Written, but not posted yesterday:
We’re on the team bus going from Belgium to France for the next race. It is about 4 hours and I figure it is a good time to write about the latest race: Binche-Tournai-Binche. The race was a memorial to the last winner Frank Vandenbrouke, a super talented cyclist whose life ended recently for reasons not completely known. Although the race had been disbanded for several years, it was back in full colors this year and the crowds were excited and the venue quality.
At the start of the race, my legs were totally blocked and I considered just turning around and going back to the bus feeling like it was inevitable I would soon be dropped. I survived though and eventually opened up a bit. Not so long after though, it was cross winds and full gas, splitting the field. I fought hard and was in the front. Then as we entered the feedzone, the winds were again crossing the field and the pace was being driven, so the field split. I unfortunately am the proud owner of the split in the field. I just couldn’t hack it! Not such a nice feeling. Many riders fell off the pace though as the front group was only 50. We continued to chase and despite our advantage of having Gert in the front group, we had no one else, so it was to our benefit to try and get back into the field. We did not pull the chase group hard, but we did take a few rotations just to stay in it near the front and hopefully be fresh if/when we reintegrated because at that point there were sure to be attacks and we want to be freshest to go with them.
We did get back in and as expected attacks went immediately. I was surfing the front and watching, but nothing too bad happened. A break of 8 men remained off the front with about 60km to go at about 1 minute advantage. The local circuit was not very easy. It had about 1.5km of cobbles split between two different sections. The first was an uphill section about 1km from the finish and very difficult. There were two smooth sections about 1 foot wide on either side of the road where the sewer drains were, but obviously not everyone can ride there, so I just took the beating in the middle and tried to move up, although not so successfully. Then there was a section running for the last 250m before the finish line and then probably 500m after it. Immediately after those cobbles it was a long uphill drag out of town to the rest of the circuit. Overall, it was quite a hard local circuit considering the cobbles, turns, wind, and rolling hills.
Inevitably as the race came closer to the end, the pace was driven upwards and the gap began to close, however, not very quickly. I was part of the chase and we brought it down inside 30 seconds I think before the final drag to the line. At that point I was pretty cooked. Chechu and I had been pulling into the last lap and when we hit that first uphill section of cobbles, I just couldn’t go. It is a helpless feeling as the bike bounces beneath you on the cobbles and you just cannot generate the power to stay with the leaders. I did manage to get through and hang on the back though. Then as we passed the second section of cobbles I held position and clawed my way back to the front of the field on the uphill drag to take any last remaining energy I had and put it into the chase of the break. I wanted the break back so that Gert could do the sprint. He had a great chance of winning. After I detonated, I hung on for a few more km toward the finish, but at about 4km I pulled the plug, deciding I was not going to be able to get back to the front and help Gert with the sprint and that I had enough of the rough roads.
Racing in Belgium is very special for sure. Courses are always unique, sometimes dangerous and the racing is not easy due to wind or weather. It is great for learning though because positioning is key and it is great for training because you have to be able to go very hard on the flats and rolling hills. It is very different training/racing than the standard mountains. Through my last week here I have gained a new appreciation for it and am glad I have had the opportunity to learn and experience these races. I hope the hard racing will help me be at my best for Lombardie.