Bender arrives at my place at 830, i get there at 840. We finally leave at 1100. To our defense Bender had to change the bearings in 3 wheels and I had smoothie, rice bars, and other food to make for the drive and next few days of racing. Next up 11 hrs behind the wheel for me as Bender has no drivers license
My hard working mechanic!
We land in Lille, France, home to one of my sponsors William from Malteni at around 2200. Salami, cheese, pasta, and beer are awaiting us, along side a meeting with Gianluca from Deda Elementi about some new wheels. Bed around midnight, me swearing never to eat pasta again. (Did you know that 30% of people have some kind of intolerance to gluten?)
Next day a late breakfast and we drive to Koksijde. It has become routine by now. I know the World Cup time frame and have been to Koksijde before. So we arrive and practice in the last hour or so of the officially available time. The course is almost identical to last year which is comforting, but I admit I had forgotten how unforgiving the sand is here. Just one mistake and you stop dead, running being the only option left. Here we meet our host for the night, Bram, and head off to the team managers meeting. A formality that gets us race numbers, parking permits and allows us to choose our pit. Although with New Zealand having the least points in the UCI then there is no choice, we take what is left. We also get given an official start list which gives me an idea of my chances of finishing in the top 50 and therefore receive 300€ in prize money. With 54 starters it is going to be tough.
Getting ready for a quick practice in Koksijde
We head home for beers, wine and a dinner of rice and meat sauce (no pasta)
9am start, bacon, eggs, and avocado (though this sat a little heavy so I think i will go lighter next time) and begin packing the car. We head to the course a little later than planned, this proves to be foolish. When there is a race in town it is hard to get around. There are many closed roads and of course increased traffic. This combined with the fact that I forgot my shoes at the house meant my stress levels started to rise. Luckily we are in two cars and Bram saves the day by going back for them. I still manage to get ready in time for the official practice. My confidence in my improved technique makes me feel like this practice is just a formality. I am quickly proved wrong and reminded of the fact that it is the sand that is still in charge. It catches my front wheel, I am sent off course in the first sand descent, into and over the barriers. This is not the best start and I try not to let it shake me.
Barrier love ❤
The start goes ok and I make an attempt to take a couple of places in the first couple of turns. Usually I don’t bother, I won’t risk a crash and a possible DNF, but has the season has progressed my confidence has grown and I find that if I don’t fight a little then riders slower than me will get in front and that just isn’t on. Already after the first run through the sand the riders at the back start falling into the places that will be their final finishing positions. There is a little battling and I gain a few spots but not more. The crowd here isn’t as supportive as they have been in other parts of the country. It is amazing the difference, both in what the crowd does and how that affects your race. Aside from my friends in the crowd, a few loyal supporters and some kids they are pretty quiet here. Koppenberg was brutal, one of the hardest circuits of the year, not a course where you are looking forward to the climb back up the hill for another lap. Except there is the spectators, they make it worth the effort. The roar from the crowd as you slowly ground up the last part of the hill was deafening, my mechanic could hear me coming 100m away, and it was the only thing that made the idea of doing one more lap appealing. I hope that one day they will realize how much they can mean to the riders and not just cheer the first 5 riders and maybe the last one. Last year when I raced here I managed 3 laps, crashed 2-3 times, and taco’ed a front wheel. When they pulled me I was dead, I didn’t want to do another lap. This year I raced 5 laps and i was pretty crushed at the end. I finished the hardest sandy course of the year in 46th place out of 53 starters. We of course celebrated back at the car with the Malteni Fan Club, a case of the good stuff and some special guests from Soigneur on Strandvejen.
Nice job David!
More DEEP sand!
My strange stance can be blamed for the fact that I am about to throw myself up on the bike again…
Dinner at Brams and then a 2 hour drive to Eindhoven where we overnight with Pieter and Renske.
8 am start, bacon eggs and avocado again, yes i am a glutton for punishment, and then a two hour drive north to Gieten.
Geiten is a fast sandy course (more sand!) but also quite beautiful. It did not look like it would be a long race for me. The fast courses seem to mean that there is even more that separates the leaders and the back of the pack and results in me getting pulled earlier. After squeezing in a quick practice between races I ended up sitting in the front of the car with the seat heating on trying to fight off the cold outside and warm up my skinsuit by wedging it under my arse. I am tired of putting on cold kit. We sat round late the night before in Eindhoven, although I didn’t drink too much (it is hard with so many amazing beers!) I only got 6 hrs sleep, which is a cardinal sin in terms of proper recovery. So whilst fighting off the cold I was also wrestling with a shadow of a hangover. Bender was diligently standing at the back of the car for about 45min adjusting gears and prepping the bikes. I broke a spoke in one of the wheel sets that we would have liked to use this race, and some of the cassettes just aren’t shifting as crisply as they should. This will mean more wheel maintenance and possibly some new cassettes when we get home. We already changed the bearings in half the wheels last time, all the cables, brake pads, bb’s and pedal bearings too. Next week will be spent contacting more sponsors. No soigneur this race to take my jacket so Bender doubles up in his duties, disappearing off 2 minutes before the start to get to the pits in time. 1:30 after he took off a gust of wind took a third of the barriers on one side of the finishing straight down and we are forced to wait while they fix it up. Then it started to rain. If you are wondering why a soigneur is so useful then wait to you experience a situation like this one and watch everyone else get their jackets back while we wait out the delay in the rain.
Once we actually got underway then the real drama started. Already at the 2nd turn Niels Albert crashed and moved to the very back. Even I, thanks to a few UCI points collected this season, was not all the way at the back! I have never seen so much carnage at a race before this one. Riders leaning up against barriers, running with bikes with mechanicals, not even Sven managed to finish. I had some of my hardest fought battles of the season ending with a respectable 34th out of 49 starters and a desperate need for a sunglasses sponsor. I had so much sand in my eyes all the lights on the road on the way home had little halos around them and I was not able to read the text on my phone till after I had taken a shower back in Eindhoven again.
Me in front of not just one, but TWO guys!
After an amazing dinner our day ended in a great wee brew pub in town, discussing the hidden side of Belgians with the owner till the small hours.
Van Moll in Eindhoven
Riding slowly is never an option 🙂
730 start, 6 hrs sleep again, bacon and eggs, again and then 8 1/2 hours of driving back to Denmark.
Many people have commented on how crazy and hard they think that my season is with all this driving down to Belgium every 2nd weekend, sometimes every weekend. But it isn’t the weekends away that are hard. Racing cross down south is a blast and I can highly recommend it! It is returning to life back at home that is hard. Unpacking the car, ignoring the washing, the untidy apartment and the empty fridge before crawling under the covers for my first 9 hour sleep in a while. Next day, work, picking up my son, shopping, filling up the fridge, cooking, reading stories, putting him to bed, ignoring the washing and the apartment to sit on the sofa and write a new blog post or get in contact with a sponsor about getting some help before trying to get enough sleep and repeating the process until it is time to fill the car up again…