This is what most bike racers do in the off-season. As all Texas boyz know If you aint tanning, you aint training. Good job to our friends up in OKC, well produced.
Straight from the Moose:
Kermesse in Sinaai, Belgium: 14 Laps of 8k, for 112k/70mile race. This course has races at least once per week, and often 2-3 times per week. It’s more or less a big square, 4 corner circuit race. One interesting feature is a 2k section that has terrible cobblestones…with a narrow blacktop bike path running next to it. There is a mad dash on every lap leading up to this section (it’s just after a corner), as NO ONE rides the cobbles, so a 110-150 rider field is reduced to a near stop as we turn onto the bike path in groups that are 2 and 3 riders wide….the guys at the front of the race know this, so they hammer out of the turn and down the path, meaning that the further back you are going into the turn, the longer and longer you have to sprint and hammer to follow the wheel and stay with the bunch. We also had another 1.5k section of small cobbles through the “downtown” of Sinaai…these were in pretty good shape and didn’t do much damage.
I’ve raced this course twice now since being here. In that first race, I came off after around 90 minutes, mainly due to blowing up one too many times trying to hold the wheel on the bike path sector as well as trying to solo across to a move and burning all of my matches at once!
This race, I stayed much further forward but, more importantly, remembered to stay calm on the bike path and drill it, but not blow myself up….as by the end of the 2k section, the front has slowed down, so the important thing to do is stay within yourself (if you can) and be patient.
Anyway, back to the race. Before we set off, I was under the impression that we were doing 13 rondes, as opposed to 14. I felt pretty good, although it was pretty HOT for the Belgians (around 84-86F)…one guy started the race with his jersey already fully unzipped. A break of 6-8 went from the gun and no one seemed too concerned about it. There was a prime at the finish of the 3rd lap, so I think the bunch resolved that the break could have that, but we were still riding hard and not just letting them have several minutes. I was racing with another guy from the house, James the Canadian. He’s 24 and a really strong diesel of a rider. He’s got no sprint, but he can drive a break and just never seems to tire. I did my best to look after myself and never make unnecessary moves. James, on the other hand, was not in the original break and spent the first 90 minutes launching “attacks” (remember, no real sprint/jump) that were slowly reeled back in each time. As the laps ticked down, it dawned on me that I might be able to actually finish this race, so I was starting to get pretty excited. As it’s just a 4 corner circuit race and there was not too much wind, it was much simpler to hang with the bunch than on a full on, 12-16 corner 10+k lap race, where you’re constantly guttered from one side of the road to the other…
I was trying to calculate how much longer we’d have to race, as I’d not seen lap cards. When I believed we only had 2 laps to go (laps were taking 10:30 to 11 minutes), I advised James of this and that he may want to consider attacking on the last lap, when we come out of the last turn, as it’s right around 2 minutes from that last turn to the finish line, and knowing his characteristics, I felt he could likely hold them off.
Shortly after speaking with James, as we were beginning what I thought was going to be 2 laps to go, I finally saw a lap card….3 laps to go. Fortunately I was feeling good enough that the prospect of an unexpected 10-11 more minutes didn’t mess with my head. We had caught the early break by this point and were still racing hard in these last 3 laps, with small groups of 2-6 trying to force their way off the front. I got into one of these groups, with two other guys. I put in solid pulls with one other dude, but the third guy’s heart wasn’t in it. We did manage to roll off by 5-7 seconds and hold that for 3-4 minutes, but with only 2 of us 3 working, and the pack not interested in just letting us roll away, our lazy 3rd wheel sat up and, after one last little pull, I sat up as well.
We finally hit one lap to go. I could see that James was having a rough time of it, as he’d been making the race SO much harder on himself than I had been. The speed stayed high, but there were fewer and fewer attacks/launches off the front, and a bunch sprint was looking likely as most guys were pretty wasted. James did jump off the front with around 2 minutes to race…he held it until about 60m to go, when he was swarmed. I was trying to channel my inner Pico Tranquillo and think like a sprinter as we approached the line, but it was getting more and more sketchy and, as my quads were starting to cramp pretty good, I figured I’d better sit up rather than try for a sprint, cramp up and cause a problem!
