We were feeling fairly good after a good race on Saturday. It looked to be cold and windy which would make an already hard race much harder. The race was at 2:30 so we had all morning to get ready for it. All the guys seemed pumped.
Number pickup was early followed by the managers meeting. This is usually useless for me since they never speak English at these races and my Flemish is questionable. I am required to be there though and it’s where you get your caravan number. Sometimes I get a good draw, usually in Belgium I don’t. There were 36 teams of six riders, I drew car 31. That far back there is little I can do to help the guys. If they flat, by the time I get there and fix the problem, they are two minutes behind and have little hope of regaining the race.
The UCI has tight rules of helping riders with mechanicals get back into the race. Sometimes they stick tight to the letter of the law, sometimes they let you draft them back to your caravan spot. I was going to see a lot of the UCI commissar this day. The guys were all set on the starting line. As the second US team, the US national team was there, we might get a little room to move around and try something, we were going to try.
For the first thirty kilometers, easy breezy, no problems at all. There were a few crashes but none looked to have affected us. A small group was off the back and had one of us in it. I could tell by the riding style who it was, one of our first year guys who I knew this race would be a reach for to begin with. I gave him a look to say, “what is it?” he gave me the look of panic, shell shock combined
with a hint of disappointment because they feel like they let the team down when this happens. I don’t feel that way but then and there was not the time to have a pep talk so I went on. The course was three big loops with a hard cobbled climb each lap followed by five small, fast loops in town.
I had my mechanic, Franky driving and I was going to be the mechanic for this race. The simple reason is, I’m a faster mechanic than he is. Franky was a pro team director in Europe so driving in the caravan was easy for him and on a course like this, every second saved counted. We were borrowing Franky’s wife’s Mini cooper for the caravan which, on the surface seems cool but practicality, a 1970 VW buy might have been a better choice.
Franky yells, “There is Thomas on the side of the road.” We have no idea what the problem is since the radio never told us there was a problem. Out the car with a pair of wheels I fly. Front flat, no problem, rear flat too, OK, no problem. I get Thomas pushed off and I’m back in the Mini. For whatever reason, and these things sometimes happen with young riders but a pair of our backup wheels ended up without skewers in the team car. I start removing the skewers from the flat wheels and putting them in the good wheels without ones. At this point Franky is pacing Thomas back to the caravan at probably 70km an hour and we are going through a town. Hard left, hard right, hard on the gas, it’s amazing how fast you can get sea sick in the back of a small car looking backwards.
It seems Thomas hit a drain, common on Belgian roads and not only flatted both wheels but crushed both rims to the point of spokes coming out of the hubs. I’m glad he was at least on his training wheels and not his Mavic Cosmic Carbones. Thomas took almost 30km of working through the caravan to make up the two minutes we were from the back of the field. He regained the field and was trying to recover at the back of the bunch when the field split. Lesson two for the day, don’t spend any time at the back of the bunch. It’s dangerous and you will not make the splits when they happen.
We lost three guys in this split, one Thomas and two who were in their second European race. Everything was happening fast at this point and I had little time to assess the what and why’s, all I could do was look after the two remaining guys I had left so we passed them.
Colin is a rock. I’ve yet to figure him out though. He’s from Idaho and prone to use words like “stoked” and other snowboard type terms to describe how he feels and is going. He can look like crap, say he’s just feeling “OK, I guess” and right after go like a bat out of hell. Colin was in the dwindling front group along with Curtis.
“Hot Tubes, back flat!” I hear translated from my Belgian driver. OK, here we go again, this time Curtis. By the time we got to him he had the wheel out of his bike but he was facing the wrong direction. I quickly changed the wheel and pushed him off going the right way. We were motor pacing him quickly, very fast actually and it looked like he might make it. Into town again, left, right, left. Usually motor pacing is done on straight sections, not in turns. It’s very dangerous to do it in turns. The riders can go much faster than a car in these turns but we hadn’t covered that yet in team meetings so Curtis was stuck to our bumper.
Franky floored it approaching a hard right turn in an effort to get a little separation from Curtis before the turn. Curtis never got the memo though. We make it through the turn doing a four wheel slide, Curtis looked like a Moto GP rider leaning hard once he realized his situation and the brick wall coming up fast. He made it but not by much and I still don’t know how. After about ten minutes it became clear he was not going to make it back this late in the race and he was showing the signs of the effort so we went off to support our loan rider, Colin.
Once we got on the circuits, I jumped out so I could feed and instruct Colin on any relevant information he might not know. The field was fracturing again and there were only, maybe fifty riders left from the original two hundred riders who started. It made me feel a little better knowing most teams lost most riders today. Colin made for first group again.
As the laps ticked down, small groups would form and get a hand full of seconds as the big teams with several riders still in it fought it out. We were in survival mode and I wanted out of town. Two groups finished off the front with only ten seconds between them and we ended up thirty-third. Time to lick our wounds, assess what went right and wrong and get ready for our big test in France in six days time.
Thanks for reading,