My first race in Belgium: seems like something we should celebrate for some reason. There is a certain mystique to the races in Belgium and it is not without foundation. The racing in Belgium is generally flat, fast, windy, twisty/turny, filled with pave and as I found out today, crazy!
I spent the majority of stage 1 today trying to figure out where I was in the field, where on the course we were, who was up the road (if anyone), how I was going to get to the front, when/how I was going to eat/drink something, and trying to keep my eyes open as they were constantly being bombarded with water and road dirt (who’s composition I don’t know, neither do I want to know).
The race today was incredibly fast. We completed 160km in 3.5 hours. I heard rumors the average speed was 45km/h, but I haven’t checked. All I know is that the first of the two big laps was really fast, the middle section of the second big lap was fast, and the last part of the second big lap and the final small lap was again really fast. In fact, I would venture a guess the final small lap bordered on really, really fast, but maybe that distinction is to be left only for a much bigger race with lead out trains such as Columbia HTC or Team SKY. Who knows!
For me, today was fast and it seemed that every time I thought I was moving up in the field, we would come around another corner and I was would see at least 100 guys strung out already 200 meters up the road. I found it nearly impossible to move up because of the speed and technicality of the course. It was like a giant criterium with turns coming at least every kilometer, or so it seemed. These factors also made eating and drinking a chore. For the entire race today I drank ONE water bottle and ate far less than was needed. The water bottle situation was created by a few factors. At some point during lap one, I hit a pot hole on these wonderfully conditioned Belgian roads and out hopped bottle number one. Shoot! Then I ignorantly did not take a feed as we went through the feedzone for the first time, so nothing for me there. Then the second time through the feedzone, I reached/asked for a bottle from both our soigners and they both pulled the bottle back/didn’t put it out. I was devastated! This happened because we were fortunate enough to be blessed with rain today (the first Belgium has seen in about a month I have been told) and I was wearing my black rain cape making me much less obvious to the soigners; therefore, no bottle. I was destined to make it the last 30km with no water and finish the race drinking a single water bottle: go me!
I did survive though despite this adversity and the exciting run in to the finish. After feeling like my day was done several times because the field was strung out further than I could see and being completely on the rivet, I made it to the main field and was just trying to make it to the line with everyone. At 2.5km to go a rider in the front swerved big time causing my teammate to swerve and put his front wheel in one of the big cracks running parallel to our direction of travel. As you can predict, my teammate’s wheel was eaten up and there was nothing but carnage from there. He was the first, then there were many others. I somehow, miraculously made it through the carnage. At one point I remember gripping my breaks tightly while trying to avoid the other riders who were trying to avoid the crash, while having some other riders fly by and not avoid the crash, while I was looking at two riders sliding slowly (thanks to the rain soaked roads) to a stop in front of me thinking “how am I going to avoid this?” I managed to somehow avoid them and the rest, although I think I did run over the guys foot, which thankfully was not enough for me to go down! Thank my lucky stars. After this, it was “please let me get to the finish with no mishaps.” My prayer was answered and I made it.
Man what a day in the saddle. I felt exhausted afterwards thanks to so many different factors than I was used to. The mental stress of the race was greater than others I have had, the speed was higher, although maybe the effort was not quite as great as a race such as Pais Vasco or Romandie, and I had been completely depleted of my energy/hydration stores.
I rode slowly to the bus, dismounted and stood trying to process what had just happened. I stood outside the bus and proceeded to take off my booties, shoes, socks, knee warmers, and gloves; ringing out the dirty water, still trying to conceptualize the occurrence of the past 3.5 hours. I never really could wrap my mind around it until I was messaging with my wife, the great counselor that she is (although it is not her major!) and try to put into words what happened in the race. With her help, this blog was created this evening. Everyone should say thank you to Lisa for allowing me to concoct such a wonderful story for my first day of racing in Belgium! Oh shoot, I just realized I did Liege Bastogne Liege, which is held in the Ardennes, where we race on Sunday. Oh well, that is not exactly the type of Belgian racing everyone thinks of or talks about when someone says Belgian racing. I hope I did not forget any interesting detail, but I am finished. Bed time.