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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Race report (Heavy race, that Ouderkerk)

photograph courtesy of Dolf Kloosterziel

Grey skies, and damp roads. I think of Mark Twain and San Francisco as I stand shivering at a traffic light. The light goes green, and I clatter over some tram tracks as I cross the intersection. Bumpity-bump. I hear my bottle rattle in its cage.

Considering some of the races I’ve done recently, I suppose I should be used to the sound. Rijsenhout, with its mix of wet bricks, manhole covers, speedbumps just before, and after a turn, and asphalt. Nes, with those five trips over a bike path consisting of randomly placed concrete slabs. Weesp, with its mix of old and new bricks, some rough, some smooth, some sandy.

I’ve been listening to the rattle and hum of my bike and fillings for the past month. I brace myself. Today will be no different. In fact, it will most likely be the pinnacle. Bumpity-bump.

Koningin Julianalaan. Asphalt, with some bricks, and some bumps. A tight turn on to Prinses Marijkelaan. Bricks, bumps, and more bumps. You don’t so much ride it, as surf it. A right turn on to Koningin Emmalaan. More bricks, less bumps. Right again, on to Hoger-Amstellaan, another yellow brick road that leads up, and back to Koningin Julianalaan.

A “heavy race, that Ouderkerk. Very selective” someone said, the day before. Too true. Last year, after a far too long break from criteriums, I ‘raced’ it.

It wasn’t a pretty sight: I found myself chasing wheels after watching gaps open in every corner, and while I was fighting for survival, two riders were lapping the field. Bumpity-bump-bump.

This year was going to be different. With a few crits under my belt, my cornering technique has been improving. It’s still not what it once was, or what it has to be, but I’m getting back into the groove. Or so I tell myself.

I pick up the KMII, who’s just returned from the Trois Ballons. The two of us make our way to the course. I can hear the announcer, calling the juniors race, as we cross the Amstel. We watch the juniors taking the corner on to Marijkelaan. I notice that the field is completely blown. They’re all over the course. “Heavy race, that Ouderkerk.”

We pick up our numbers. I drop off my bag at the strip, then chat briefly with an old training partner who’s volunteered to marshal a corner. He suggests that I give the race a try, not knowing that I have a number in my jersey pocket. Once the niceties are covered, the KMII and I leave for a Ronde Hoep. Time for a warm up.

I’m perfectly content to just ride easy, but not the KMII. Taking into account how blown the juniors race was, he has a point. We do a few efforts. It hurts. I remind myself that that’s what warm ups are for.

We get back to the changing rooms with time to spare. There’s the usual nervous chatter, and the familiar scent of embrocation filling the air. I pull on my skinsuit. It takes more effort than I would like. As the KMII helps me with my number, I notice a rider in the corner. He's one, of the two, that lapped the peloton last year . I ask him if he’s planning on a repeat. He half scowls, half grins, and says that he doesn’t have the same legs as then. We’ll see.

I ride a quick lap around the course. A final scan of the bumps and turns. The race doesn’t start for 10 minutes, but they’re are already lined up. I coast in and slowly, gently, weave my way closer to the front.

I gaze to my left and see that the KMII has done the same. The announcer acknowledges the sponsors of the primes, and various other inner-race competitions. I look around. Scanning the field of 85 racers.

There are a few that I should keep an eye out for: Abdu, one of the best sprinters in the area; another rider, who I’d never seen until last week, who’s now a wearing the white leaders jersey of the Amstel en Vecht series, of which this is the third and final race; and of course the man I’d just spoken with in the changing room, Sir Lap-a-Lot.

With the crack of a starters pistol, followed by the clicks and clacks of cleats meeting pedal, we’re off on our bumpy way. After struggling to clip in a few weeks ago, and paying the consequences for it, I manage to get started without any issues. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for some of those immediately in front of me. The mad dash for the first corner is on, and I find myself somewhere in the middle, having to wait my turn.

I swing right, and hit the undulating bricks of Marijkelaan. Wheels are bouncing, and bottles rattling in their cages. I want to get to the front, but there are too many riders in the way. I bide my time, waiting for the next corner, where the road widens, and the bricks are smoother.

We swing on to the Koningin Emmalaan, and the peloton stretches out. I’m too far back to see what’s happening ahead. I dig in, holding the wheel in front, ready to pounce if he lets a gap open. Briefly the pace relents, the next turn, ever so acute, on to Hoger-Amstellaan, ahead. Once again, I wait my turn.

