Well, as you might know I’ve been in Europeland for the last week. If you haven’t been here before, you should think about checking it out. I’ll tell you some about my experience so far, because you may be interested, or, some of you should be aiming at going next year. Anyways, after arriving in Brussels, we were driven in a sweet Team USA van to the place we are staying, called Fitland. Fitland is some sort of Hotel-Restaurant-Team USA headquarters fusion. For dinner, we have been going to Fitland XL, a few kilometers away, which is a massive place with a rock climbing wall, bowling alley, and really nice restaurant. Every time we go, we are the only ones in the restraint. The first few days we did some easy riding, then on Wednesday we drove to Karsten Kroon’s house for a ride. Karsten Kroon is on Saxo-Tinkoff, and he won a stage of the Tour de France a few years back. We were expecting him to be one of those super-serious pros, but he was actually a really cool dude. We did an awesome ride in the region of the Amstel Gold race, and even rode on some of the same roads as the race. Our coach is really into the rotating paceline, he calls it the “up and off”. I have learned how important this skill is in the last week, so I would advise you to practice it a lot. Saturday was our first race, or in Europe they call it a Kermesse. The way the whole race is run is quite a bit different than in the US. When you first arrive, you go to some sort of restaurant which is hosting the event, where you sign up. You pay 10 euros to race, and you get 5 back afterwards when you return your race number. The course itself was very confusing. It was two loops, kind of in the shape of a bow tie. Doing both loops made 1 lap. It was 11 laps, and on the last lap you went backwards on the course through the finish. Hard to explain, and even harder to figure out during the race, when you don’t understand the Dutch pre-race instructions. In the race, my teammate Brandon attacked from the gun and got himself in a breakaway for the duration of the race, to come in second. A lot of the myths about Europe are actually true. They take the corners very, very, very slowly, only to sprint full-gas out of them every time. Their technical skills are far inferior to what we are used to in the US. Also, the Euros are much more angry. Always yelling, and my teammate Matteo got spit right in the face for refusing to pull because Brandon was up the road. I raced very aggressive, I thought, and Christian would have been proud. The pace was about as fast as US nationals, and this was a local race with kids from probably a few hours-drive radius. With 3 laps to go, a large breakaway formed and i bridged up. This breakaway was successful, and I sprinted out of this group second, so 4th overall. Just off the podium.
Today was my second race, and it was much different than my first race. Saturdays race was very hot, one of the few sunny days in Belgium. This, of course, suited me. Today was rainy and humid. The Belgians have a lot more experience in these conditions, but they took the corners so slow that it didn’t matter too much. I felt great in this race. With 30 km to go, I made a move and ended up solo. In about 5k I got about a 30 second lead. I hit the corners really hard, and on one I overshot it and went into the gutter, hit a rain drain, and flatted. I waited for the pack and my teammate Justin offered me his wheel. It took me by surprise, because after all for must of the year we race in different kits. But, nothing brings people together quicker than a common enemy, the Belgians. I went from a 30 second lead to a 30 second deficit, so I had some work to do. I caught the caravan and drafted the ambulance for a little. Yes, an ambulance follows the race. I caught back on and recovered. Soon I found myself in another breakaway with 12k to go. Unfortunately, we got caught on the last lap on the climb. Going into the finish, I was in a good position, top 5. I followed a late attack with 500m to go and launched my sprint around 250m to go. I cramped hard, and got swamped. I ended up 15th.
More opportunities are coming. On Tuesday night we are doing a “practice race” on a old horse racing track that is paved over. It sounds a lot like the Shootout, so it should be fun to compare. Then on Wednesday I race my 3rd race.
Just some general stuff I have noticed about Europe: Nutella comes in a glass jar, they are way better drivers than Americans, there is no AC here, porta-johns don’t lock, so your supposed to knock instead of trying to open the door, people are much more accepting of cyclists here, but the Belgian cyclists pretty much hate us, you can get back from your ride and watch the Tour de France live in the afternoon, instead of at 4am, they eat raw beef (and so did I), and in general Belgium would be a pretty cool place to live.
Its 11pm here so I should probably go to bed. Check back for my post about Wednesday’s race!