This stage race finished last weekend on Sunday: three days for a prologue and three road stages of 140-160 km each. We came with six riders in a field of 200: Aaron, Ben, James, Taylor, Will and myself. The race was for U27 riders only. That and the flat parcours promised aggressive, fast racing for the whole weekend, and didn't disappoint!
The prologue was a short one, only 4.6 km long with a few corners along the way. It was an early morning for us to commute to the 9:30 start two hours away... But aside from that, not a whole lot to it, really. The pain was intense, but over before you knew it! The winner was in just over 5:30 and our whole team was top 60, under 20 seconds back! A really solid showing for the group. Aaron was our top man in 23rd, but the time gaps were small compared to what we expected after three races of fireworks to come.
The TT bikes ready and waiting in the team garage
The prologue was my first time with a follow car giving me instructions. I think for a longer event it would be immensely helpful for concentration and pacing, but as it was, I actually found it a bit distracting and failed to really find a good rhythm. Anyways, it was a cool experience after years of watching pro's do it!
Stage 1, 154 km
I'm gonna give a real short recap of this one. In the end, we had all five of the other riders in the first two groups behind a solo victor, which put us in a great spot. The team was active chasing down the break of the day and covering important moves - a really super team effort!
My race was absolute shit, however. I helped cover early moves and aided in the chase when a smallish group got up the road. But the whole time I was pestered by a weird catch or rub from my rear hub when I accelerated or cornered. Or at least that's what I thought. At first I had thought it might be my rear brake, so I opened it all the way, which didn't help. Later, my rear wheel started locking up on straight roads and I freaked out, thinking that the whole thing might seize up! So, I drifted back from the front all the way to the back of 200 riders strung out in twos and threes to get a wheel change. I got one, it took a while (my fault) and I had to burn a huge, huge match just to get back. I still felt the weird catch on my wheel. I chased all out through the caravan for about 20-30 minutes (maybe more, maybe less... it felt like hours!). I learned a lot doing it though. I was too scared to get right on the bumper of my team car (and by right on, I mean right on... I was comfortable at about half a meter. This infuriated my director, who kept signaling for me to get closer, so I tried! It was so counter-intuitive, but you have to get within five cm of the bumper to be most efficient, and, believe it or not, safest! If you hit the bumper at that speed you just graze the bumper and get pressure on your bars... With a bigger gap, if he hits the brakes? Straight through the rear window!) going over 60 k/hr.
Long story short, I made it back, brought some extra bottles to the boys, helped chase some more, then it was lights out. I struggled to make it to the finish, but got pulled with a couple local laps to go, which at least meant I got to stay in the race! But man, what a day. My rear brake was more than rubbing - it was applied for the entire day. What a moron I felt like. Oh well, it happens.
Stage 2, 145 km
Stage 2 was not our teams best race. A split got away about halfway through and rode away from the field, about 35 guys. Race over. We had Aaron in it, but some other teams had three or four guys up there. Basically, a couple of ours guys missed out on GC big-time. Aaron moved up to 10th overall, though.
Stage 3, 160 km
The queen stage! It actually turned out to be quite a lazy one. We left for Antwerp from about 100 km away in a point-to-point race. We had a light cross/tail for most of the way and an early escape that was not a threat to GC. This meant that the racing was actually pretty tame for most of the day. Position was still important and I tried to keep laser focus all day. The race would flare up every so often as guys would get ansy and try to jump across in a group to the break, which was hovering at around one or two minutes.
After 100 km we were due to arrive in Antwerp for five finishing circuits. Each circuit had about 1.5 km of nasty cobbles to contend with, in two sections, which we hit on the way into town. At 10 km to the first cobble sector, the pace went from chit-chattable to full-bore! Everyone started really fighting for the top spots. We hit the first section in beautiful position. Six of six guys from JBCA were in the top 40 riders, with our man in prime position just out of the wind. The first cobbles were not soooo bad, pretty standard as cobbles go over here, but the second ones were gnarly! There was only about two km between the two, so they almost just were a blur of one giant jarring road. Ironically, the part that hurts worst about cobbles is coming off of them! After you get free of the earthquake of cobblestones, your body just wants to relax, but of course the pace shoots way up and its time to get straight on the gas and get up to speed. Anyways... The second set of cobbles... On either side was a narrow, packed-dirt section. I was about 30th, just a couple wheels behind Aaron. I felt strong - tired, but strong - and was able to grab tons of places just heading straight up the middle over the cobbles. Eventually, my momentum started to lag, so I moved into the line on the left - nobody was riding the middle it seemed.
Well, it didn't end well. Suddenly, the dude in front of me jump out of the ditch onto the cobbles in a really unexpected way. Before I realize what's what I am staring the end of my race in the face. The dirt section was interrupted by small paved section of driveway. Thanks to erosion, the last meter before it was gradually sunken in, leaving about a 30 cm "curb" at the end of the line. I smashed my front wheel into it, got a front and rear flat (tubulars, too) and flew onto the cobbles in a heap. Aaron had been two wheels in front of me and went down on the same shit. He tried to get back in, but my race was over. In the end, so was his and a teammate who gave up his bike for Aaron to try, but he lost his 10th place on GC.
It was a really disappointing end to the race, which I suppose is why I didn't write about it right away. Oh well. That's bike racing!
The next race is a kermis in Bekegem tomorrow afternoon. On Tuesday is a big Interclub race, which features the Kemmelberg (of cycling infamy), twice! 20%+ grades and cobbles = FUN FUN FUN!