Friday, December 31, 2010

Loenhout/ Bredene

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Sylvester Cross- Bredene

Yesterday our fourth race in five days took us to Bredene, a town northwest of Izegem, right on the coast. Sylvester Cross isn't quite as big of a race as the World Cups, Superprestiges, or GVA's from the previous week, but it's still a UCI C2 with Nys, Stybar and Albert on the startlist. Although we woke up to a typical Belgian morning with a foggy drizzle in the air, the course in Bredene wasn't as muddy as I'd imagined it might be. The soil was more sandy, as opposed to the greasy mud of Loenhout the day before, with only a parts of the course being rutted and muddy. The course featured the typical long start/finish straight and a barriers that were bunny hop-able.

The Elites and U-23s were racing together in Bredene, so we had a bigger American crew lining up. We made or way to inschriptjion, which required navigating through a smokey bar full of fans staring each rider down as they passed. That's the thing about Belgium and their cyclocross fans, they have no issue staring you down, and watching you watch them stare you down. They don't smile or or say anything, they just look at you like you're a race horse or greyhound at the dog track almost checking to see if you look fit, or pro enough, to put a wager on. After the sea of stares, we paid our 3 Euro and got our numbers. I may, or may not, have been right in front of the Belgian Champ himself in line, and may have asked for a picture. So sue me.

We ripped a few laps of the course and I decided on Rhinos, even though it was probably dry enough for Typhoons, the Rhinos gave a little extra security on the greasy corners. I was actually called up in the second row, right behind the big boys. I got a good start and moved up well the first few tight corners and eventually found myself inside the top 10 going through the pits near the end of lap 1. Once we hit the long road section, a few Belgies jumped around me and absolutely dropped me. The power of some of these guys is unbelieveable. They were going 5 mph faster than me on the road sections. I lost a few spots here and there, but settled into a group in the top 20. There were some quality guys in the group, guys who were finishing inside the top 30 in the World Cups. I was actually feeling relatively comfortable, then early in the 4th lap I crashed on a slippery transition from grass to pavement and my front wheel was messed up and I couldn't get it sorted so I started running to the pit. I probably ran for a good 4 minutes and lost all of the good work I'd done leading up to the crash. I got my pit bike and remounted, trying to at least avoid a DNF in my last race. I quickly realized I'd hurt my arm in the fall and hadnt notice until I tried to hold the bars. It became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to finish, so I rode one-handed to the other pit entrance and pulled the plug. My last position check had me in 16th place...

I was afraid I may have broken my arm considering where it was hurting and the fact I'd used it to brace my fall. Once I got undressed and could get a better look I could see that I looked like I'd hit it on something during the fall, rather than jammed it in a way that would typically lead to a break. It still doesnt feel very well, but I'm going to give it a few days and if it's still in bad shape, get it checked out stateside.

I'm really disappointed to end my trip with a race like that, but such is cycling. I was actually having a positive race experience and still turns out badly. That's how it goes, just enough good to keep you coming back. It was definitely nice to race near the front and a glimmer of hope for future races in Belgium.

Now, It's officially my "offy". My bikes and wheels have already been packed and taken away by the shipping company, so I won't be doing any more rides before I leave. I'm planning at least two, maybe three weeks of down time before I start thinking about 2011. This trip was unbelieveable and I have so many people to thank for making it possible, but I'm going to save all of that for another post. I've also got a ton of pictures and post worthy material from my trip to the Tour of Flanders museum and my trip up the Koppenburg, so stay tuned.

I don't leave until Sunday morning, so I'm going to ring in the New Year with a few Belgian beverages and then watch the GP Sven Nys on the TV tomorrow. I've also got a huge jar of Nutella to finish before I go. Back to work!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


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The Muscles from Brussels

Yesterday evening was the Superprestige in Diegem, basically downtown Brussels. The elite race started at 5:30, which meant we'd be racing under the lights. The atmosphere was unbelievable. The only American event I can think of that is even similar would be Cross Vegas when Lance raced. And that's still quite a stretch to compare the two. With temps at, or below freezing all week, it meant another snowy, icy race.

