Belgium, 12 Days 7 Rraces
On the 18th August I set off on my journey, first stop Birmingham, to meet Andy our Swanny who I was going to travel with to Overijise in Belgium with in the Madison Genesis bus. Three hours to Birmingham, then three hours to the ferry, another two and a half hours to Overijise, it was a long day of travelling but we finally made it to the hotel accommodation.
Next morning we were out as a team for a short pre race ride to the cafe in Leuven, before handing our bikes over to mechanic Ross and getting a massage, then having supper and getting a good nights sleep in. Our First block of racing was full on, Zottegem 1.1, Overijise 1.1, Erpe Mer Pro Kermis, Dutch food valley classic 1.1 and finally Muelebeke Pro kermis.
Zottegem, the First race, was much like a pro kermis, held over circuits around a town, the pace was relentless and my job was to try to get in a break away for the day. However I was unsuccessful after several attempts. I then resorted to helping out my team mates who were left in the race by fetching bottles from the team car and distributing them. Two and a half hours into the race, it was strung out, and unfortunately I found myself in the worst position to be in, the tail end of a bunch of 200 plus riders. When a few weaker riders let a gap go in front of me, I tried as hard as I could until my legs wouldn't pedal anymore to get back on but it didn't happen.
Overijise was next, we rode to the start to get the legs going and then it was off again, this race was more hilly with numerous short sharp climbs throughout the race. I survived the first part where the race took in several laps of an out of town loop, then when it hit the local laps the race was in pieces. I was in a good position in one on the front groups when Liam asked for bottles, as it was my job that day I headed to the back of our group to call up the team car, then the race split again. I found myself fighting to stay in contention at the back of the group with riders being dropped all over the place. I then was back in the cars. I received a sticky bottle from Roger which slingshotted me back into a small 10 man group, I let my heart rate go below threshold before hitting out on my own to attempt to bridge to the group I had left, but after 150km of racing my legs were having none of it and it was race over for me. Liam did a good ride for 34th place the only finisher of our team.
Erpe Mer Pro Kermesse was the next on the agenda, 166km, with an added dimension.........rain. The race was a rather damp affair, but at least the bunch took the corners a bit more casually allowing me to get the legs going after the two previous days racing. The race had a nice drag up through the finish and some good technical corners and flat sections. I rode myself into the race and was feeling good towards the end. Dean did a really good ride to finish 19th on our team. Me, Liam and Dom finished in the second group on the road.
Our Forth day of racing was the 200km Dutch Food Valley Classic. The journey there was a bit short for time after getting stuck in traffic on the ring road that goes around Brussels, but at least the adrenaline was going on the start line. Yet again it was a case of riding myself into the race, the first 50 km was flat out and we covered it in less that an hour. In Holland there is the addition of large amounts of traffic furniture, as it's called. This adds a new dimension to the race and you have to be alert all the time, something that is not to easy for 200km. I found myself on a few occasions making the wrong decision when it came to which side of a bollard to go on, or going up a bike path only to find that some off-road riding is required to rejoin the bunch. The basic out line of the route was 50km out to a hilly forested area, than laps of a circuit with two climbs in and then 60km back on rolling roads to a hilly finishing circuit, a punishing day to say the least. I was on bottle duty again and was back and forth to the car stuffing bottles up my jersey to give to my team mates. It was a long hard day and eventually on the penultimate lap of the finishing circuit the elastic snapped and I was distanced from the peleton. I rode the last laps with four other riders who like me wanted to finish the race. We did 200km in 4hrs40. I was well and truly wiped out after that.
The next day at Muelebeke pro Kermesse didn't go so well for me, the legs just wouldn't respond and I found myself at the back and out the back after only a short amount of time, I kept riding but Andy pulled me out and I headed strait for the camper van and fell asleep instantly, a sign that the body was tired and fatigued and it had made its mind up about today even if i hadn't.
As a team we then had three days before the final two days of racing, which is quite hard to get right in terms of rest and preparation. I rode steady for two days, a nice cafe ride Sunday on which my legs would hardly move, then a steady hour and a half Tuesday followed by a blow out ride Wednesday to get the legs going again and to prepare them for the race efforts on Thursday. We had some nice meals out in town and a great BBQ at Rogers house which made the days go really quickly.
Our Final races were two Pro Kermesses, Geraddsburgen and Kortemark. Geraddsburgen was 168km on a 10km circuit with a steep cobbled climb up though the finish. I was riding well that day and staying well within my limits, positioning well and thinking I would definitely be able to be part of the race in the closing stages. Until disaster, two hours in I punctured at the top of the climb and was then forced to chase through the convoy of cars, desperately trying to get back into the race. Unfortunately in my eagerness to get back into the race I went far to deep in the attempt and after clawing my way so close I was almost there my legs caved beneath me and that was that, back to the camper, where five of the team were already after they had been dropped earlier in the race.
The last race of our two week Belgium campaign, Kortemark, a flat 167km race, with open crosswind sections and a small sector of cobbles. I had a really enjoyable first part of the race getting stuck in following moves and chasing on the front of the peleton. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when the decisive move went. I managed to finish the race in 54th place in the second group on the road. A good end to some fantastic races and a great few weeks in Belgium.
The travel back was not so fantastic, another endurance effort, arriving home at 5am after driving through the night.