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.