I felt decent on most of the course, but there was a lot of pedaling and certainly no where to hide on the big climb. My start was mediocre at best, but I was upright. The first time up the stairs, my front wheel clipped the heels of the Belgie in front of me as we were running. He took issue with this and decided to stop, turn around, scream at me, then proceeded to kick me in the stomach. I tried to run around him, as to not let the race run away while he did his best Jean Claude Van Damme impression, but it was so packed that he had a clean shot at me. The kick caught me off guard, but luckily it didn't do any damage.

After the initial sorting out, I found myself in another very familiar group of North Americans. We pretty much took turns dropping each other and always ended up back together. We got pulled with 2 laps to go, but it actually felt like we were racing. The biggest thing is trying not to lose so much time on the first lap, due to the congestion. With snow and ice on all of these courses, there's only one feasible line, so this makes for more crashes and huge time gaps from the leaders. At Zolder I lost 3:30 on the first lap and only 45 seconds or so per lap after that. That's pretty much been the story every day here.

I must have appeared to have been racing a bit more than the previous days, because when I was walking back to the car a fan said, "American!"... and I turned and looked at him, and he said, "Respect!" Or maybe he's just noticed me suffering at the back of all these races and feels sorry for me, but either way it was nice to have something positive said, for once.

The late start made for an even later evening at the house. We had dinner waiting for us and I was tired, but at the same time I couldn't sleep because the adrenaline was still pumping. I eventually went to sleep by 1:30 am.

Tuesday was a non-race day, which was nice because we had a mix of rain and snow during the time that we were supposed to do our training. I opted to just ride the trainer and watch a movie. I got a massage to try to speed up my recovery for today and Thursday.

Right now I'm in the car on the way back from the Gazet Van Antwerpen race in Loenhout, near the Dutch border. The weather was slightly warmer today, which meant all of the snow on the ground was melting and turned the course into a muddy tractor pull. There were a few sections today that were comparable to the slow mud bogs in Bend a few weeks ago. I'm not sure what to contribute my extraordinarily bad legs. Maybe the massage wasn't a good idea since it's not something I do regularly. Maybe it was the fact that today was my 31st cross race of the season. Who knows. All I know is that this was a horsepower course and I had no horses. I got crushed and it was so quite frustrating. I feel like I'm making lots of mental progress and also some good improvements on the technical side of things, but I can't seem to find any legs for the life of me.  

I'm definitely feeling pretty bummed by today's performance, or lack there of. I'm not saying I'm cracked or anywhere near cracking, but I just wish I could find my legs for one more day of this season. I've gots lots of work to do on all of my mud/ cow shit covered clothes tonight, then get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Thanks for all your support.

Final 2 Laps from Diegem

Watch that video. As usual, the video/ their skills make this course look flat and easy. I can assure you, it is far from it. Definitely my favorite venue of all time though.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Zolder World Cup

If you watched the race, you probably think it was "crazy" or "epic", and yeah it kinda was all of those adjectives. But, you really have no idea. This was another level crazy. This course was hard in the first place, then throw 10 inches of snow on top of that course and have people chew it up all day. What you get is a course that is wildly entertaining for the spectators and nearly impossible for us mortals.

I did manage to make some Belgians friends and fans today though. During warm up on the course, I was trying to ride a certain section and ended up basically coming to a stop at the edge of the course right in the middle of a big group of fans. The was an awkward silence as they waited to see if I was angry about not riding the section cleanly. I turned to the woman to my left and gave her a big, accented, "Hallo!" The crowd found it quite funny and from that moment on I had my very own cheer block on that section of the course. I also gave out about 30 of my new rider cards and even signed a few autographs. These Belgians eat that stuff up! I think the rider cards worked well because I heard some "Go Kaanopppff" cheers from the crowd mid-race.

