Thursday night after I got home from seeing Stage 2 of the Eneco Tour I mapped out the route to go see the start of Stage 3. I set my alarm and within a minute was sound asleep. The mosquitoes may have eaten me but I was too tired to notice.
I woke up at 745 and began getting my stuff ready. I had four eggs and a cup of decaf. I left at 830 with my “map”, money, credit card, and phone. No food.
It took me a little while to get out of Gent proper. My methodology for asking for directions worked well…at least for the first 30 minutes. I neglected to notice that on google maps if you don’t zoom in you’ll only see some of the cities. Thus, I had only a partial list of cities. This part is crucial though. If you’re going to map the route via city to city you have to make a list of all of them otherwise you won’t know where to go next.
Two hours later I still wasn’t there. I had been riding around the countryside for the last hour without having a good sense of where I was heading (understatement). The thing about asking for directions in the countryside is they rarely speak English and the novelty of receiving directions in Flemish wears off after about the 10th time. Also, when asking how to get a city that’s over 4k away they always say “Ooooh” as if you’re asking how to get to Russia or something.
Eventually I came upon another slow moving moped. I snuck up on him a bit and before he knew it I’d smoked him like a pack of Virginia Slims at a Florida retirement home. I hear his engine rev up. Uh oh. I get out of the saddle and crank. I even get off the fietspad (bike lane) and onto the main road for smoother riding. He’s still coming. Ahhhhh…he passes me. I look over and smile but apparently he doesn’t find weakness funny.
A minute later I see a bar and stop in. I hear voices in the bar and hope someone can give me some decent directions. The bartender pointed me toward Temse.
A note of caution, no matter how confident your navigator (direction giver) is you’re not going the right way until you see a sign for it. Well I saw a sign and cranked on. I only had an hour and a half before the start and I figured I was at least an hour away still.
For the next hour I wound my way along assorted roads and byways in cities from my list. Finally I got one city away-striking distance. I see a Euro guy as indicated by his Eurofro and lack of helmet. He says he’s going to the start so I follow him.
Ah bike racing, my church. It’s the same mix as yesterday with all the team vans and bikes. I haven’t even missed sign in.
I notice these things on Wiggo’s bike.
The Garmin guy tells me he’s sponsored by them and that he rode them in the Tour.
“Oh yeah, they’re like the ones Bobby Julich rides.”
“I don’t know the guy.”
After taking at least 50 pictures of assorted bikes I head to the start.
Some guy takes my picture and gives me a thumbs up. Yeah, I guess I look kinda PRO with my tired Sidis, mismatched Open Pros, and Michelin Krylions-just a few giveaways.
I see a few PRO hoes in the making.
I catch Jussi heading to sign-in.
“Hey Jussi!” I say.
“Hey!” he says back.
Another great story.
Okay so I see and take pics of about every PRO but I won’t bore you with the details. It’s even a bit boring me talking about it. I mean I’m essentially, well one could say I’m basically a PRO. The racing itself is just the minutiae of PRO cycling-the small stuff. I do all the other PRO stuff. You know, I go to the starts, look in the team buses, check out the bikes, flex when I ride by young Belgie chicks. PRO stuff.
So the start comes and goes and it’s amazing and I’m stoked and all is well. The show’s over now and circus must go on. As they’re tearing down the barriers I roll around a bit. This old man stops me.
“Blah blah het blah blah blah”
“Yeah, uh huh”
This one’s very perceptive and senses my lack of understanding.
“I rode with Coppi!”
“Yeah I rode with Coppi! And Merckx one time! I’m 80 (something) but I rode with them!”
I swear this guy’s me in 60 years. Only my stories will be more like this.
“You know Freddie? I saw him one time on Grizzly! Yeah, me! I saw him!”
He says something about a race and the exchange of 2,500 bucks with Merckx thrown in. Which reminds me, I forgot to mention one thing about the racing here. So the races pay 150 Euro to the winner. In addition to that most teams pay their riders another 200 or so for a win. The 200 is specifically for bargaining. Thus, if you’re in a break you got a little something extra to pay the guy off. Of course, if you’re strong enough to just ride away you do. Most times you gotta buy it though.
Anywho, at this point the troops are rioting. Actually the riots began about 2 hours ago but I didn’t want to waste time stopping before the race. Besides, I’m paying by the job not the hour. I head over to a market and buy some Belgian waffles.
Here they have them in little packages so you can take them with you. Beats the old waffle iron! Before I know it I’ve eaten three of them. I jump on the bike and head out of dodge. I stop off at a café for a quick coffee and down the rest of the waffles. Then, I get back on the road.
I ride and ride and ride. I recognize a guy I saw at the start and he points me in a different direction so I head that way. Eventually I stop off and am tempted to get some more waffles. I settle for a peach.
There’s a race in Holland later but I don’t think I’ll make it back in time so I go easy. I really wanted to go with the team but the route takes longer than expected. I consider getting a map of Belgium or something for the next ride. That'd take a lot of the fun out of it though.
Eventually I see a familiar face…
America, the world’s most popular brand. There’s even a tank out front!
A few k later I come upon this car.
It’s outside a bar so I check it out for a bit. Eventually a guy comes out with an Eneco pass on a lanyard. He’s the PR guy for Columbia. We chat about the Columbia lead out for a bit. I hop back on my steed and carry on.
I stop to take a pic of something I’ve noticed a few times here. The cows. They are ubiquitous in the countryside but you’ll notice something about the Belgian cows…
They’re lean! They look like a horse mixture. These are like Greco-Roman cows.
Enough lollygagging. I crank on towards Ghent. At this point I’m about 24k from Ghent. I go a few more k but the troops begin rioting again. I almost collapse into a supermarket and buy the first thing that looks appealing.
I down three of the assorted waffle/pastry goodies before getting a grip on myself. It’s just going to take a minute, eating the whole thing won’t give me energy any sooner.
I get back to the farm 30 minutes later. I check my phone. “Come to the farm ready to race!” says a text from Andrew. Bummer! I could have raced with them in Holland! I didn’t think I’d be able to because: 1) there wasn’t room and 2) I wasn’t registered. I found out later that Staf, team owner, asked where the het I was. Apparently he gets duckets from promoters when he brings riders to races. He wasn’t too happy about the “stupid American” (me) not being there to race. Andrew and Jack informed him that: 1) there wasn’t room and 2) I was told I couldn’t race in the first place. Wish I’d made it back in time though. Even with tired legs it would have been fun to race.
Staf also kicked on the 2nd remaining Russian. This is the only kid on the team I legitimately beat the other day when I raced. By “beat” I mean I lasted for more of the first lap than him. Anyways, ten minutes before they were set to leave for Holland Staf asks why he isn’t ready. “But I am sick…” Staf wasn’t too happy and told him to get out immediately!
I roll over to the bike store to have Ian, team coach and manager, check out the cones on my back wheel. The bike store, Fietsendirk, soothes my tired legs. Btw, the Belgians are really into their embrocations and creams. Embrocation is a type of lotion that heats or cools your legs and is used while riding.
I head home and make myself a treat.
What a day.