James rolled in for 33rd place after being swarmed and I backed off and coasted through at the back of the bunch for 47th. We started with well over 128 riders (that’s the highest bib number I saw in the race), so only around 1/3 of us survived to the finish.
I caught up with James and he was wrecked from his effort at the end and also from his efforts all race long. He was also suffering from the heat. It would seem that 86F degrees is quite warm for Canada……ha!
So, I was destroyed the following day (Tuesday). I did an easy spin to a race (17k away), but decided to watch rather than race. The next day (Wednesday) I did race, getting dropped after about 25 minutes and then recovering for over a minute, before I jumped into a chase group of around 30 that was riding steady. I did a lot of work and tried to get guys to work in a paceline…of the 30, around 5-10 understood and put in pulls, but the others were just blown and following wheels and not pulling through. We rode together for around 25-30 minutes and then got pulled. I was still feeling the effects of Mondays race, but the legs were less sore after hammering a bit. Thursday was a totally lazy day, with lots of lying around.
Now it’s Friday and there’s a race 25-30k away tonight at 6p. I figure I’ll spin to the start and, what the hell, pay my 5Euros to start and see what happens. Saturday is a nice little trip back to Holland to race. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday all have races…not sure how many I’ll try, but as I fly out Wednesday morning and return to the “real world,” I might have to start at least a few…..
I got this scattered reporto from the Moose regarding a crit he raced in Holland:
The crit in Holland was good. 4 corner crit, raced the traditional Northern European way….that’s right, braking into EVERY corner!!!! Haha
We got lost repeatedly looking for the place, and finally found the sign-on pub 20 minutes before the start. Just myself and James (the Canadian) racing. James is strong and was looking forward to a nice, flat, fast course. We lined up and were advised 46 laps. Jesus, I thought, this could be a long night…!!! I settled in quickly and managed to rail turns 2 and 3 every lap, but turns 1 and 4 really kept fucking with me, so I ended up getting gapped off quite often. Laps were taking 2:20-2:35, so quickly (for an English major), I determined that this was going to be a 2 hour love affair…
I managed to ride within myself, even as my name was announced every 2nd or 3rd lap….at some point they said something about Texas, then something about Austin. I think I only imagined them saying something about Armstrong, but not sure. Anyway, I knew at least one break was up the road, but I was determined to ride smart and finish, so they couldn’t have a laugh about the old USA…
Around 17 laps to go they advised my group, which had been slowly shrinking lap after lap that it was the LAST LAP–they made a point of stating it in English especially for me.
We started to wind up on the back stretch and I quickly realized that 6 of the 10 in my bunch were totally suffering and had nothing in the tank. Pretty good fakers, these guys. I wound up 3rd in my bunch and around 28th overall. James (the Canadian) ended up finishing 7th. Luckily he picked up 4 primes (paying 3 deep…he got 1 first and 3 3rds). His 7th place was only worth €10….but he collected another €30 in primes. More important for the 25 year old, he had a local team scouting him (thanks to a Canadian contact) and also picked up 2 jerseys and 2 bibs from this team along with possible entry to some other races in Holland over the next few months. I’m happy for him, as he’s a monster. No sprint, but can DRIVE the pace as it suits him.
Back in Belgium and, after a quick spin down to the market for a few beers, time to sleep. Racing 20k away tomorrow. Back to Kermesse racing….hoping to be smart and survive to the finish.
The team received a brief email from the Moose after an apparent run in with a Belgian free-safety:
So, I woke up this morning (Tuesday) sore as shit from Sunday’s crash. Guess it took an extra day to catch up with me…. I bashed my right hip a bit more than I realized at first, and it’s making my knee ache.
My damaged front wheel (new Fulcrum Racing1) ended up having the spoke pop when the mechanic tried to true it. Guess the rim got bent when the knucklehead next to me had his bike jump into mine. Hopefully the shop can repair it and it’ll be all good to race in Holland tonight- there’s a 7pm crit just across the boarder. The Canadian and South African/British kids want to go, and a good old fashioned crit sounds just like what the doctor ordered to get me feeling good again.
We’ve been doing some easy riding to and from races in 60 degree weather which is a perfect warmup/cool down. 65+k each way is a bit overkill, but it’s more the crazy fast/hard racing that is doing me in, not the warmups…
Hopefully tonight’s crit will suit me. I know nothing about the course or the length, so promises to be a surprise no matter what happens!!!
