Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two bikes and a backpack

At Ten AM yesterday Ben King and I decided we were going to ride across Belgium to Huy, the finishing town of Fleche Wallonne (one of the biggest bike races in the spring classics). Since we are stuck in Europe do to the volcanic activities in Iceland we are trying to make the best out of the time here. So with no planning we stuffed a backpack with a change of clothes and heading east to Huy. Less than an hour after we sparked the idea we were on the road. With no maps we relied on my previous travels in Belgium and the knowledge that Brussels was the half way point.
I could not have set out on this trip with a better bud than Ben, a good southern boy riding for the Trek-Livestrong team. He and I have become great friends over the past month, and this adventure would only bring us closer. Taking turns carrying the backpack we rode east and into the center of Brussels. For me this was nothing new as I lived there for nine months a few years back and rode my bike everywhere. For Ben however, it was an adrenaline packed hour. Winding our way through gridlocked streets we eventually made our way out of the city.
The east side of Brussels is very different than the west; with rolling hills, thick forests, and the French language it is an area of Belgium that I enjoy much more than the flat windswept farmland of Flanders. Making our way towards our final destination I realized that this whole trek was possible, we were more than halfway there and still had plenty of daylight. With time to spare we stopped in Wavre and ate a very French lunch, we split a baguette and dipped it in chicken pate. With the seldom seen Belgian sun shining down, the gratification of embarking on this great adventure was absorbed.
With French bread in our bellies the final forty kilometers passed quickly. The final descent brought us into Namur (a large town next to Huy where we planned to stay at the youth hostel) and the hardest part of the voyage was finished. Two hundred kilometers and over six hours of riding had landed us on the opposite side of Belgium only to find that the hostel was booked. Ben and I weighed our options, however with our shallow bank accounts a hotel was not one of them. We contemplated sleeping in a barn or some abandoned building but when we finally came to a conclusion we were on the next train back to Izegem.
While we didn’t get to see the race live, we did ride across an entire country of Belgium. Once we returned the other riders were shocked to see us back. Many had expected to see us earlier thinking we would not have the courage make the journey on such little planning. Some of the riders saw our adventure as a failure because we didn’t do what we planned, but we never planned anything at all. It was a spontaneous thought that we carried out, Ben and I had one of our best days in Belgium yet and I wouldn’t’ have changed it for a thing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Belgium racing through the eyes of my roommate and all around good guy Ben King

Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux: 3 days, 4 stages

Stage 1: 170 km
Fresh of a world championship win, Taylor Phinney joins our team along with fellow Trek-Livestrong riders Gavin Mannion and Nate Brown. Also, in the USA lineup are Bissell Pro riders Boswell and Holloway along with BMC rider Cole House. The wind is strong today and it's cold. Riders know they must be near the front before the crosswinds. Our team is aggressive. I find myself mid-pack trying like everyone else to stay toward the front. It is nervous and there is no space on either side of the pack to shoot forward. All of the sudden, bars lock and around ten riders go down in a tangle of bikes. From behind I plow into them, on top of them. I yank my bike from the jumble, riders beneath me are moaning, and I begin to chase the pack. A small group of riders shoot by me, and when I accelerate for their draft my knee throbs. I see that it's cut and know its deep because it bleeds jelly. I chase on my own and catch the bunch on a short climb. Crosswinds. I'm off the back in a small group. We chase and rejoin. I hang back to access the damage. More crosswinds. Another group off the back. With 130 km left to race, we settle into a hard tempo and make it to the finish 14 minutes back on the lead group.

Four USA riders have made the front group. With 10 km to go Taylor wrecks, but blasts through the caravan and back to the front. Gavin Mannion reels in a breakaway with 5 km to go. Holloway and House ride for Taylor, and Taylor despite a crash with 7 km to go, sprints for 4th.
The race medics scrub my chainring laceration, and recommend the hospital. 9 stitches.
Many of you have twittered and emailed support, and it means a lot. After battling to make the time cut, it is an extreme disappointment to miss the start tomorrow. Tomorrow's time trial should put our team in a solid GC position, and it kills me to bail on my teammates. However, my knee, the hinge of the pedal stroke, is quite sore and swollen. The season is young.

I'll continue to cover the race via our team's website: but spare the rest of you. Assuming a swift recovery, I'll be getting back amongst it next Friday for Circuit des Ardennes.