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By Jed Schneider
Things have been looking up for our team since my last update from GP Flandres Francais. The majority of the riders have been in Belgium for about a month and we are starting to find some form. Likewise the firepower in the house continues to grow as Austin King and Corey Steinbrecher will be joining us this week. But first for some cultural insight.
Normally. Normally Belgians have a problem with the meaning of the word “normally”. We would say, “Normally it rains in Belgium”. However, the Belgian translation is: “Hopefully, it will rain in Belgium,” but sometimes it can mean “Probably, it will rain in Belgium,” and other times it could be translated “Rain in Belgium is likely.”
Such slight changes in meaning seem insignificant until you are told, “Normally, the race starts at noon,” or “Normally the bus comes at a quarter past one,” or “Normally, you will have a bike to ride.” When in Belgium, just beware the word “normally”.
Last Wednesday Eric Keim rode two hours 45 minutes in a 13-man break, placing ninth out of 160 riders in his first kermis at St. Kruis. The best kermis riders in Belgium were there. We were all really proud of him.
The wind blew that day. I was mid-pack going through the headwind stretch when a side gust literally blew a bike out from underneath one of the riders. Next thing I know his rear wheel is blowing down the road: ghost riding through the field. I had a good laugh at that. The side gust was strong enough to literally stop the majority of us. The field eventually recollected minus Eric and the other 11 up the road. I usually do the mid-week kermis for leg speed after my morning workout (where else can you do 3 hours of motorpacing for two Euro?) so I have gotten a pretty good show of Belgian tricks from my position deep in the peloton.
Moving up on the sidewalk is a well-accepted technique in Belgium, but on Wednesday I got to see some even more interesting moves. The first corner in the course was the switch from headwind to crosswind, so it was the most important corner for positioning. At first, riders were just moving up on the sidewalk, but by midway in the race, riders were cutting across the lawn of the house on the corner, through a child’s swing set, and back through spectators watching on the corner.
They were cutting at least 60 meters of the course and moving from the back of the field to mid-pack. By the end of the race there was a nice singletrack cut through the poor owner’s yard.
Thursday we had a demonstration from one of our sponsors: Compex. They manufacture portable electro-stimulation machines. It is a pretty weird feeling at first, but your legs do feel very relaxed after the recovery session. We had a great time learning about the new equipment and some of us have started using the equipment a few times per week.
Saturday we loaded up the van and six of us headed down to Nogent Sur l’Oise (UCI 1.6), north of Paris and just a few kilometers from the World Cup start. Nogent has one of the ten oldest cycling clubs in France and they really do an awesome job of promoting races. They also have a really good racing team (top-10 in France).
Since the race is over a two-hour drive, the club provided us with hotel and meals Saturday night and Sunday morning. But warning, when racing in France the promoters will always order you the “athlete’s menu” which is much less appetizing than the buffet offered to the other hotel guests -overcooked pasta, baguette, blanched chicken breast, a big mound of shredded carrots, oranges for desert. At least you know you will loose weight racing in France. I can’t complain too much though, compared to some of the more stingy promoters I’ve met in other first world nations….
Our hotel rooms, however, were a huge upgrade from last year when we did this race. Last year we got stuck (literally) in the smallest hotel rooms in Europe. They were supposed to be for three people, but even three of me would have a hard time moving around in there. This year we had the deluxe rooms, complete with a water heater for coffee and a desk.
The race Sunday worked out pretty well for the team. When I pre-rode the course on Saturday I remembered every hill, every rise, every exposed field in the 38 km lap. I thought, “this was a really hard race last year.”
It seemed so fast and scary. This year it was just another race. More than that, our team was no longer the one praying to finish a few riders. This year we were in the moves, maybe not driving the breaks, but doing our work.
Part way through the race, the announcer on the race radio said something to the affect that: “the race in being dominated by foreigners, and the Americans are leading the charge.” I am not sure we have ever been even mentioned on the race radio before, so I am taking that as a good sign. Between the Australians on Giant Asia, and us, everything up the road was represented.
On the second lap (of four) I missed my feed, so I decided to call Bernard up from the caravan and become water boy. In a race like this, with 200 riders, it is something you only do if you no choice, because it can take 15 miles to move back to the front of the field. The bottle pickup went perfect and I was back moving in the field in no time with the help of Matt Sadauckas. Meanwhile, Dan Bowman hit up a counterattack that caught the front group, so he found himself in the lead group. At the end of the third lap, however, the peloton was together and I was finally back at the front (after moving up for 20 miles) and I found myself in a break of 13 (what am I doing here?). Matt, Pete Barlin, and Dan were immediately at the front to go in counterattacks and Pete got in the attack that stuck. I ended up getting dropped out of the group with a Nogent rider on the climb, and we faded back to Pete’s group.
There were about 30 of us left in the “peloton” and it went pretty fast, almost catching the front six riders (the remnants of the group I was in) in the local laps. Pete rode good in the local laps and had a good shot at winning the group, but it just didn’t happen. I was wasted and gave it everything I had to just stay in the group so I was pleased. Dan and Matt came in close behind our group. Finally it seems like our ability to race is closer to the talent in the house. We didn’t race perfectly, but we did a good job and raised some eyebrows, I think. Hopefully next year we’ll get even better hotel rooms.
This Saturday is our first pro race of the year, the ZLM Tour in Holland. Monday we do a race in the Ardennes, and our other squad will be doing a two-day race, Sunday and Monday, in France. Hopefully I will have more good news to write next week. It is supposed to be good weather all week. Maybe later in the week I’ll have a chance to be a tourist for the afternoon. Normally.