Matt Myers in Belgium - 10/08/2010

Report from Matt Myers

Saturday marked the first of my two week stay training and racing in Belgium, and it started with a back to back saturday/sunday races.

Saturdays race was in a town in west flanders called Torhout which i have raced at once before; its course was 4.5km long and we would do it 20 times. At the start i expected a fast race due to the large start list of 81 and the fact there were no interclubs {larger national races} that weekend meaning all the big belgian riders would be out in force. Once it got started my expectations were well and truelly fullfilled and by the end of the 90km race we had averaged 44km/h!! Bearing in mind the course had a number of corners and a vicious crosswind section it was pretty staggering but what surprised me was the way in which the race was raced which differed so much from the style back in Britain. For example instead of a nice rolling start like in the surrey league we were greeted {as usual} to a vicious start as everyone tried to get to the front and out of trouble, no sooner than the starting pistol was fired attacks were flying off left right and centre then being pulled back, only to have another 5 riders go off the front as the last group was brought back. This repeats itself until everyone is chewing the bartape and the selection is made of the strongest riders/ones who can suffer the most. Yet after the break went one would expect the suffering bunch to sit up and await its fate in a bunch gallop to the line; Not in Belgium.. The bunch {which i was in at the time} kept franticly chasing the whole race trying to close the gap to the 12 leaders and we held the gap at a mere 10-15 seconds for the duration, coming into the finishing straight the bunch caught the back of the break but was too late. I meanwhile got lucky in the bunch sprint and got through a gap to finish in 26th and get my 5 euro prize which coverd my entry fee of 3 euros!!! hopefully some form is coming but at the time i was a little annoyed as i didnt make the break though you cant get lucky everytime.

sunday was the next race in east flanders but didnt go as well as hoped due to various freak occurences, first was the hailing rain which started as the race got going; this subsequently made the corners and the one cobbled section a sort of deathtrap. I made a couple of mistakes which were to cost me dearly, my glasses fogged up meaning i was partially blind for a lap, then on the cobbled descent into the town there was a big crash on the almost icerink surface which i failed to see coming. There was then a big split as the crafty belgians hit the front to capitalise meaning a split group which i was unable to recover from. Shame as the course suited me {albeit when dry!!} and i didnt feel to bad. After that i headed to a house in brussels that i am staying in I did manage a nice 4hr steady ride today into the ardennes to clear the legs for a race tommorow, followed by one or two races on the weeked.

After the first weekends dip into the ocean of belgian bike racing i prepared to take the plunge. From now on i was on my own {albeit with a freind Rupert to ride with} in a new and admittedly rather strange country.

And so on tuesday the life of a bike racer truelly kicked home as i ride the 75km{!!!} to my next midweek race in Neerlinter, admittedly on google maps it did not say 75 {it had in fact said 50} were it not for some rather embarrasing detours and frantic asking directions it would have been. So we arrived at the sign on one minute before it shut and 15mins before the start, got our number and lined up to start the 85km kermesse around a nice village circuit of 5km. Needless to say it was not the best preperation in the world, this was further confounded when i glanced at my opponents with their sparkling clean bikes and expectant fathers handing bottles and gels. I was on my own with none of this support in a random country, i just said to myself i will try and beat them at their own game. Ok admitedly i did not beat all of them but i did finish ahead of many of the belgians who were being pampered on the start line. The race itself was rather non descript at only 41km/h average, i got into the first two major breaks that both held out for a lap respectively with the third split being the decisive one, yet without me in it. Another hour in the peleton beckoned even if the belgians insisted on constantly attacking for apparently no reason. In the bunch sprint i came 10th but with a large break i was placed 36th out of 79 starters. We then handed back our numbers and rode back to a station nearby to get back to brussels, but after the race, the ride out and the riding to and from various stations we totalled up a nice 181km for the day and some very sore legs.

Next day was rather non-descript rest day, then on friday i went out for a 3 hour ride out easy to see some of the lovely beglian scenery with a few detours over some cobbles. Just a heads up to anyone who has a romantic desire to ride cobbles after seeing Cancallara ride over them like a carpet. They are not a carpet. On long down hill sections of them you can bearly fell your forearms after 10metres, yet even so there is always a mysterious allure about them and i am the first to propose a shortcut to take in the cobbles as they are another challenge to overcome. Saturday was a nice rest before sunday and a race to finish off the week.

Sundays was a larger race in a town called Kampenhout about 33km away from brussels according to google maps, so after going to the wrong town then heading on the wrong road {and yes i had no map to speak of other than a crude drawing on scrap paper} i finnally got to the town after riding hard to get within the sign on time {by literally seconds this time}. Either way i lined at the start after my 45km ¨warm up¨ with the 115 starters although far fewer than that finished the full distance. The race itself from start to finish was brutal, the 6km circuit had two cobbled sections that compramised about 25% of the course which really did not suit me at all. Still i soldiered on and with the winning move away on the tight section after the cobbles on the 3rd lap i expected the race to slow. It didnt in the slightest and maintained the 44.5km/h average to the finish, to sum it all up i had a belgian throw up all over his bike next to me, yet unlike anyother sportsman in the world carried on peddaling in a calm fashion and holding his line in the pack. A horrfic sight which summed up a pretty horrific race, i managed to finish a respectable 36th in the bunch {ahead of the sick belgian:)}. The moral of the story for me and one i will take back with me when i return, is that at sport at a high level {and this is certainly a very high level if you see how proffesional and fast these guys are} the little things really do add up to the couple of percent you need to succede. Looking back on it how many percent did i lose in my unorthadox warm up, how many did i lose by not having someone to hand my a bottle halfway through leaving my deyhydrated with no water for the final 4 laps, the list really does go on. And even superficially it does make me feel slightly better as there are things i can work on and are very easy to fix. To sum up i then rode home to the amused looks of all the racers in their home clothes ready to jump in their warm cars. I had no chauffer to drive me home on the desolate N21 cycle path, all i had for company was a snickers and a coke bought at a petrol station. Still for all of this i still couldnt help the odd smile here and there as i realised what a fun day it was and how lucky i was to be fit and healthy and able to do the thing i most enjoy.

I return home on the 16th so will send out another report as soon as i have time {and have thought of something interesting to say!!}

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