Masters’ Kermesse, Eksaarde, Flanders. 17th May 2015
Yesterday was my birthday and today I feel like I have been run over by a bus.
It is not because of the beer.
I was hoping that my cold that appeared after my crash was going to subside as I was off to Belgium with Steve and Rich B to race a 60km Masters’ (40-49 age group) kermesse near Ghent.
Instead I woke up (at 5 bloody 15) with a sore throat, a runny nose and knackered!
In fact in felt like sh*t!
Upon discussion with my team mates in Steve’s awesome new team van I was offered the following advice:
Richard B: “This is what you live for mate. If you were in the Tour de France you would kill yourself just to finish the race.”
Steve: “Man the f up!”
Throw in a quote I love: “If you only think you’ll do well when you’re feeling good then you’ll never do well” and there you have it, off we went to Flanders.
50 starters, beautiful sunshine, massive crowds, beer flowing (not us – yet!), 10 laps of 6km with some pretty dodgy cracks in the roads and on the corners.
After a coffee, signing on and our warm-up I was chilling with Rich B in the sunshine at the start when he turned at me and said “We are going to the hurt locker aren’t we?” Yep that about summed it up.
An attack went after about 3 seconds and Richard B only bloody got it in it? Four of them stayed away for half a lap but I was worried this may come back to bite him later. I was happily riding in the top 10 and even saw Steve once; he’s in a flippin kermesse in Belgium in his first year of racing and holding his own! He must have one hell of a Coach!
18 minutes into the race and that was Steve done (I assure you that’s a lifetime over there). Afterwards he described the sensation of riding in the right hand gutter, just behind me, as I formed part of the front echelon. We were in the gutter, in an echelon, in Belgium, the hardest racing on earth, on fully-closed roads, marshalled by police, in front of massive adorning crowds and we paid 11 Euros to enter on the day!!!
Rich and me were still at the business end, at one point we were going with the attacks, alternating one after the other, a beautiful moment of teamwork.
With 5 laps to go I had just come back from bridging across to a break and it turned out the Belgians hadn’t started racing yet – it went ballistic – I genuinely thought my heart was going to explode. Maybe it was because I had just made a big effort but whatever it was it was the most painful 30 seconds I’d ever spent on my bike, or off it come to that.
Glad that was over I began to realise that it wasn’t just me who was hurting now and two small groups nipped off the front, meaning about 10 riders were up the road. We must have dropped 10 more off the back as the peloton was definitely shrinking, as riders were looking laboured an hour into the race with 3 laps to go. I didn’t mind missing the break as I was just happy to be here considering how rough I felt earlier.
I was on the wheel of a tall lean chap when I noticed the blue bands around his sleeves and shorts with yellow stars on them. I was following the European Champion! What’s more I was comfortable doing it! I was loving this…….with a boost of confidence I saw a few riders attempt to jump clear and I went with them. We were away, working well together then I did my turn, flicked my elbow and nobody came through, I looked over my shoulder and the guy was shaking his head, he looked like he was in pieces. I’d cracked them! I decided this was a good time to jump clear again and I bridged to 2 riders who were coming back from an earlier break, rode around them and carried on. I am on my knees and not sure what my next move is so I make the decision to wait but as the peloton rejoins me, nobody (for the first time in the race) attacks.
We had kicked the sh*t out of each other. This was fun. This was proper racing.
Attack after attack then followed, with me being one of the main instigators. I was loving it.
2 laps to go. Just coming into the finishing straight, poor Rich lost contact, such a shame after a sterling ride, so close to his first finish over there.
At one lap to go, along with the bell, over the PA system I heard the now familiar announcement of “Laste Ronde” or last lap, except the commentator proceeded to say it English too. That was just for me!!
We passed the finish line with a tailwind at speeds that could only be rivalled by the Tour de France and I was hurting, really hurting but something happens to you when you hear the bell. Something shoots through your veins (no, not that!) that gives you strength that you could never muster in a training session. God I love racing.
Through a sketchy right hander into a cross wind and a gear change up then down but nothing happened. I was stuck in one gear. It happened to be 53×11 too, my biggest gear. Under any normal circumstances this would be disastrous but we were going so fast that this wasn’t far off the gear I’d have chosen anyway!! In a cross wind!!
A bit of fiddling later and the gears were working again. Phew. Time to concentrate on the finish.
I knew that these Belgians didn’t like taking too many people with them to the finish so the last lap was 6km of sprints. 3 riders attacked into the final right hander and onto the long finishing straight and I jumped across to the first 2, rode past them and across to the one rider left. That was so hard but it was commitment time, all or nothing now. I look behind me to see we’d opened a massive gap as everyone was finally waiting for the bunch sprint to open.
Had we gone too soon? It didn’t matter, I was kind of loving it anyway. One thing was for sure we were going to be caught so I jumped off the wheel of my companion and now there was nobody between me and the finish. Ok the breakaway stayed away but I’m off the front of the peloton, in Belgium, with the finish in sight. It is too surreal, I’m asphyxiating, I feel very very sick and I don’t know much more than that.
I was caught with 200m to go. The peloton were on me as they opened up their sprint and I had nothing left, just fending off a few of them as they nearly all passed me.
After the race, riders were congratulating me my aggressive riding.
I got accolade and respect from Belgium racers. I still cannot believe that. The sun is shining, I enjoy a beer with my awesome team mates and we share our stories.
2 weeks after receiving 7 stitches in my face and I have the best day on a bike ever. This sport never ceases to amaze me and I feel very privileged to be part of it.