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…..