are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Frites met pain

Today is the last of the Flemish Spring Classics takes place, the Scheldeprijs. To be honest, I find it the most boring Belgian race in April. Probably because it’s for all intents and purposes a sprinters race. The one catch with this criticism is that it’s actually the one Semi-Classic that I’ve actually raced.

Before you start thinking otherwise: obviously not as a pro, but as an amateur. Back in the beginning of 1993, while I was living in Scotland, I received a letter from Belgium, which left me a little confused. I didn’t know anyone there. It turns out that it was an indirect reply, to a letter that I sent to the Belgium Cycling Federation asking for info on racing there, which was then published in their newsletter.

Long story short, I ended up spending 3 weeks in a village outside of Antwerp. What a strange 3 weeks those were. The family that hosted me consisted of a husband and wife. Their children had moved out years before, all of the boys were, or had been racers. While Mrs V spoke some English, Mr. V didn’t speak a word, apart from “Oh Boy”.

I think they were expecting a talented racer, trying to take the next step, instead of a curious art student, who raced bikes on the side. In the beginning the drivesto the Kermesse I raced in lasted longer than my time with the peloton. A word of advice to those who want to race in Belgium: don’t spend the winter in Scotland, riding through Hills and Mountains, then racing non-technical road races if you want to survive the “Balls to the Wall” hammer-fest that is April Kermesse racing in Belgium. I felt like I was a Cat 4 all over again, what with the way I was getting dropped and crashing out (partly) thanks over-inflated tires in wet corners.

After watching me get dropped in every race that I entered, I think they gave up on me. I couldn’t really blame them. I gave up on myself a little. Then, one day I saw a sign, not a burning bush, or a ray of light, just a plain old offset print sign, with something about a race nearby. It turned out the race was in a few days, and seeing as it was close to where I was staying, I opted to ride over there by myself. No pressure from the hosts. No soul crushing looks of disappointment.

So, off I went that Wednesday, to ride what would be - if memory serves – a race of 120 km, around the circuit that the pros ride at the end of their race. While I have the tale of that day transcribed in minute detail an old training journal, said journal is packed away in a box, in an attic, on the other side of town. I remember picking up my number in a smokey cafĂ©. In the back was a room where you could change, pin your number on, oil your legs, etc.

There’s not much that I can really recall about the race itself, apart from a 10-20 second period. I had learned my lesson it seemed, and managed not to get dropped at the gun. Actually, I felt pretty good that day, even as the 150+ field was stretched into one long line. Then it happened. Somewhere, about an hour in, I looked down at my computer. I saw that my average speed was something like 28 MPH. It occurred to me that I had never raced for an hour at that speed, and it dawned on me that we had at least another hour and a half to go. Just as these thoughts started spinning in my head, I realized that I had let a gap open up in front of me. Not good.

The riders behind me started shouting. I didn’t speak a word of Flemish, but I knew they were telling me to close the gap. It was obvious. Yet, for some reason I shouted back “I. Don’t. Speak. Dutch!” Not smart. Not smart at all. The next thing I knew, the guy behind me grabbed my jersey, and slungshot himself forward.

He closed the gap, and my race was over. There was no way I was ever going to catch back on. Game over.

The good news is that I was able to get back and change in time to grab myself some Belgian Frites with Tartar sauce, and watch Mario Cipollini win the pro race.

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