I have been in Europe for two weeks now, and I have one week left. On one hand I really don’t want to go home because of school (and i’m racing my bike in Europe which isn’t too bad), but on the other hand, I miss everyone. I’ll make this last week count.
On Tuesday, we did a light spin in the morning, then in the afternoon we rode the 30km to the Tuesday night practice race. It was a combination of a group ride and a race that we don’t see much of in Tucson. It cost 5 Euro, and you got a race number, but it was still called a practice race. It was held on an old horse racing track that was paved over, about 1.3km in length. We rode in circles for an hour and a half. We had a race the next day, so I didn’t want to completely wreck myself. It was a lot like the shootout, except there were about 100 riders, and there were a lot more strong guys, and consequently the group stayed as a whole and went really fast. The pace wasn’t necessarily really high, but the speed was. We just kept gaining more and more momentum. On the finishing sprint I somehow went 39mph on my 52×16 gearing. After the race we were supposed to get a ride home in the van, but it broke down so we had to ride home. That turned it into a 100km day.
The next day was our 3rd kermis. It was a pretty big deal, with a massive stage and lots of spectators. My teammate Brandon was off from the gun with a few others. Soon him and a very strong Danish guy went clear of that group. I was still in the main group, where my other teammate Matteo went with another small group. They made it up to Chase 1, and formed a large chase group. At this point the Danish kid attacked Brandon as if he was standing still, and he was gone. Brandon waited for the chase group. I was still in the main group, and I was covering some moves and one stayed away. I was with two other guys. One of them was working well with me, but the other one was saying “you work, you win” every time I tried to make him work. So he was just going to sit on, but he was going to supposedly let me beat him if we made it to the finish. At this point we were nearing the start/finish, and I think we had about 3 laps to go, and they both started attacking hard. Really hard. Too hard. I followed them, but then they crossed the line and started coasting. My coach yelled to me that the race was over. I pulled over, and he explained that the solo Danish kid was about to lap us. They pulled us and the entire pack, and all that was left was the chase group and the solo Dane. Since so many people don’t finish Kermis’s, you still get a placing, even if you get pulled. In this case, only 13 people finished the race. I ended up 16th. Brandon attacked the chase group on the last lap and captured 2nd.
On Thursday, we did a long, easy 4 hour ride through Belgium. We rode with a few locals who knew the roads really well.
Today was Sunday, and we raced our 4th Kermis, the Geel Kermis. Right from the gun, Brandon went solo. A few laps later, Matteo bridged with one other guy, who soon fell apart and dropped back to us. We now had two USA guys up the road with nothing between them and a 1-2 finish, but we had a job to do. We had to control the race, and cover all of the moves and keep anything from getting away. Soon, the gap climbed over two minutes. A group of six guys went up the road, without a USA jersey in it. The pace was also pretty high in the group, but I knew I had to bridge. Bridging in and of itself can be difficult, but trying to go 30mph with a 52×16 gearing in a tailwind is killer. I barely made it up to that group, thanks to a corner and the fact that the Belgians don’t corner. Once in the group, I recovered and assessed the situation. My legs didn’t hurt too much, and my stomachache that I had most of the race was gone. I started working, but I had no idea how many laps were left because I don’t understand their gibberish and there are no lap counters. Our group was gaining ground quickly. Lap after lap went by. Finally, an official held out his finger as we went through the start/finish. One lap to go. We promptly began the cat-and-mouse game. Nobody wants to work anymore, because they want to be the most fresh for the sprint. This is a very dangerous game, though, and the group can often get caught by the pack. I decided to attack. Maybe nobody would want to chase, and we could walk away with a 1-2-3 finish. I look back, nope, they definitely waned to chase. I was caught soon later, and decided to rely on my sprint. We closed in on the finish. It was a long, wide, straight finish with a tailwind. One guy attacked, the guy I’m on followed, and I followed him. The finish line appeared in the distance, and I go early. 300 meters out, at least. I force myself to keep sprinting, even though I shouldn’t be able to sprint that long. I see a wheel creeping up on the right, but there is the line. I got it by probably half-a-wheel. So team USA goes 1-2-3, and everyone is happy.
Of all of the things I have learned so far on this trip, I would say the most important is that most races don’t go your way. As my coach said, Eddy Merckx was arguably the best bike racer of all time, but he only won about 30% of the races he started. For the rest of us, the percentage is much lower. Sometimes your legs will feel really good, but it won’t be your day and you don’t do well. Then the next race you are sure you can win, you feel so good. But you miss the winning move. But you need to remember, that if you just keep trying, eventually you are successful.