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By Jed Schneider
There is nothing better than racing your bike when you feel good, and nothing worse than racing your bike when you feel bad. Finally I felt good after a month of feeling terrible on the bike. One of my friends wrote me to say that I need to talk more about suffering and so forth. I guess when I am suffering the most, it is most convenient to ignore it and think about something cool. When you are riding good, suffering is easy to do, easy to talk about. When suffering is a daily affair, getting out of bed knowing the day will be a struggle, glamorizing it seems a little excessive.
Most of the full-season riders are on vacation this week, taking a break to set up for the last half of the season. I elected to stick around and do a couple of races since I have been off my bike quite a bit in the last month with sickness. Brian Smith rode the under-25 edition of the Het Volk on Saturday and gained the first UCI point of the year for the house, 10th place in a 1.5. An excellent ride, especially since he was in the break for 160km!
Tuesday we did a race in Gileuwe, near Wervik. It was what I call a “super-kermis” – an interclub that is raced on a kermis circuit course, plus a few laps. I had some bad luck, getting involved in a crash early, chasing back on, getting knocked off the road in a crucial corner (trying to gain position for the cobbles), chasing back on, and eventually getting blown out the back.
For about 5km, riding back to the feed zone, I convinced myself that I would quit bike racing forever. My legs felt great that day, and still I could not hold on. Even with the bad luck I felt like my legs were good enough to get back in the race, but I straight up got dropped. I had already planned how long it would take me to pack and get out of Belgium when I stopped in the feed zone. I pushed my bike over to the car and the wheels would barely turn. Spin the rear wheel as hard as you could, it would move a few inches. My rear brake had been pressed up against my rim for the last 20km since the crash! I never felt it rubbing. My legs were good, that’s for sure. I immediately changed those plane reservations in my head.
I raced again Sunday, a kermis in Merlebeke, outside Gent. I like the kermis courses in East Flanders, they tend to be on better roads and generally better humored than West Flanders races. Even though it is raining today, the last week has been wonderful sunny weather, and hot. Sunday was the last and hottest of these days. The pace in the first hour was very tough, but then it settled down a little when the peloton realized the front group was gone for good. The front group used and abused a few of the riders and the size of the group went from 14 to eight riders. Our group kept collecting and disposing of riders on a fairly regular basis before we got caught by the remains of the peloton with a few laps to go.
A typical tactic in kermis racing is for the front group to get more than three minutes on the peloton by 100km. That way the officials will pull the peloton early, and there is no way anyone in the front group can get “caught” as there is no one to do the catching. Thus you have to really suffer the last 20km, but you are guaranteed a top-10 placing. This is what happened on Sunday. The peloton got pulled early and the top eight guys (the only ones left in the race) totally fell apart in the 90-degree heat.
This week is a little slow since a lot of riders are on break. We have a good race on Sunday near Brussels. The team rode well there last year, placing fourth in team GC, so we are looking forward to a repeat performance there.
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Jed Schneider is racing a second year with ABC-Aitos, an American squad based in Hertsberge, Belgium( www.cyclingcenter.com). He is a two time collegiate cyclo-cross national champion, and a four time All-American. Schneider holds a Master’s degree in Geography from the University of Kansas, which usually keeps him from being completely lost while riding the roads of Flanders.