Stage 1 of Carpathia Couriers Paths was a 2km prologue around some little roads with a couple corners. Everyone had ITT bikes but we used our road bikes. Only a small disadvantage over such a short distance. I finished 60th 13 seconds behind the winner, but with over 150 starters it's not such a bad result. Stage one it rained super hard all day and the deciding factor was a 4km climb over 20%. After what seemed like hours climbing at 50rpm I went over the top in about 23 wheel. The lead group at the finish was 22. Upon cresting the top I was so cramped I could hardly pedal and let a small gap open as riders infront of me tried to sprint into the wet descent. I couldn't catch up but I soon found company in about 30 other riders. We rolled in 33 seconds and I was now around 30th in GC. Stage 2 saw us with 2 riders in the top 10 and we planned on leading them out to try and get bonus seconds at the finish. Belgian Champ Jorne Carolus who was in my group on Stage 1 crashed at the bottom of the first climb and never made it back, ending his tour. Fast forward a couple hours of boring up and down wet landscape and we have all 5 riders in the lead group of 60 going to finish. The three (myself included) non top 10 riders drove it super hard in the final km's and we had Jef and Tiesj (mr. phonetical says: TEE sh huh) sitting in 3rd and 4th wheel with 200m to go. Then, as luck would have it, the rider in 2nd wheel either had a death wish or dormant narcolepsy but he managed to hit the deck taking about 20 riders with him. Myself included but my injuries hardly crossed the booboo threshold. TJ however broke his wrist and Jef was more ripped than Arnold Schwarzneger was in the 80's and with a broken bike to boot. Thankfully we all have 2 race bikes and that wasn't a problem but we lost our best rider in TJ. Stage 3 was more relaxed (it rained again) and we were busy covering moves and licking our wounds and late in the race Jef was really good to get in an 8 man move. He didn't have the legs in the sprint and was 2nd on the stage. With time bonuses the rider who won got 10 seconds putting him in the leader's jerseyand Jef got 6 making him 2nd on GC, 4 seconds back. The last stage, Stage 4 if you've been keeping track was hard, we tried to get Jef some intermediate sprints and a good chance at the finish but despite all our work we couldn't compete with the two dutch teams that had combined against us. They managed to push Jef back into 4th overall and we thought back to what could have been had Jef just managed to win stage 3. Hindsight is 20/20, we did our best, insert cliche here.
We drove home over the course of 2 days and picked up some teammates in Frankfurt making for a crammed final 3 hours back to Herentals. I got home at 2am, slept, went for a coffee ride, packed my bags with my freshly washed clothes and headed back to Herentals. Time for some French racing!
Only a mere 2 hours from the Lotto service course was our hotel. It was very nice and welcomed change after our trying accommodations in former Soviet Russia. Some of you may know that I have been gluten-free (pause for laughter) for the past 2 years, but, on that evening, in that small French town near the Belgian border, I hit a breaking point. Instead of explaining for the millionth time what Gluten is and all that non-sense I just picked up a roll and engulfed it into my digestive system. Engulfed was the wrong word to use their, I see that now. Anyways I have felt it in my belly since then and combined with my Hay Fever I wasn't feeling too hot but manageable. This time last year I got hit by Hay fever when I was in Germany and my riding abilities were crippled but this year I was prepared with nasal inhalers (checked by Lotto team doctor to make sure they are legal). I was rev'd up for stage 1 of the 2 day race. 160km with some cobbles and wind. I really wanted to see how France compared to Belgium. Early on I was suffering but in the lead group of >30 after 30km of cobbles and wind but then... I got a flat. I had to wait with my hand in the air for an eternity as the 100 riders behind me slowly trickled by until only the slowest of them passed me revealing the trapped line of team cars. I got a new wheel but the race director instructed me to not follow the cars back as potentially 100 riders could jump in and ride back to the front. This was a perfect example of the importance of neutral service. My day, and stage race, ended in that moment. I was a little bummed as day 2 was a ITT and I haven't raced my nice new ITT bike yet this year. I did have tonnes of fun following my teammate Dries though as we just blasted music and I lent out the window and screamed profanities at him and called him names to try and motivate him. Then Flashdance came on, it was magical. After Dries told me Flashdance was a boring song to do an ITT to. Disappointing.
WHAT A FEELING!
Saturday was off as Sunday and Monday's races where not connected to the Thursday and Friday races. We rode with a few other teams to preview Sunday's circuit and I got to ask some burning questions. I polled a bunch of French riders about what they thought about the French vs. Belgian racing. Although I was OTL on Thursday I really did enjoy the racing and the level. It is the Highest level in France but it was only slightly higher than the kermis level in Belgium. This rider though told me that in France it is a bigger show, races have podiums and VIP's and all that stuff but he seemed to think Belgian racers are tougher, stronger and most importantly smarter. He claimed the reason for all three was that in Belgium you always end up doing some races with pros and you do races where you get blown out of the water. This teaches you a lot, and really toughens you up when you are riding in the heat of the race near the front and in the action. You can suffer harder in this situation because you have suffered this hard before just to make the time limit, now you are doing it to win. It also makes you smarter because you are better at conserving energy when you are really outclassed where in France it is either Amateur or Pro, there is no overlap. Maybe this guy didn't like France or something but his reasons seemed valid enough. I extremely enjoy the racing there so it's hard to say anything bad about it. He also told me his girlfriend did a semester of school in Canada and that she really loved Canada and wants to move there, I asked where in Canada, and he said "Manitoba"! His girlfriend must be crazy (JustKidding Manitoba).
Sunday was a windy circuit race and I took the skills I have obtained from dutch cross winds and kept shelter in the long grass. I missed the initial split but jumped across with 6 others. When we got there 4 had escaped for good and I managed to sprint in for 19th place. I was a little boxed in during the sprint but content with my performance, in the first few laps I felt like complete trash. I don't know if it was the pollen or the gluten (it was definitely the gluten) but I went to the back of my group, blew chunks, and then started feeling better.
After the race the fact that I had raced 8 of the last 14 days was really starting to hit me and I felt really pooped. So I wasn't feeling so confident with my low energy going in a crit the next day. I tried to compensate with a few coffee's but it didn't work. I was active but definitely not myself and I got dropped by 2 other riders who I had escaped with and they ended up being the winning move (along with 20 others they gradually bridged up). Of 5 starters 3 guys got blown up really early and only the 2 of us remaining couldn't do a lot. I followed everything I could to try and make it hard for the guys at the back but we never made it to the front. I sprinted in for 8th in my group of 40, which ain't half bad for a yokel like me.
Back in Belgium relaxing, taking it easy. Just a couple races this weekend and then next week a real rest period before starting a build to aim for mid June. Sunday I am back to flat windy Holland to hold on for dear life and Monday is a criterium in the land of Perfume..... Cologne, Germany. I got some sweet new race wheels and I am planning a trip with my buddy Quinten to go to Malmedy, Wallonie in early June for a week to ride the hills, stay in a nice apartment above a bar and drive around in his Benz! Life is so hard haha!