Friday, 13 August 2010

This is Kermis (part 1 of my Belgian oddesy)

Bows, Belgium and the b-twin bidon curse part 1

Well it’s been an exciting week! An intrepid band of 3 of us set off on Friday for sunny Belgium. We loaded up the corsa and rolled from my house at the disgustingly uncivilized hour of 5.45am in order to make it in time for a good 45 mins of nose to tail 4th cat driving on the M25 and the insuing rush to make the ferry on time. I’m sure you want to hear all about the excitement of our ferry journey/car trip but I’ll leave you with the plot summary: we got to Belgium.
Having arrived we decided to stock up on waffle based products and speculoos (it’s a spread which tastes like ginger biscuits, a little teaspoon of heaven). We put away some serious calories before heading over to the cafĂ© where the Kermesse began. We arrived 2 hours early, arriving early is frowned upon in Belgium so we laid low for a while but we were quickly found out by the local wandering alcoholic who insisted on escorting us to the bar, where we dutifully signed on. All apart from Matt that is who had decided no to bring his racing abroad letter, fortunately thanks to the benefits of my netbook and standing under a large oak tree we could scam free wifi from someone’s house (bdgag in Roselare – thank you very much). Thus, having arrived 2 hours early we very quickly found ourselves 20 minutes before the race, matt having just signed on scott and I pinning on his number and none of having done anything approaching a warm up. Luckily I had bought enough caffeine to compensate for any errors in preparation and arrived at the start line ready to go off the front, or piss like a racehorse depending on the length of the briefing. Luckily it was mercifully short and I spent most of it courting the local teenage female population trying to fins someone to hold my bottle. Luckily a gentleman of pensionable age stepped into the breech insisting “she can not do it, I can do it”. Realistically I didn’t expect to see my bottle again!
And with that we were away, not ten seconds into the race and there were guys flying past me on the pavement (sidewalk if you’re ‘murican). The other lads hadn’t raced in Belgium before but I had warned them about this, I looked down and noted that my wattage was alarmingly high my legs hurt and I felt like I was going to be sick. I assumed the pain face and kept it on for the next three hours.
Around 60 km into the race Matt rolled into a break and in true Belgian style I sat up and let it roll away, refusing to do a tap on the front. A chasing group went across and, seeing number 69 go up the road I realized I couldn’t leave a dude who was clearly having awesome luck that day out there on his own, so I bridged, along with one of his teammates. They were both from a lotto feeder team and didn’t have anyone up the road so I expected some stalwart work from them. I got on the front and proceeded to leather it at an entirely unsustainable pace, as I came into the finish straight the announcer was becoming audibly aroused by the situation. Having informed him about my diabetes before the race, my secret was out and he announced to the assembled crowd (and you can count on 300+ locals drinking in the bars around the course or playing on the assembled fairground rides) “Der diabetic english oop der weg” (the English, diabetic guy is up the road(or something resembling those words, my flemmish isn’t exactly fluent. Given the hearty support he was giving me I decided to stay on the front until the next corner, where I commenced flapping my arm like a one winged bird trying to take off. Apparently in Belgium this is the signal for “continue sucking my wheel like a limpet” as neither rof the boys came through. Seeing the break up the road I jumped and buried it, the others sat on and, the moment I looked over my left shoulder one of them galloped away to the right (on the pavement) pursued by his mate about 15 seconds later.
I decided to return to the bunch where much the same combination of refusing to work and the attacking like the mongol hordes (often catching unsuspecting spectators in the middle of the bunch) continued. I contributed to this, making at least one move on the wrong side of the deckchairs just to feel like one of the gang.
With about 20k to go I was hanging pretty badly and the race was severely strung out at 52kph, I was just beginning to think about whether I could finish when I witnessed my grandfather-like soigneur figure approaching the course, I remember thinking I’ll never get a bottle off him at this speed. The next lap saw us going even faster as the break returned and the top 30 riders were on the rivet around all the corners. We were riding the straightest fastest par tof the course when grandpa appeared again, only this time he was in the middle of the road screaming “bidon” in a very insistent manner. Not wanting him to have risked his life in vain I chinned it out of the line (I’d like to point out that I hit my highest wattage all race at this point) and stuck out my hand expecting the worst, but no, despite travelling in excess of urban speed limits I took the bottle (and nearly dislocate dmy other shoulder in the process) and received shouts of encouragement from my benefactor. The flat coke was just what I needed, sadly when I threw my other bidon it may have connected with the display window of a local vendor, we didn’t go back to check, I didn’t need a lynching on top of the pain my legs were feeling.
At some point 14 guys had minced away from the bunch unnoticed by most of us so the last 2 laps were spent accusing other teams of not working to bring them back. It occurred ot us that a sprint was in the offing (they pay 20 deep) and Matt and I had nothing more to give after our breakaway frivolities. I decided to compensate for my lack of sprint by pretending I was on a motorbike and lurching up the inside making barrrrrrrp noises and pressing on my navigator as if I were having engine troubles. Clearly the chap next to me was in a place of deep suffering and found this most unamusing, I know this because he spat on me. Anyway young scott, our companion for the trip who we bouth assumed had been dropped appeared and announced his intention to sprint. He made his way to the front and, following my advice from earlier took a unique route around some traffic furniture, opened a gap and held out from the main bunch for 19th and 10 euros – chapeau!