After preriding and trying to get my head around the task at hand, I was slightly scared, but ready to giver. It didn't help the morale when I returned to camp to find Trebon in street clothes, opting out of the festivities due to the conditions. The majority of the rideable lines were trampled and obliterated by the womens race, to the point that the course us men were racing was nothing like we'd warmed up on just an hour before. Riding in a straight line on flat ground became nearly impossible, especially with the traffic issues at my end of the field.

I dismounted my bike at the first corner and didn't ride it again for the next few minutes as the mayhem sorted out. Rides were all over the course trying to navigate the tracks in the snow and dodge the corpses of those less fortunate riders. I finally got to attempt to ride my bike just before the major decent about mid way through the lap. Let me back up and tell you about this decent. Im not sure how far it drops,elevation wise, but its a good bit. It's covered in sharp rocks, snow, ice, ruts and a plethora of Belgian fans waiting to laugh at your expense. You know it's going to be intense when during warm up there is a line of racers at the top surveying the drop in like its a a skate park. One of those surveyors was Bart Wellens. The fans were giving him a hard time about his cautiousness and so he got off and picked up his bike and tried to hand it off to one of them to see how they would fare. They declined. It took me four tries before I rode it without crashing in warm up.

Back to the racing. I just struggled with every inch of this course. There were no sections that were easily rideable. Even the sections that I remembered from watching previous editions of this race, that seemed mundane on the TV, were treacherous and scary. There is no way to relay to you how much more intimidating the course was in person. I've never been scared for my safety on a course, but that was par for the course today. It was a good exercise in just nutting up and chucking yourself off of an obstacle, because I really had no other options.

I obviously got my ass kicked today, but I feel like this course made me grow as a bike racer more than any other racing experience I've ever had. This course totally re-aligned my perspective and showed me another world of bike racing. I've never felt so helpless, but at the same time it was liberating to know that I did everything I could and that's just how it went.

We've got 3 more races here and as usual I'm going to be back on the grind, trying to squeeze every bit of positive experience out of this trip. Thanks for following me back home. I'm trying guys. It's hard over here, but I can promise I'm not going to waste this opportunity by quitting out there.

And one final note, I lined up directly next to eventual race winner Lars Boom today, which makes what he did today even more amazing. And what I did even more humbling. He did actually spark up an conversation with me before the start, which I was glad because I was getting cold feet, like a 4th grader going for the hand-hold at the movies.

Sorry if this post seems a bit jumbled. I'm having some trouble putting all of these experiences and feelings into a coherent, readable state.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kortrijk Photos

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Thursday Kortrijk Trip

It seems that our default ride around here has become the trip to a neighboring town called Kortrijk. It takes around 45 min to an hour depending on how lost you attempt to get on the way. The town is a bit bigger than Izegem and seems to have a quite a lot more going on too. We'll normally do the ride, with some curb jumping and sign sprinting and a coffee stop in the middle. The weather has been so cold and the roads so wet, that the stop in the middle had been almost a necessity.

On Thursday we it wasn't raining, but we did get our first experience of that wind that people normally associate with Belgium. One downside to these stops is that the coffee shops normally are serving beer also and had a good number of locals smoking cigarettes in your face. Chalk that up to the "Belgian Experience", I guess. This trip we also decided to make a waffle stop, my first shot at tackling one of these famous chocolate covered Belgian waffles. It was pretty good, but tough to get you legs turning over again after that, especially with the nice headwind that was waiting for us. Our crew for the ride was: Myself, Joe Schmaltz, Jeff Bahnson, Gunnar Bergy, Cody Kaiser, and Zach McDonald. That seems to be the core of the "Kortrijk Riders" on most days.

As usual, photos to come.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday Photo Drop

A few photos from training the last few days. A photo from the Sports Psych visit. Kalmthout WC. The training race today.
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Mark It 8, Dude!

Just got back from a heated bowling session down the road at the lanes. The Big Lebowski quotes were running rampant. Good times though. One of the idiot juniors, that will remain nameless, decided he would try to jump the sensor for sensing "over the line" offenses and onto the lane after he let the ball go. he didn't realize the lanes were waxed up real nice and ended up parallel to the lane and body slammed himself from about 4 feet in the air. Looked painful, but he tried to act like it wasn't.

