After being dropped off by the saint that is Jason Nind, my team manager, on the 1st I was alone in the house for a few days. This gave me the perfect opportunity to explore Oudenaade, visit the local market and get a feel for life in Belgium. However after a couple of days without racing, the ‘Kalendar’ on the Flanders Cycling federation website became too much to resist. There seemed to be races on everyday!
3/8 Oostkamp 1.12B: 102km
After a 90 minute train journey to Bruges, I had a short ride to Oostkamp for my first Kermesse of the month. I managed to find the sign on in the back of a bar packed with locals. Beer was flowing, the race was 102k and started at half six. I had definitely arrived.
The course had a horribly technical series of switchbacks through the town but the draggier sections down the main road suited me better. I attempted to bridge to the early break but didn’t quite make it. After hanging in no-mans land until I had lactate up to my eyeballs, I was swallowed up by the chasing pack.
In a box after a failed bridging attempt – photo: Martine Verfaille
I decided to take a few laps sitting in the wheels so I could pedal without a feeling of agony again but I was given a full breather sooner than planned when my rear wheel deflated. Surprisingly I was still in good spirits, and made light-hearted conversation with a Belgian man who insisted on walking me back to the town centre.
What I learned: you need bodies to fight the wind (still learning this one from Velopark last month…)
Savagery rating: 6/10
5/8 Overijse 1.12B: 110 km
After my midweek mishap at Oostkamp I was keen to get to the finish of the race at Overijse on Saturday. Keen enough to attack the steep climb from the gun and try to breakaway with an U23 from BMC and two other Brits, Harrison Jones and Josh Houlsey.
However whilst we stretched the elastic, the only breakaway we’d caused was in my fresh legs. I was cooked but looking down at my bike computer told me why. I had 380NP for the first 15 minutes. yikes!
The course had a disgusting 500m ramp at about 9% followed by a short decent and then two cobbled sectors. Following the second one, you hit a fast sweeping right-hander under tree cover which had left patches of tarmac damp and sticky. After skidding round it four times, on the fifth lap my rear tyre slid out. I hit the deck and my arse was sliding where my tyre had been.
Not badly hurt, I jumped up and tried to get back on the bike whilst the race shot past. I crunched down the cassette, from the 11 into a more reasonable gear to get up to speed. But the nature of the road meant I had fallen off in the bottom of a small dip, and had to start chasing from a standstill up a long drag.
This meant the group was agonisingly edging up the road. I chased hard, but the pack rode away with an aggressive racing style keeping the pace high. Eventually I was broomed and that was that.
What I learned: falling off slows your momentum. your arse cheek won’t thank you for it either.
Savagery rating: 8/10
6/8 Meerbeke 1.12B: 112 km
After two big fat DNFs in my first two races, it had to be third time lucky at Meerbeke on Sunday. After arriving, we rode the course. My sensations weren’t too bad considering I’d crashed the day before. But this changed as we rounded the back half of the circuit. It had a bloody climb in it. A proper draggy one, which we would have to race up 12 times. So much for the Belgian flatlands.
The race was spikey for the first hour, whilst the break was established. I tried getting in a few moves but of course missed the right one. Someone let the wheel go and a huge bunch of guys escaped. However my time being aggressive off the front had caught up with me and I felt fairly cooked. I watched the group ride away; It had turned into a get round job for me.
As the laps ticked by and the climb steadily squeezed the legs of the peloton I began to feel a small revival. I began to get more aggressive again, looking to split off the bunch with a few others including Houlsey who was also racing today. One move with two others looked tasty but eventually this was reeled in my the main pack.
On the bell lap, the tempo was hard up the climb but I remained fairly well placed at the summit. I attacked on the following descent and managed to gain a small gap on the bunch. There was 3km at the bottom- a straight cross-windy main road which lead to the finish line. I knew my only chance of any sort of result was here. I seized the opportunity and pushed on down the descent, and buried myself until the line.
With about 200m to go I stopped chewing the stem and glanced back, I’d held them off. I allowed myself a nice, easy rolllll into town.
What I learned: Belgium definitely isn’t flat
Savagery rating: 7/10
8/8 Dadizele – 1.12B:
1000 euros up for grabs meant racing on Tuesday was a no-brainer. A few others seemed to have the same idea. Plenty of other Brits were there which made for good company warming up around the circuit. This one was flatter which I preferred.
This was a less eventful race. I was less aggressive, and perhaps more sensible. Managing 5th or so from the group I was in meant I came away with 10 euros prize money, 1% of the total fund.
What I learned: It pays to be less aggressive sometimes
Savagery rating: 7/10
10/8 Halen – 1.12B: 120 km
After an obligatory cafe top up on Wednesday, it was time to burn off some of the cake at Halen the next day. It was a rainy day and the circuit was pan flat, with a few slick manhole covers thrown in for bants.
Most of the race was spent chewing the stem, looking up to a spray of grey water and gutter. The speed camera sign on the main road was lit up through the wet wall of grey every lap, 40, 45, 50 km/hr. It didn’t show a happy face once.
I was grinning though, the race was super fun. Not too technical, the exposed main road gave the perfect opportunity for attacks to flow. I missed out on the winning move of five riders, which included three Lotto U23 boys. Coming into the final lap, I positioned fairly well and managed to squeeze 15th despite a complete lack of sprinting ability.
What I learned: racing in the rain aint all bad
Savagery rating: 7/10
12/08 Roselare – Beveren 1.12B
After another easy day, I was raring to go again on Saturday at Roselare. I felt strong and attacked on the first lap with a few others. However once reeled in we were counter attacked ruthlessly. Now at the back of the peloton, I missed the split and began chasing. Our group held the gap at about 25s for a long while but after about an hour of racing my front tyre sagged. This rewarded me with a walk of shame back to the car for a coke and a sulk.
What I learned: attack might not be the best form of defence
Savagery rating: 6/10