Monday, July 14, 2014

Trials and Tribulations

Friday, July 4th
     It has been a fair amount of time since I last posted from Europe. However, I am now sitting on free time and I figured that I should begin to write.
     Friday, July 4th kicked off the four day, five stage Sint Martinusprijs Stage Race, in Belgium. This particular stage race is one of the most iconic junior races for Belgium. It is known as an "Interclub" race. I am still a little fuzzy on the exact definition but it is an extremely competitive race that draws teams from all over the world. This particular one also allowed for a full race caravan. Think of ProTour races with team cars but for juniors. It was a neat experience.
     The stage for Friday was the prologue. The prologue was a short effort of just over five miles and eleven minutes. It was a brutal effort and quite the way to kick off the race. July 4th was also the day that a few lucky team members had the privilege to race USA Cycling Time Trial bikes on the fourth of July. Can you say "Patriotism"? Oh yeah. Loud and proud.

     The Saturday portion, of the race, was the first road stage. Initially, the race was complete carnage. With fresh legs, hyper-motivated international teams, and prestige, on the line, there was bound to be gutsy racing. The first crash came about five kilometers into the stage. A few teammates went down but they were able to rejoin, as the race was neutralized. The remainder of the race went off without a hitch. Crashes, brutal accelerations, and antics were becoming regular. Overall, the stage was 80 miles, 3:07:48 seconds, completed at an average speed of 25.4 miles per hour.

     With stormy weather predicted for the afternoon, Sunday was a grind. It was the first and only day with two stages.
     The morning stage consisted of the team time trial. Time trialing is a discipline that I am always excited to squash. The race against the clock is a true test of will, determination, power, and in this case, teamwork. After beginning with five riders and shedding two early on, Robert, Tom, and I were off for the races. The three of us worked well, as a unit, and my legs felt outstanding. I was propelled by the possibility of moving up in the overall standings, promoting our team sponsors, and representing America, as one of only six, in the race. Our team finished in 18th out of around 32 teams, with an average speed of 27.3 miles per hour over 11 miles. The only downside of the outing, for me, was rim rolling a tubular for the last 800 meters. That was easily the most painful part of the stage. The German National Team held positions one through five in the overall standings, after the team time trial.
     Between the morning and afternoon stages, a race caravan to Antwerp, Belgium took place. This was a chilling, once in a lifetime experience.

Caravan staging.
Taking over the highway.
     The afternoon stage started in Antwerp and traversed down to Kontich, before the finishing circuits began. Unfortunately, I never made it to the finishing circuits in Kontich. While racing from Antwerp to Kontich, the peloton was caught in an enormous storm. The driving rain and wind put the peloton on edge, as few people had brakes that worked well in the slick conditions. While making a left hand turn, my front wheel was struck by a rider that was unclipped and attempting to slow down. My wheel took care of that proposition. However, one spoke was broken and one was severely bent. This caused my wheel to go out of true and rub on my brake pad until coming to a complete stop. Down I went. With the need for a new wheel, I waited for the team car before receiving a wheel change and then a bike change. All of my problems were sorted out and it was time to chase. Bad luck would strike again, after about a fifteen minute chase that left me just meters behind peloton, when I crashed in a slick left hand turn. The superficial injuries were not horrible but my left leg seized up, during the accident. I abandoned the race and would not be racing on the fourth and final day. Sunday was a day for the hard men of cycling. The peloton split into pieces and the top German rider was now in fifth place. So much can go wrong when the weather turns for the worst.

     Monday was the final day of the four day stage race. I was "gutted" to not be racing but the team did great! Everyone who started, from our team, finished the fourth day strongly. I was able to support the team with two stellar bottle feeds, if I may say so myself. It was odd to be watching from the sidelines and I was eager for the burning sensation in my legs that would have been present had I been racing.

     Tuesday and Wednesday were the final days at "The Chainstay" for our team. We certainly went out on a high note. Both days were filled with very few events and mellow riding.

     Thursday, Friday, and Saturday was family time before splitting. We spent the day in Brussels on Thursday, before taking the Eurostar to London for Friday and Saturday. If you want to see super cars, go to London! It is a very interesting town that is buzzing with excitement but I will never forget the numerous super cars and dealers that were out in force.

     Sunday was certainly a bitter-sweet day. As I took the Eurostar train back to Brussels, the rest of my family was headed back to the United States. I cannot wait for the experiences that are ahead of me for the next month and I know that I will be in close contact with my family.
     After arriving in Brussels, Jozef Mertens was kind enough to provide me with transportation to Oudenaarde. We made a quick stop at "The Chainstay" for bicycles and luggage, before making the journey to my host family. I know that I will have a wonderful month in Belgium, with my host family. They were warm, inviting, and extremely friendly. I am having a blast here. Tom and I will have great training grounds and many more Belgian kermesses for competitions.

     Monday has been a lazy day, which is perfect. I woke up mid-morning and took off for a spectacular ride. My host family was kind enough to lend me their GPS. It has a "Surprise Me" loop feature, which calculates three optional loops, depending on the inserted time and distance. The device worked perfectly and I completed a three hour ride that included a variety of major roads, bicycle routes, dirt roads, and  cobblestones. Tomorrow will be more of the same and Tom arrives in the evening. Wednesday is our first race of the continuation!      

Taken on my Monday ride.

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