After the Geel Kermesse where we went 1-2-3, I entered into my third and final week in Europe, at least for a while. By then, I had fallen into the rhythm of daily life at Fitland, and it felt like home. Going over to Europe, I was expecting a dose of homesickness, but I was surprised that I only felt slightly nostalgic here and there throughout the trip. I even grew used to the terrible wi-fi and the lack of air conditioning. The Wednesday of my last week was my 5th race, the Lommel Kermesse. We arrived in our sprinter van, and I could already tell this race was different, bigger. There were officials standing at the entrance of the parking lots, and they checked off our team from their lists. We went to sign in (its called inscription in Europe), and again I noticed that this race seemed more important. The entire perimeter of the race course was closed off with non-translucent chain link fence. The only way to go inside was to pay. We got in for free because we were racing, but they were making serious bank because there were thousands of people inside that fence. This race was also our first cobbled race, with two separate cobbled sections on the short, criterium-like course. This was no American criterium, though. Other than the two cobbled sections, there were 8 turns, on a 1.2 km course. One of the cobbled sections had a turn in it, which was crazy. Perhaps even crazier was the fact that the finish was situated right on the other cobbled section. Needless to say, this provided for a very interesting and exciting race.
Right from the gun, the chaos began. The torrid pace that is thrown down at the beginning of every race subsided momentarily after a few laps, and I looked back to evaluate the damage that had been dealt. The race had shattered into our lead group of 10, plus about 10 more small groups dispersed behind us. Brandon was off the front, and so I was following moves in case any worked. I followed a move with Chris Blevins, and we got a little gap, but the angry Belgians didn’t let us stay away. For the rest of the race I mostly just survived with this group. By this point we were racing for second as Brandon had a sizable gap. In the end I didn’t have good position and finished 10th.
The final race was the Drieslinter Kermesse. This race was very similar to the stereotypical Belgian race you hear about in the US. There were over 100 racers, lots of crashes and havoc, road furniture, and concrete roads with a crack down the middle. Less than 15 seconds into the race, there was a massive crash that Matteo was involved in, and he snapped his top tube. Brandon was repeatedly attacking, but by now everyone knew who he was and refused to let him go. Eventually a large breakaway formed which included Brandon, my teammate Maxl, and a handful of others. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I bridged up to them. We survived a few laps, but an angry peloton combined with some not so cooperative breakaway companions brought our demise. Brandon continued to attack and eventually one stuck, with one other guy. I was recovered and considering bridging, when suddenly their gap multiplied and they were gone. Brandon went on to attack and win solo. Meanwhile I was in the group, and with about 3k to go, there was a crash right in front of me, and I t-boned some guy’s back. I hit him really hard and probably broke his back. I went down myself pretty hard, but I was up right away and pedaling. I used my adrenaline-pumped legs to make it back up to the group. I was going really fast. I caught the group with about 1.5k to go and everything seemed in slow motion. I had to somehow move up 80 positions in 1.5 kilometers. The entire road was taken up by people doing the same, and the people the front were going as hard as they could to keep their positions. I hopped the curb and rode the sidewalk, but I just couldn’t make it all the way to the front in time and I ended up 36th.
Leaving Europe was really hard, especially when I had school only hours later. I was still able to bring a little bit of Europe back home, knowledge. I learned a lot during the trip, most of which would be hard to explain with words. I know just a little more than I did one month ago, and I hope to teach some of it to everyone else on El Grupo. There is also plenty that the L’Abitabi guys can teach us, as they had a completely different experience than mine. Between various sources such as these, El Grupo has learned a lot as a whole team this summer. Hopefully we can use it to our advantage to continue to be awesome.