Before dawn, we stopped on the outskirts of Portland to fill the van and grab some coffee. Always the conversationalist, Trickey asked the attendant if they had any coffee inside. “We sure do, and I guarantee it’s probably fresh.” Those of us that were jonesing bad enough placed our trust in his hands and ventured inside to purchase a cup for the road (he was right, it probably was fresh, but I couldn’t tell). Sir Chris and I got our mouths burned off by foul coffee that we drank anyway, Roman took one sip and decided otherwise and Moose and Pico opted to pass completely. Ultimately, the patient would be rewarded with piping hot espresso, drawn by a rather dapper gentleman, not 20 meters from the start of the race.
Sipping sweet, nutty, aromatic brew from miniature enameled mugs in the crisp mountain air, we all got our fill of caffeine from the pop-up barista. For some of us, each shot was nothing more than a drug to help jump-start the system. For others, the shot was sipped and enjoyed, taken slowly and savored while the caffeine did it’s work. The experience was surreal, but somehow I can’t help but feel that it was somehow wasted on those of us who wanted nothing more than to get a fix. For us, the means has no bearing on the end result, because the result is more important than the experience. The difference being delineated by the mindset of the individual during the act of consumption. After everybody was satiated, regardless of intent, we formed up for a very, very tan team meeting.
Our plan was simple: set a solid tempo at the beginning of the ride to finish strong while enjoying the camaraderie. We weren’t going to be one of those teams that goes out too fast only to implode in spectacular fashion miles from the finish. We’d eventually form up with the only team starting after us and then ride with them until the pace dictated otherwise. They’d ride as hard as they wanted, and we’d patiently ride away the miles until they cracked or suffered the inevitable myriad of flat tires that the Gentlemen’s Race was historically notorious for. As much as we said otherwise, we were there to win. I was there to win.
Fast-forward two hours: our start time came and went on schedule and we found ourselves lighting a fire down highway 26 from Government Camp just inches off the bumper of the pickup truck that carried the videographer, sprinting out of the saddle to stay in the draft. Not quite ten minutes into the race and our team was already split. Lucky for us, the driver of the truck got tired of motorpacing well before we did and we came back together in time to join our first team of opponents at the bottom of the descent. Together the twelve of us made the right hand turn to start the first climb of the day; the ascent up to Lolo Pass.
With no video cameras in sight, everybody settled into a rhythm and we started climbing with the Thump team out of Bend. Considering the lack of mountains in Texas, it was probably a good idea that we let the real climbers dictate the pace. Halfway up, the eventuality discussed in the team meeting came to fruition as we were caught by River City Cycles. We merged our power and set the cruise control. The only thing worse than the pace of the group going uphill was the pace going down, only because the attention the road demanded while descending took away from the opportunity to zone out on the amazing landscape. In between flashes of mind-blowing scenery, teams shuffled in and out of the peloton we had assembled. The miles ticked off:
Mile 40 – Nature break. Motorpace back onto the main group.
Mile 52 – Food stop in Sandy. River City Cycles almost got away while we were refueling.
Mile 66 – Pickle joke as we turn onto Clausen Road
Mile 78 – Water stop in Eagle Fern Park and River City rides away. The miles are starting to sink in.
Mile 88 – Turn back onto 26 and I could think of nothing more than closing the gap. I drill the headwind descent and split the team up.
John bridged up to me and very succinctly said what I needed to hear; “Murdy, wake the fuck up!” And I did. That was precisely when I realized that I had turned the Gentlemen’s Race into one more competition to win; one more race where the result was more important than the process of reaching the finish. I was consuming fine scotch like it was cheap Tennessee swill; drinking to get drunk instead of savoring each exquisitely aged sip. It was the morning coffee all over again, except this time I was forcing my teammates to drink the gas station coffee. I realized that we were being offered freshly pulled espresso in dainty little cups on top of a fucking mountain, yet I was forcing everybody to drink oversteeped, slightly burnt gas station sludge.
