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By Michael Scherer
Editor’s note: Michael Scherer is an American who has beenliving and racing in Oostede, Belgium, for the past month. Originally from Casper, Wyoming, Scherer spent last season riding for Prime Alliance while living in Boulder, Colorado. He moved to Belgium this year to take the next step and “to prove that I have what it takes to be a bike racer.” Schererwill be sending back regular updates throughout the season.Why I’m hereAmerican racing is great, but in Europe we will get to race muchfaster races, more often with a lot less travel in between. Hopefully,we will see the benefits. During the summer there are races close enoughto ride to almost everyday. The team, ABC-Aitos, is made up of a groupof Americans who will be living and racing with director Bernard Moerman.We have a very good team of young riders who are dreaming of makinga name for themselves in big European races. We have a tentative schedulethat includes every UCI 1.5 and 1.6 race in Belgium, Holland, France, andLuxemburg. These races are much longer then most in the U.S. and the racingis a lot more aggressive. These brutal races can only make me a tougherracer and tougher person as I take one step closer to my dreams of racingin the Tour de France.A whole new experienceAfter seven years of racing in the U.S., racing in Belgium is like learningthe sport all over again. For one thing, the fields are almost double thesize they are in the U.S. More than 200 riders from 30 teams of 6-8riders start a normal UCI race.Second the races are much longer; 160-190 km (100-120 Miles) is a typicalrace distance. The main differance for me is the style of racing. Theyare fast from the gun, no first hour of just walking the dog like in thestates.In Belgium, there are villages every 10 km, so it is a huge crosswindbattle in the open fields, then a sprint to try and gain positions throughthe villages. It seems to be a never-ending battle to try and stay nearthe front with 200 riders all wanting to be in the same spot. Anotherhuge difference is the road conditions. Rough roads, cobble sections, supersteep climbs, five-lane roads turning into one-lane roads are a few ofthe many differences.Wild in the streetsLast Wednesday, I raced the second round of the Espior WorldCup with the U.S. U-23 national team. It was a crazy battle to see thefront. Guys were sprinting up sidewalks to try and gain positions whenWham!! They would smack into a car, a sign or something else.There were more crashes in the first 20km than at Athens Twilight criterium.Someone crashed into my rear wheel and broke my spoke, which ended my dayprematurely. My roommate, Greg Germer crashed into a team car and broketwo ribs and shattered his collarbone in four places. Major props go outto Jon Retsck who finished 8th!Get ’em in the cornersSunday we raced UCI 1.12 Aspelare-Hekelgem, a 161 km course with 12climbs including the Bosberg, Muur, and Valkenberg. I found this race mucheasier than Wednesday’s race. I felt really good on the climbs. It is amazingthat given how good these Euro’ guys are, they sure don’t corner very well.I guess all those years of riding American crit’s are finally paying off.I passed guys left and right through the corners.After 110 km of fun we hit the finishing laps and I went back to thecar to get water. Another team director’s cars slipped in front of me andalmost came to a complete stop in the corners, causing me to lock up mybrakes. Then the drive full-throttled it out of the corners so I couldnot draft off of him to get back in. So I ended up getting dropped becauseof the team cars. Oh well, that’s racing and there is a lot more of thisto come.Check back throughout the season. I’ll try to let you know just what life over here is like.