Belgian Diaries | Week 2
Staying on top of things, here is Week Two of the Belgian Diaries. You may notice, the weeks are slightly staggered, Wednesday to Wednesday. Well that's cause I rocked up on a Wednesday, so roll with it. It seems like ages ago that I arrived in Belgium, but it's only been two weeks. Anywho, more about that in this second installment below!
Hi France! Bye France!
Nommay was a trip, but fortunately some of my fellow Americans - Becca Fahringer & Kerry Werner - still had an AirBNB for Sunday night. It was a nice change to have a quick dinner and shower before driving back to Belgium. Becca, Gregg, and I packed up in the van and rolled back through eastern France, a quick stop for cheap gas and chocolate in Luxembourg (no Dunkin this time though. Sorry kehd!), over some slushy roads in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, and back home to the Chainstay around 1 AM. Though it may sound hectic, it was a nice chance to get to know everyone and share some laughs after a muddy weekend.
Even a week after the fact, it's hard to believe that I competed in my first UCI World Cup race. Over the summer I chatted with a lot of people in my village about goals and what I hoped to achieve. As I said in my last post, I really wanted to do a World Cup and I was confident that the work I did over the summer would help me progress towards that goal this season.
As motivation, I wrote on a post-it note "Nommay World Cup January 21, 2018" and stuck it to my computer monitor. I've looked at that note every weekday since June, keeping myself motivated and focused on those goals on the horizon. To finally tick that one off the list... that feels really special to me! I know a lot of people advise you to chase your dreams, yada yada, but if you don't dream then what do you aim for? I know that I still have a long way to go in my development and I now get to set new goals to chase in the future. And while it will be a while before I put those new dreams into writing - the season is still going on by the way - racing in Nommay was a fantastic way to start this trip!
Two Wheeled Explorer
Back in Belgium and caught up on sleep, my first full week in Oudenaarde was full of exploring. Monday along the schelde (Dutch for "river"). There are plenty of kanaalen in the low countries and the roads that parallel them offer some awesome routes for riding. With no cars (for the most part) you can roll for hours along the canal or you can go exploring!
On Tuesday, coach put it on my plan to work in some skills. Near The Chainstay, there is a small lake referred to as De Donk. Thre also happens to be some trails in the woods at De Donk that offer a chance to sharpen the skills. After a little cruise along the schelde again, I ventured over to De Donk and ran into a fellow American, Beth Ann Orton, sliding around in the mud. Beth Ann is an awesome cyclist and person, from the Pacific Northwest. She was kind enough to show me some of the loops and then over to the Koppenbergbos. At the foot of the storied Koppenberg climb, the forest sprawls across the hill side and offers some awesome trails in the woods. Not too much technical, but some good up and down. And of course, the views!
There was one more day of exploring to the town of Kluisbergen. I made my way over there through winding farm roads and small towns, eventually finding my way to the top of the hill just on the border of Flanders and Wallonia. Just when I thought there wasn't much of any trails, I happened upon ruts and trails used by the Marlux professional cyclocross team. Unfortunately, I didn't have a ton of time to hang around, but it was great to find another training spot nonetheless.
When you're settling into any new home, there are a few things you need to find, one of which is the best grocery stores around. In Oudenaarde there are three major stores to choose from: Colruyt, which is a miniature version of Costco. Del Haize, a more "American-style" grocery store. And Lidl, which some folks in the US will recognize... though the jury is still out on how to actually pronounce it. Is it "L-eye-dl"? "Lee-dl"? "Liddle"? The world may never know. In any case, it's been quite an experience grocery shopping here in Europe. My Dutch is elementary at best, so most of the time I walk around and look for items that I recognize or staples I know that I need. So, not too different from my shopping routine back home.
UCI Telenet World Cup - Hoogerheide (66th) [Strava]
After the Nommay World Cup, I had every intention of racing the Internationale Cross in Rucphen, Netherlands and the B-Race in Assende, Belgium the next weekend. However, due to some unfortunate circumstances, Andrew Juliano (Grit World Racing) was unable to take to the start at the final round of the World Cup in Hoogerheide (read more about his story in Peloton Magazine). While it wasn't planned, I jumped at the opportunity to get more experience at the World Cup level, and by Tuesday I was registered for the race.
Becca and I left on Saturday to make the short trip up to the Netherlands. The drive was enjoyable and we arrived at the Team USA compound - 8 USA Cycling vans lined up - just in time to hang out and get ready to inspect the course. As a brief side note, I will say the level of support the National Team receives is quite amazing. With multiple sprinter vans, snacks + coffee galore, and enough staff to cover a couple of World Tour teams, the boys and girls have it nice. I digress.
The course in Hoogerheide is considered sacred ground in the cyclocross world. Located in the city center of the town of Hoogerheide, the track has had it's fair share of cross drama play out over the years (such as the 2014 World Championships)and continues to be a staple of the UCI calendar year after year. The track is SWEET! With a balance of power and skill, the course caters to a complete rider. The notable addition of two daring off-camber sections added to the intrigue of the weekend. You can see more in Cody Kaiser's course inspections video.
On Sunday, the clouds again hung low over The Netherlands, albeit quite warm. The start list for the weekend was a who's who of cyclocross elite. As the last World Cup before the World Championships, the world's best was on hand to get one last tune up. Staged at the back, there was nowhere to go but up! The whistle sounded and we blasted off the line, but there was no gaps between the 70+ starters at the race. The first corner had a flyover and just as in the earlier races, there was a pile up 30 riders back. I had no choice but to stand at the bottom of the ramp and wait my turn to go up. From there is was chase, chase, chase. Half way through lap one I had some shifting issues, which sorted themselves out magically. Second lap, trying to catch up, I missed my line and almost hit a fence. Frustrated with my riding, I took a breath and got myself mentally back in it. Now I was really at the back.
With Mathieu Van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) turning 6:30 minute laps (yikes!) my time on the course was numbered. Despite my poor start to the race, I was able to get focused on myself. It was similar to the movies where the crowd just fades away. I was in the zone and riding as hard as I could to pick off as many riders as I could. The switched I flipped in my brain translated to the bike as I started hitting my lines with precision and riding the ruts faster than I had before. Passing the pits for my fourth lap, Gregg yelled to me, "This will probably be your last lap so give it all you got!" That was enough motivation for me to pour out all the gas that I had left. Sure enough, as I reached the top of the stairway, the officials were there to usher me off the course. In the end, my performance netted me a 66th place and 5 more UCI points to add to my tally. But I beat the Swedish National Champion, so I think that means I am now the Swedish Nationals Champion?? The jury is still out.
I hung around for a few minutes to take in the sights and cheer on my friends as they tried to outrun the "Van der Poel Express". Some had more luck than others. Cleaned up and loaded, Becca & I rolled out of town and headed back to the house in Oudenaarde. We tried to make a stop in Gent but, as I learned, European cities are not quite as car friendly as American cities. Also there may be a ticket coming my way in the near future... oops! But back to the point...
The racing in Hoogerheide was awesome! While my race left some things to be desired, I rolled away from the weekend with some more lessons learned and a smile on my face. I feel like I need to pinch myself because it's not often that you get to race the World's elite. But then again, this is all a part of the journey and each day is an opportunity to learn, digest, and grow. So for now, I'll take my licks and look forward to the next opportunity to do it all over again.