On Sunday I went to Belgium to race another Kermesse.
My knee had been playing up and my back was sore so when I saw the
weather forecast was severe storms I immediately called my team mate
Barny and his other half Susan to explain that:
1. The ferry crossing could be a nightmare
2. Racing the Belgians in gale force winds will be less fun that
sticking pins in our eyes.
(Secretly I was hoping Barny would say we should call it off and I
wouldn’t have to complain about any aforementioned ailments/excuses)
He said he was 100% up for it (joy) and we even joked about getting some
real “Belgian toothpaste”; a term to describe rainwater mixed with mud
during rainy days on the farming roads of Flanders, as it sprays off of
the wheel in front and goes straight into your mouth!).
Upon arrival the heavens opened as kindly promised, complimenting the
gale force winds nicely. This alone would have made the day challenging
enough but to add insult to injury the course had a lovely cobbled
corner inviting simultaneous boneshaking and ice skating in the pouring
The course was just over 7km a lap and the race was 100-and-something
kilometres and it went off at 1 million miles per hour! The rain had
stopped just before the start fortunately but attack after attack
literally from the gun meant I found myself closing gaps into the
headwind, hanging on for dear life in the crosswind and chasing like a
maniac in the tailwind after losing ground on the dicey corners. I was
on the ragged edge as I looked down at my computer I’d only be going for
7 mins! Correction, I had been sprinting like my life depends on it for
Just one more corner and that will be the first lap out of the way. The
one corner in question was the cobbled section. Just for the record this
was no Carrefour De L’Abres (for those of you who know your Paris
Roubaix Secteurs) but it was no suburban pedestrian shopping area
either. Either way I was hanging off the back by now with one other lad
so my only hope of getting back on was by not yielding as I cornered and
maybe I’d be rewarded for my bravery.
I immediately registered my mistake; not showing the ‘pave’ the respect
they deserved and hot the deck hard on my right hand side. Within the
same 10th of a second I:
– Heard a woman or very camp man scream
– Felt an agonising pain in my hip and elbow
– Noticed my rear derailleur was hanging off my bike
Literally seconds after Susan had my bike and I was in an ambulance,
disappointed, angry and concerned at the levels of pain and blood.
At the finish line the ambulance dropped me off at the First Aiders’
post (at each race a member of the public volunteers their garage) and I
was told I was losing blood too quickly and needed to go to hospital.
Ok, I agreed but I couldn’t drive and the on-site ambulance had to stay
on site so they’d need to stop the race to bring in an external
ambulance. No, I couldn’t ruin everyone else’s day due to my own mistake
so I waited with Medics Jo (pronounced ‘Yo’) and Tom when the day took a
Over the race radio came reports that one of the motor cycle escorts had
crashed and the ambulance team were in the process of resuscitation!
I was a million miles away, in a garage, door closed, pouring with rain
outside, Tom and Jo couldn’t do enough to ensure I was warm and to keep
blood off the lady’s garage floor ( I admit my elbow did seem to be
bleeding a lot when blood began dripping through the bandage and through
the sleeve on my Hoodie!
Decisions needed to be made for when the race ended:
If I went to hospital we needed to call my car insurer and put Barny or
Susan on the insurance.
We would then miss our ferry. Luckily when we called P and O they
confirmed there were plenty of later crossings.
Race radio again….a helicopter ambulance had been called for the
During this time Barny had been shelled by the peloton as had a handful
of others but they ploughed on courageously ahead of the broomwagon in
what was described as notoriously sh*t weather since the heavens had
reopened. Simultaneously Susan was becoming a legend; running to and fro
with bags, water, bike, warm clothes, supporting Barny and handing me
coffee (knowing ithe caffeine would raise my pulse I went for a warm
drink over more bleeding – an odd decision looking back).
Very sadly, we had a final race radio report; the motorcyclist had died
and the race had been stopped out of respect. I remember this guy during
the warm up as he was a very smiley friendly looking chap. How
devastating. It put my little cuts and bruises into perspective. I’m not
sure what to say about that poor bloke; I don’t know what happened and I
didn’t talk to anyone as I was with the Medics so maybe by reading this
we’ve kinda given him at least a minute’s silence so may he rest in
peace. Volunteers rock that’s what I say. Thank you.
The ambulance crew returned to base and the senior guy assessed that I
could drive myself to hospital for stitches now if I was happy to do so.
It made sense although we didn’t know the way so Tom said we could
follow him. These guys are so bloody helpful.
Before we left we all got a full refund of our entry fee as the race was
stopped despite having organised the police, the Medics, the closed
roads, the headquarters, the list goes on…..amazing.
We set off to the hospital and I was greeted, treated, stitched up and
out of there in no time. Clean, polite, slick, fluent in several
languages and no fat Doctors. Could I be in a dream now?
Off to the ferry port in Calais and incredibly we caught the ferry we
had originally booked.
I reflected on my experiences on the ferry:
– Life can be taken away from you in an instant. I was lucky.
– I still don’t know how human beings can ride a bike that quick bit
I’ll keep trying.
– Belgium (and its people) is incredible.
– I am determined that I will still score enough points to keep my 2nd
cat (division) licence this year despite this setback.
And the main one:
Good friends are very rare but awesome to have. Thanks Barny and Suze.
So how was my knee? I’ve no idea my whole bloody body hurts!