Saturday, September 12, 2009

Donkey at a Horserace


The kermis was at 5 so we left the farm around 3. It was about 20k away toward Aalst. We got there early and signed in at the bar.

While signing in an official said “Hey Kingsnorth!”
“Yeah?” I replied (Kingsnorth is the official name of the “Belgian Bad News Bears.”)
"You need a jersey to race!” he replied pointing to my Cal jersey.

Ah ha! Now I have an excuse to ask Staf for a jersey. Considering I never finish races I thought I shouldn’t ask.

I headed over to Freddie and the team car to get ready. Steve, the Scouse, was there. He told me to just stay on the wheels into the turns. He said I was too polite, don’t give up any spot, use my shoulders, fight!

There was still a half hour before the start so I rolled around a bit. Oh look, three Silence development guys. I had seen one of the guys win a race before. Then, a van full of riders with “Russia” written on the side pulled up.

About five minutes before the start I take my last pee along with the rest. I usually try to find a bush or something but these guys just pull it out on the side of the road. What a country.

As I rolled up to the start I got that feeling I sometimes get before races. That feeling of nothing can save you now. Not your Mom, your stupid degree, your bank account, certainly not Brady-none of that matters now. Just you and the bike.

Today would be different. I would fight more than I had fought before.

Then, as nonchalantly as all the others, the race began.

We all started sprinting. On the straightaway a Silence guy passes me so I follow him. The road starts to turn and I’m on the outside. The road turns some more, my part of the road ends. Uh oh...

I’m off the road and onto a cobbled sidewalk. This is going to hurt. I hop back on the road just in time. The race continues. We wind through a few more tight turns. We’re on that fine line between 25 mph and crashing, or maybe it’s just me.

The most disturbing thing is I’m the only one disturbed. We head onto a straightaway. I’m going backwards quickly.

I look behind me. Yep, I'm the last horse. I turn around and I'm a few feet off the next wheel, make that donkey. Knowing I’m the donkey doesn’t make me any faster.

I struggle to get back on the wheel. It’s not happening. I pedal on, head down in shame.

I pass through the Start/Finish and they announce my name on the speaker. Remember it, folks. A few turns later I see a group up ahead and try to catch them. I dodge pedestrians. Why would anyone be off the back this early?

The third or fourth time through the Start/Finish they say “End of Race, Jarrett Streebin.” And there you have it.

I shift down to my small ring and roll over to the team car. Freddie gives me a consoling look as I collapse in a chair.

I look up to see Yevginey roll by with another kid from the Russian team. They’re riding along chatting as if nothing happened. Yevginey is on the Russian National Team. He gets paid to ride. He only lasted three laps. I feel better, but only slightly.

Moments later Steve rolls up. He fell off too. The graveyard gets bigger after every lap. These aren’t your run of the mill Cat 4 phenoms either. These are real racers getting dropped.

I catch my breath and head over to the bar near the Start/Finish to get my 5 euro deposit back for the number. I get my money then notice Staf’s there. I told him the day before I’d have his rent money-two hundred euro for a month and a half. Best deal this side of Poland.

We make eye contact and he flags me down. He seems to be in a chipper mood. He heads into the bar so I follow. We watch the last k of the Vuelta. At this point I’m beginning to think Staf actually likes me.

The race ends, Hesjedal takes the stage. Staf heads outside to buy a pack of smokes and I follow. Any moment I’m waiting for him to start up a man to man with me, maybe let me in on the ol’ Belgian secret.

“Well, you have it?” he says.
“Uh…yeah” I say as I pull out my wad and him 200 euro. So much for the man to man.
“Thanks for, um, the place.”

Staf grumbles something.

“By the way, the race official said I need a jersey.”
“What!? But the guy, is out of town and I don’t, I can’t, I must print new jerseys and they change and each year, No!” he replies.
“Uh, yeah, okay I can just borrow one or something.”
“Yes, and, well…” Staf trails off.
“Yeah, okay” I say as I start to leave.

Later Andrew tells me he’s got piles of them at his place. Still the best deal this side of Ukraine.

I check out the scene at the bar. It’s a classic Belgian cycling “cafĂ©”. The front of the bar has a large mural of Museeuw.

Inside they’ve got jerseys and flyers on the walls.

The old men are glued to the TV.

I notice a picture of Iljo Keisse on the wall. He’s one of the best track riders ever.

Interesting, because I swear I saw him outside…

I head back to the team car and watch some more of the race with the boys.

By this point two of the three Silence development guys have even been pulled. Steve was pissed so he left early. Jack’s in the breakaway and there’s still another hour left to race, not to mention the hour after that while the old men fawn over him and he waits on his prize money.

I ask Yevginey if he want’s to go.

“Five minute” he says.

A bit later we roll back to the bar. He turns in his number while I sniff the waffles.

I’m dying to try one. I’ve yet to have a fresh Belgian waffle. These obviously aren’t for the racers though. I can only imagine the looks I’d get downing one of those in front of this crowd.

Yev and I leave.

“How you do?” I ask.
“How many lap?”
“Three!” he says showing me three fingers. We both crack up.
“I need hill. 10k.” He makes a flying gesture with his hand.
“Then, I win!” he says.

At 120 pounds soaking wet I don’t doubt him. I ask him about racing for the Russian National Team. He says they pay him 500 euro a month. That’s middle class by bike racing standards. We chat about America the rest of the way home and he teaches me some Russian.

I get back to the house and Steve’s there with Andrew. We chat a bit while I eat some dinner. They head over to the farm but I stay home. I’m showered and in bed by 9. Still better than a good day of school…

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