I round the bend, and move past a few riders, trundling along the bricks, up the speed bump, and on to the next turn. When I’m back on the Julianalaan, I finally start moving to the front. It takes another lap, or two, but eventually I get to where I want to be.

Drifting amongst the top 10-15, trying to be one of the first five through the corners, I relax for a lap or two. I hear my name being shouted on a few occasions. I think it’s Andre on the Hoger-Amstellaan, I know it’s my friend, the volunteer, on the corner leading back to Julianalaan. I see another friend, who’s another training partner, with his wife and daughters. I wave.

Along the course there are loudspeakers. Due to a combination of sound quality, my heart rate, and my limited Dutch, I struggle to understand what’s being said. All I catch is a “Ho, ho!” I think he said something about a leaders prize sprint, something I’m not too bothered with. I follow, and counter, a series of surges and attacks.

While this is going on, I notice something I hadn’t seen previously: Lap-a-Lot is off the front. He must have gone early. That must be what the announcer was going on about.

As we close in on Lap-a-Lot, I see him look over his shoulder and soft pedal. He’s waiting for us to reel him in, which we do somewhere after start/finish. At this point I’m beginning to feel confident through the turns. A novelty. I countersteer on to Marijkelaan, and pedal through. Whack. Pedal strike.

Fortunately it’s nothing more than a graze. A warning. I get out of the saddle and pedal on. Bumpity-bump.

A lap later, a prime is announced. The pace picks up, and I do my best to stay near, but not on, the front. I’m not really interested in the prime. If I can get my entry money back, fine. Otherwise, I’d rather keep an eye out on the counter. The sprint goes down, and I’m either just in the money, or just out. Don’t know. Don’t really care. The counter doesn’t materialize.

The next few laps are a repetition of attack, Bumpity-bump, chase, “Ho, ho!”, Bumpity-bump, counter, Bumpity-bump, attack, “Ho, ho!”, Bumpity-bump, prime lap, Bumpity-bump, “Ho, ho!”

I hear my training partner’s wife shouting my name. Then I hear him, doing the same. I let my ego get the better of me, and start showing off, throwing in some half-hearted attacks, and riding on the front. It’s not the smartest thing to do, but it’s fun.

I lead the field on Julianalaan, for no reason whatsoever. As I pass my friend and his wife, I point at them and smile. The speakers cackle. I hear a “Ho, ho!”

A prime is announced. The KMII takes over, and shouts something. I nod. Not sure what he’s just said. Then I realize he was speaking in English, and not Dutch. He said he’d pull, and I’d sprint.

I tuck in behind his wheel, as he ratchets up the pace. We barrel down the back stretch of bricks. Bumpity-bump. Knowing that the KMII also struggles with corners, I sneak a peak behind, and finger my brakes. I half expect a surge, as he slows before the turn. It doesn’t come. The KMII swings through, and ups the pace. I dig to hold his wheel. We round the bend, and I shift down a gear.

The line is 200 meters away, and the KMII digs even deeper. I struggle to hold his wheel. As soon as I start to sprint, I realize that I can’t come around him. Two riders pass us, and we finish 3rd and 4th.

“Ho, ho!”

After the prime, things return to normal. More or less. The same repetition of attack, Bumpity-bump, chase, “Ho, ho!”, Bumpity-bump, counter, Bumpity-bump, attack, “Ho, ho!”, Bumpity-bump, prime lap, Bumpity-bump, “Ho, ho!”

I’m trying to hold back. I know I can get a result if I ride smart. Thing is, I haven’t been riding very smart. I bounce along the Marijkelaan. I remind myself that this is a “heavy race.” While I’m having this conversation with myself, I see what looks like a dangerous move rolling off the front. It’s Lap-a-Lot and the Leaders jersey rider.

I chase after them, and manage to bridge. Glancing behind I see that we have a gap. I hear my name being called by my friend and his wife. I hear it from my friend the volunteer. I see the KMII’s girlfriend, then hear her shouting encouragement.

This is when I really should be showing off, but the effort to catch them has taken its toll, so I sit behind, skipping turns. I don’t like it, but discretion is the better part of valor. Or so I tell myself.

Fortunately for me Lap-a-Lot and White jersey just get on with it. I look at the lap chart. It’s something like 15 laps to go.

