I woke up last night at 3 am scratching furiously. The mosquitoes even bit my face! Thankfully it was cool so eventually I was able to fall back asleep.
I began stirring around 7. I got around a bit and ate some waffles. I had bought some more of the packaged waffles to take with me on rides. That lasted all of one day. I usually try and stay away from sugar if I’m not on the bike. What that really means is I eat as much sugar as the next Joe, but I devote considerable amounts of time to thinking about how I shouldn’t eat sugar.
A package of waffles later and I’m back in bed passed out. I sleep until 11 and then go get groceries. The produce here is good and cheap. I’ve been here about 10 days and have spent maybe 50 euro on food.
A little later we head over to the farm. The race isn’t until 5 so we sit around and watch the tube. I read an interview with Merckx and an article about time cuts in the TdF.
We head out around 3. The race is about 30k away. I sit in the draft and soft pedal all the way there. A lot of the guys here don’t wear helmets unless they’re racing. It’s a pretty Euro thing to do. No helmet, just a cycling cap. Why? Well, thanks to the cycling infrastructure there are less interactions with cars, the cars are friendlier here (the people too maybe?), and, well, it’s just PRO. That being said, I’m adamantly against it for me and my three brain cells. Why? Well, since coming here, a little more than a week ago, I’ve seen three crashes. All three happened not in races but while commuting, either to races of dinner. Yes, there’s a devoted bike path. However, going 20 mph hour on it requires constant attention. There’s a lot of road furniture here as well as cracks that can easily trip your front wheel. There are also hordes of inexperienced cyclists on the paths (this doesn’t exclude myself). All it takes is, well you get the picture.
The race is flat, like most, and the crowds are out. It’s always refreshing to see the towns come alive around the bike race.
We still have about an hour to start so I go get registered. Ahh. My second kermis. I check out today’s stage of the Eneco Tour on the tv in the bar. I also notice this mural.
As I’m leaving a guy says “Hey!” It’s Staf. He tells me I have a fine since I didn’t show up for the race in Holland (the one I was told I couldn’t race in). I tell him this to no avail. He goes back to smoking and I walk out. So much for getting in good with the big guy.
I head out and roll around a bit. I hear the announcer talking and assume the race is about to start. I take a quick pee and next thing I know everyone’s lined up. I roll up to the front and squeeze in. The nice thing about the races here is no one cares if you squeeze in the front. I mean there’s 120k to decide who should be up there.
The announcer nonchalantly waves us forward and the race is on. Everyone clips in smoothly and we accelerate but not too quickly. Next thing I know there are attacks going off on both sides and the pace kicks up.
I get this paranoid feeling as guys fly past me. I’m not sure what it is. I guard my drops and stick my shoulders out but don’t really move up. A 90 degree turn comes and I smell brake pads. By this point I’m getting near the back. I don’t know what it was, even now. I just got really tense all of the sudden and didn’t try to stay near the front.
The turns are what kill me. I’m okay on the flats but I always lose on the turns. I go through just as fast as the rest but they accelerate so quickly out of them. There are only four turns on the course and I’m off the back before the lap is over. I ride across the line alone.
It’s all BS though. I mean I can sprint four times. Not hanging on for one lap isn’t good enough.
I get some cheers as I go through and hear a laugh. You and me both buddy. I see a group up ahead and try to catch them. I get close on the third lap but never quite catch them. Then they pull me.
What a waste. The more I think about it the more it gets me. I went into the race without any real confidence. I didn’t believe I could hang and I didn’t. I mean I believe in myself enough to be riding my bike all around Neverland but the minute it’s something real, like putting it on the line to stay in a race, I give up.
I roll over by the team car and collapse. My heart is beating through my chest. I think to myself, “There are those who want it, there are those who really really want it, and then there are PROs.” Right now I obviously don’t want it. I’ve had this conversation a lot with myself since I started cycling. Asking myself over and over what I really want. I know exactly what I want, to train and race my bike. When it comes to putting my feet to the pedals I balk, for fear of failure or success. Enough!
After I cool off a bit I take a little spin. Then, I come back and ride around the course. I get to the wooded section of the course and have a chat with this guy.
He asks how long I’ve been in Belgium. When I tell people I’ve been here a week they always give me this look like “Well, of course you can’t hang on! This is tough!” We watch as the break goes by. Jack, the local hero, is in it so we talk about him. Jack has a meeting with Columbia on Tuesday to be tested. The guy already knows this. These people are really up on their cycling news! I mention I’m staying in Ghent and he asks if I’m staying at Staf’s place. I guess his fiefdom is well known in these parts.
I head back to the team car and read for a bit. Freddie has things under control.
Then, I roll over to the start. I’ve heard about bookies at the races but have yet to see one. I notice their boards near the start. There’s not just one, but three! During the final laps they’re constantly updating the odds.
One cool thing about riding a Specialized here in Boonenland is you’re afforded massive cred. As I ride by I often here the low whisper of “Specialized…” No joke. They’re crazy about them. I’m considering selling mine. I’d wait until right before I leave though so I maintain my cred. Then, I’d get a Willier or a Focus or maybe a Merckx to bring home so I’d have massive Euro cred back stateside.
The race goes on. A guy attacks out of the break and solos to the finish. Jack ends up pulling the break for the next three laps and gets killed in the sprint. After the race he says he knew they would but he’d rather lose by 2 seconds than 2 minutes.
Later Freddie pulls out a slip of paper and shows it to Jack. He had bet on him.
As the guys waited for their prize money I went to find a place to pee. I looked in this alley but noticed there was a house back there. A man asks what I need and I make the universal sign for a pee. He ushers me into his back yard and points me toward a tree. What a country.
We roll back to the farm along the canal. At one point I give it a little effort and Collin yells at me to go for it. I put my head down and crank. Guess I’ll see those guys back at the farm.
Within a minute they fly past me and start attacking. I jump and catch up to them, then attack again. Steve and I attack each other for a while but I can’t shake him. We make it to the road home and all sit up.
Pulling into the farm Andrew crashes on the gravel. Thankfully he’s not hurt.
At home I cook up some goodies. I’ve ridden 500k in the last four days and my appetite is starting to kick up. I relax a bit then fall fast asleep. Another coin in the piggy bank.