The alcoholic and grandpa came over to congratulate us in the traditional flemmish way, by anointing us with cigar smoke. Suitably knackered we limped back to the car, de kitted and took our numbers back for the 5 euro reimbursement (the race only cost 8 euros to begin with). Having dined well from one of the many barbecued wurst stands surrounding the course we departed to the house of our friend Cynthia who was hosting us.
Sadly the autoroute was 100% stationary but, given our excessive guarna consumption we weren’t going to let this bother us. Apparently they aren’t familiar with ghost riding in Belgium, or they weren’t until last weekend. I think it’s lucky we had bikes on the car, otherwise they might have just thought we were foreigners……

Monday, 2 August 2010


Now I’m not in the habit of writing race repots, because nobody want to hear about my merry-go-round imitating failures in southern California crits so, until this stage I have abstained from such self indulgence, but I thought you might fancy a little window into my world and how racing is back home.
This week was the national B (read pretty fast, national A races only occur a few times a year and are billed as “premier calendars”) a couple of big teams were there, including stalwart of the British chipper scene Tony Gibb (he’s won some medals in some event or other on the velodrome and is, if the truth be told, a pretty accomplished rider)and his possee of plus sized gentlemen who were avoiding the premier race that weekend, most likely on account of it’s sawtooth profile.
Anyway I got to the race 2 hours early thanks to dad (who kindly gave me a lift) I went over to the commissaire and showed him my US licence (my friend in the licence dept had taken the trouble to email him and ask him to watch out for my devious underhand ways). Having duly noted that I wasn’t in fact doing anything wrong, the comm apologized for the treatment I was getting from the tie wearing desk-jockeys in the central office and went ahead to sign me on for the race. The rapidity with which this occurred was refreshing after a year outside of the home of brusk efficiency, sadly this meant I now had 2 hours of chamois time before the race.
I invested this time wisely, knowing that the race was likely to go hard from the gun I decided I would be best riding about in the car park and talking to everyone, showing off my insulin pump, checking tyre pressures and persuading some attractive young ladies to hold water bottles for the next 3 hours. Givent hat I allowed myself 120 mins to warm up it’s quite understandable that total warm up distance was 1. 2 mile, I think you would have done the same.
Pitiful warm up over I went inside for the briefing (don’t have those in the usa!) and then outside for the start, somehow I lined up at the front and off we rolled, at this point the plastic nose bridge fell off my sunglasses. Now sunglasses are a VITAL part of the style code and I wasn’t about to race 120k with my eyes on show, it would have been indecent. So I sat up and replaced said nosepiece, at the cost of looking like a bit of a berk riding the whole neutral zone “no hands” like a 12 yr old.
Once the flag dropped the race began, with 120km to go you would expect a steady pace but a load of idiots decided to slam it into the gutter on the other side of the road, dice with head on traffic and generally make life difficult for those of us who had failed to warm up. I figured prominently amongst said idiots.
After around 15 miles of aforementioned daredevil penis measuring we decided to slow down, which was a good idea, my powertap was showing numbers to which it is not accustomed. And so, for another 15 or so miles we rolled around, averaging about 25 but nothing too hectic got away, I followed moves, marked good riders and generally sucked wheel like a famous brand of Vacum cleaner. As we approached the feed zone about 45 miles in things started to go doolally along the rollers, not unexpected. What was unexpected was that just as we caught up to an embryonic break there was an equine intervention in the bunch.