Today may have been the warmest day we've seen so far, which meant melting snow and slushy mud for our inter-squad training race down by the canal. Trebon came over to the house, hung out for the day, did the race and then showed us some good routes in the area. We ended up getting in some good hours on the bike by the end of the day.

Yesterday we had Jonathon Page's Sport Psychologist, Mindi Wisman, come to the house to give us a talk. It was interesting, with some good stuff to take away. I've always been pretty fascinated with the power of the mind.

I've been trying to think of interesting content for the blog, and thought I might do a video walk-thru of the house and mechanics area here. That way all you guys back home that actually care what it's like, can have the next best thing to actually seeing it for yourself.

Also, I just submitted my Cyclingnews Diary tonight, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Monday, December 20, 2010


A few photos from the drive to the race. A big stack of Dugasts in the Rabobank van. Sven Nijs' son, Tebow, ripping around in the snow. The Canal, some Belgian scenery and me playing in the snow.
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Kalmthout World Cup

That just happened. What an unbelieveable experience. I was literally fighting back a smile as we raced down the start chute on the first lap. Considering I get goosebumps when I watch the start of a World Cup from my desk chair at home on weekend mornings, I'm unable to relay to you what it felt for me to be hearing the sound off all the fans banging on the boards that line the start/finish straight. It sounds the same as on the Internet, only louder. It was honestly surreal. I felt like I was watching it happen from outside my body. The taste of the salt from the freshly salted road, and the sound of those boards. I will, honestly, never be able to put that out of my head. Or ever want to.

I started between Joachim Parbo and John Gadret. I knew a surprisingly large number of guys at the start, it felt just like coming home... Well not really, but it was nice to know a few. Trebon and Page gave me the time of day. Matter and Marko were nice as usual. The 3 Canadians, Mike Garrigan, Craig Ritchey and Shaun Adamson, seemed pleased to see some more English speakers. And Babcock and I were feeling it all out. Once the light turned green (they use a stoplight looking thing to start you here) it was game on. There was an 180 degree turn on wet pavement at the end of the start chute that was fairly sketchy, but then the poor start position started to take it's toll. With the snow and slick conditions, there was really only one line and everyone wanted it. I ran a lot of the first technical section until things stretched out to a rideable state. From there I found myself in group with a bunch of familiar faces, guys I might ride with in the US. I rode in that group for a few laps before taking a good spill and losing contact. I got shot awkwardly out of a frozen rut and towards the barriers at the edge of the course, where I hooked my shifter and my bike came to an abrupt stop. I didn't. I was slung down the course and a bit shaken. The Belgians made fun of me, or so I guess.

In conditions like I was facing, confidence and aggressiveness in the corners is a key component to driving you bike fast. My confidence had
been shaken and I just couldn't get recomposed. I tentatively rode the remainder of the race, taking bad lines and botching the technical stuff. It was all a mental thing, but none the less, I wasn't going fast enough in that state.

I was bummed with the end result, but I'm not crushed by it. I really don't know that level is so unobtainable, but I think that being composed and under control will be a huge component if I'm to have any success here.

With all the snow that fell during and after the race, it turned our 1.5 hour trip into one that took over 3 hours.

I could probably write a novel of a blog post about the PRO-ness of Sven Nijs. I kid you not. You have never seen anything "PRO", until you have seen Sven Nijs and his entourage and his race day cars, trucks, vans, trailers etc. Sven makes everyone else look like the Ryan Knapp who used to wear long sleeve T-shirts for base layers in winter.

I've got some photos for You, but they'll be in the next post.

Thanks for following me in this journey. I really appreciate all of the positive emails, and message, and general support I've been getting. Please bear with me, I'll represent the Midwest better before this trip is over.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Photos Day 2

Assorted photos from today. My post with words disappeared today and I don't feel like re-writing it currently. World Cup in 18 hours.
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