I quietly rode off the back of the team for the next mile, lamenting my cupidity. And then it was gone; all the pressure I put on myself to win at a race that wasn’t meant to be a race. I woke up to the absurdity of it all; I was wasting the experience and diminishing the experience for my teammates. I realized it at precisely the right moment because the Gentlemen’s Race was about to blossom into what it was truly about. We passed the Zig Zag Cafe on highway 26, eleven miles to Government Camp, at mile 102 on the odometer. Some quick maths told us that our 102, plus the next eleven, didn’t quite add up to the promised 121. We spent the next two miles trying to figure it out, until we took the slight right onto Still Creek Road. It became painfully obvious as we diverted from the smooth ride up highway 26: tarmac was replaced by gravel.
We were warned; Rapha delivered. Rocky and rutted, the road went up. Endlessly. At first, the gravel was a refreshing change of pace, but as mile after shaky mile kept coming, the road surface got worse and progress slowed. We cracked. And at that very moment, the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race was reduced to it’s essence: six teammates steadily clawing our way up the gravel, forest pressing in on both sides hiding the river that we knew was there only by the sound of the cascades falling down the same slope we were struggling to climb up. We were suffering together, progressing toward the finish as a team; for the first time, we were all drinking from the same cup. This is what the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race is about: team. It doesn’t matter what the intent is as long as everybody shares it. And then, just as suddenly as it started, the gravel was done. We rounded the last bend and the forest opened up to sky; Trillium Lake greeted us at the summit with Mt. Hood off in the distance. We finished the last three miles of climbing on silky smooth asphalt and rolled back into Government Camp, spread across the road six abreast.
Back to the Moose’s Belgian campaign:
Today was Race 3 for me, and I believe the jet lag has finally let up. It was a 7.5km loop, with 16 laps on schedule. I hoped to not do anything too stupid in the early stages so that I’d be able to complete the race. The Belgian National Elite Champion was in attendance, so he was racing in Bib Number 1. That was cool to see. The first few turns getting out of town were a bit sketchy, with guys dive bombing like an American crit. Once we were on Main Road 1 (my name for it!) out of town, there was a roundabout that brought one knucklehead down. We motored out Main Road 1 for 3-4 minutes before slowing almost to a stop to make a 160 degree right turn onto a narrow Farm Road. Paved, but just over one lane wide, with some twists and turns that had standing water in them. We were guttered to the left side of the road on this section, that lasted for about 4-5 minutes, and there was more crashing on this part of the course on lap 1. I’ve rarely seen crashes here, even though the roads can be a bit nuts at times.
As the laps went by, and the group of 90 was reduced to about 40-50 riders. We finished the first hour and a break of 6-8 was established, but not too far off of the front. A chase group formed for a few laps, but never really moved away and was finally brought back on the 7th lap. This led to counter attacks and a new chase group forming. The rest of the bunch sat up big time and one of my housemates, James from Canada, tried to bridge across. As he did, I thought to myself, “STUPID MOVE!” as the chase group didn’t seem to be going anywhere and there was still a LOT of racing left to go. James blew up and came back to my group and, for some unknown reason, The Moose made an attempt to bridge! (STUPID!!!)…..
I got within about 20-30 meters of the chase group as we turned onto the Farm Road, and thought better of my 2 minute effort….I looked back to see the once mellow group I’d been in was now one long line being led by the Belgian Elite National Champ….oh shit!! I moved to the left side of the road and hoped I’d be able to jump onto the back of the train as it came by. I managed to catch the last wheel, but was not in a “happy place,” and was beginning to come off. It didn’t help matters that the rider two up in the string was also popping, so the wheel I was on had to accelerate around him and that was all she wrote!
I popped and found James, who was also dangling. I advised him that we had 2-3 minutes of this lap to complete and then would probably have to ride one more loop before getting flagged in.
We came through the start and were advised to keep on riding. We were in a group of 5 by now, catching 3 others who were dropped just after we were. Two of those three quit and one junior rolled around for one more lap with James and I. We worked together and made it an honest lap, but we all knew we were never going to catch and were just trying to at least ride a respectable lap.
Finished that lap and got the checkered flag.
So, I think I could have easily lasted another 2-3 laps…maybe to the end of the race…but for making a bad decision to solo for 2 minutes and burn a match that I didn’t get time to recover from. Taking this as a pretty big plus, as feeling the jet lag is gone now and if I race smarter tomorrow and Sunday, better chances of a finish.