Very tour de France im sure but, quite honestly when you’re trying to race your bike a horse running alongside is not quaint, it’s bloody scary. Especially when the horse is pulling some sketchy line switches like a jr 4th cat. Anyway, long story short the break was up the road and we were stuck behind negotiating with lady Tatiana inbred or whatever the horsey posh lady was called. And I’m not just running her down because she’s a horsey lady, I’m doing so because we’d already bloody passed her once and she’d continued on the course, the second time when the horse she was leading (yep, unsatisfied with the conspicuous consumption that is leisure horse riding she was riding 2 horses simultaneously) escaped, she shouted at US and asked us why we had continued on the same route despite her intentions. Well lady we live in something approaching a democracy, there were 120 of us and one of you, so yeah we’d win that vote.
After the intervention of dobbin the bunch rode piano, riders went back to talk to the comm. And a few of us went to the front to look important and ride slowly. As we approached a junction some riders signaled for a stop, we stopped and talked with the comm. Who agreed to restart the race. At this point my navi started bleeping like a mad thing and I realized all the stopping and stressing had sent my blood sugar through the roof, arse. I begged for some water but everyone only had mix. Lots of the boys seemed pretty concerned, which is nice. Fortunatley I could drift back in the bunch and mince about in the caravan until someone handed me up some water, thanks to whomever the team who ride in green is, I appreciate it. I also took the chance to draft some cars whilst dialing in a minibolus on my pod.
As the race continued the comm stopped the break and we all had a piss, he set of the break with the gap it had had the lap before – which had dropped to virtually nothing by the time we had encountered the horses but there was nothing he could do. The inevitable teammate shuffling occurred and the break now had 30 seconds and lots more horsepower.
We spent the rest of the race chasing, I had some pretty mean cramps thanks to the high bg but I wasn’t letting it bother me. Interestingly these cramps focused around my shoulder (alongside my legs) which was a new and exciting location for pain in a bike race, I had to ride with my arm hooked into my bibs, sling style, for about a mile and it eased off. We got the break back to about 10 seconds and I proceeded to retreat to the rear, drink more water and wait for the catch before launching my killer move. Oddly the catch never came and I was so busy drinking water and explaining to the multiple people who offered me gels that my sugars were high, not low (but all the same I genuinely appreciated their concern) that I didn’t do much work to help this situation. Going up the final hill several riders engaged the reverse gear on their bikes, this made it more like some kind of inverse super-G than a spring finish but I managed to limp in somewhere in the bunch.
After the race I made a correction and finally got my sugars back into the range I wanted them and set off for the 20 odd mile ride home, I rode with a mate for a bit and then he stopped at his home. At this point my sugars decided to continue their non-cooperation and dropped like a lead stone. Luckily there was a village shop on hand and a mars bar and some fruit pastilles got me home, where I checked again to find that my blood had reverted to treacle-like status. A protein drink and a megabolus followed. There’s something disconcerting about riding over 100 miles and coming home to a nice salad!
Anyway rubber stayed down, fun was had. Thanks to the ladies who fed me and to Mr ainstie who searched out water for me in the feed zone when I didn’t need any more sugar. Belgium next week, bring on the waffles, chocolate, cobbles and beer!