoying the tailwind but feeling a bit weaker for the wear. About 20k from Gent I had a religious experience. I was riding along, granted with a tailwind, when I spotted a moped. (The mopeds here get to use the bike lanes as well.) I saw it off in the distance and I was getting closer. Within minutes I was up on it. It was then my crowning achievement came: I blew past the moped. Yep, I left it in the dust. Sure, it was an old lady on a moped but who's counting.

I rode the rest of the way home counting off the kilometers. Then I asked myself what I was so eager to get home to. Mosquitoes? I chilled out a bit and enjoyed the rest of the way.

The ride clocked in at about 160 km so 100 miles. Tomorrow's stage begins 60k from here and I just might take them up on it...

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