We hit the corners, and I discover how well Lap-a-Lot and White jersey handle their bikes. All I have to do is follow their line, but I’m losing meters with each turn. I sprint back to catch a wheel, then sit in and recover before the process repeats.

I catch something out of the corner of my eye. It’s another rider. I think I recognize him. Yep. That’s him. He’s strong. I’m feeling OK. Or maybe I feel more confident, knowing that there is one more wheel to grab on to. I join the rotation.

We cross the star/finish line, and the speakers cackle. “Ho, ho!” I hear our names called out. A prime is announced. I’m too tired to speak Dutch, so I shout - really a plaintive wail - “f_ck the prime, f_ck the prime!”

The four of us continue to work. The corners are either getting easier, or the others are taking them slower. There’s more cackling on the speakers, but all I can make out is “Ho, ho!”

I look at the lap chart. 6 laps to go. Then I look behind, and see that we’ve been brought back. Gruppo compacto.

We’re back on the Marijkelaan. I hear the now familiar chorus of loose bottles rattling in their cages. I stay near the front, and see a few riders pass. I know one is a former Dutch champion. Of what discipline, and when, I don’t know. He’s old, but wily.

I’ve seen the other ride off in winning breaks at least twice this year. I’m in no position to follow, so I hope the KMII goes with them. I look behind, but I can’t see him. Two more riders jump, and they're away.

The peloton seems content to let the break dangle ahead of us. We cross the start/finish. I look at the lap chart. 5 laps to go.

We return to the bumpity-bump of Marijkelaan. The break is something like 200-250 meters ahead of us. We hit Emmalaan, and I see a rider jump. I ride to him, and follow his wheel through the next turn. I pedal briefly in the wind, then pull off. Then I see Lap-a-Lot spring forward.

The peloton watches. I know it’s now or never, so I chase him up the Hoger-Amstellaan. I take the corner as quickly as I can, and dig deep. I’m crawling all over my bike, twisting my head, trying to get as low as I can go. I’m closing in, but I’m not quite there.

I hit the next turn, and I’m close. I notice Lap-a-Lot look over his shoulder. He’s seen me. He eases and waits. I latch on, and pause to recover, as he ups the pace. I pull through, but all I do is slow us down.

Lap-a-Lot takes over, and flies through the following corner. We’re getting close, but not close enough. I see the KMII’s girlfriend. She’s holding out 3 fingers. Three laps to go.

I take another pull, and I’m feeling better. Not great, but better.

We’re on back on the Marijkelaan. Bumpity-bump.

We trade pulls. Mine short. Lap-a-Lot long.

The four ahead have widened their lead.

We hit the Julianlaan for the 43rd time. I hear “Ho, ho!”

I hear (at least I think I hear) my friends shouting my name. I dig a little deeper, and get a little lower.

Bumpity-bump. We’re back on Marijkelaan.

Bumpity-bump. We’re on Emmalaan.

Lap-a-Lot takes the next turn smoothly. I don’t. He has a small gap, and I go even deeper to get back on to his wheel. I don’t want to be swallowed by the peloton.

Not now.

“Ho, ho!”

For the last time, we’re riding down Julianlaan. I look under my arm, and see that we’re still clear.

I spend my last trip over the Marijkelaan chasing to get back on the wheel that I lost in the previous corner.

I’m fading. Lap-a-Lot keeps on going.

Three corners to go.

He’s tearing down the Emmalaan.

Two corners to go.

As we hit Hoger-Amstellaan, Lap-a-Lot gaps me. This time I can’t close it.

I crest the dike, and swing right one last time. I hear my friends shouting my name.

The break of four have just finished their sprint.

Lap-a-Lot has 20-30-40 meters on me. Maybe 50?

I shift into the biggest gear that my legs can handle, and race to the finish.

Heavy race, that Ouderkerk. Very selective.

“Ho, ho!”


Anonymous said...

Niet voor niets dat wij dit rondje vroeger al een "zelfmoordrondje" noemden!

Anonymous said...

Otto, we staan er volgend jaar weer! enne, meedoen belangrijker dan winnen? niet bij deze Ronde...
Friese Muur

Anonymous said...

btw, die 2 kreurs achterje op de foto, zien eruit als prutsers...

Shaver said...

zeker niet.

Big Mikey said...

Well written, my man. I was feeling every corner.

bostongarden said...

Ho Ho!!!! Always an enjoyable read.

Red Rider said...

Nicely written -- I felt like I was there, but without suffering. And now I have an overwhelming urge to learn Dutch.