Want to race your bike in Belgium?

Want to come race your bike in Belgium? Here are some tips for you first timers. 

 

Not all of us get handed the opportunity to race and travel with the US national team when we are under 23 racers. But the experience of racing in Belgium is something that I believe could have come in handy earlier on in my racing career. So I thought I would do a little write up for those looking to create there own opportunity at gaining the vital experience of racing in Belgium. In this write up I hope to include simple tips on how to travel and live cheaper.  How to adapt to living with the Belgians. 

 

Traveling and living:

 

Train tickets: I travel by train a lot to go to training races and then ride home, or visa versa depending on what I need to do for my training that day. The trains here are very dependable if you plan enough in advance. If you are under 26 you can buy a 10 punch pass for just 50Euros to go anywhere you want in Belgium! Really anywhere. Brugge to liege uses just one of the stamps! Where as if you walk up to the ticket window and ask to buy a ticket round trip it would probably cost you 40-50Euro or more depending on the day. You CANNOT travel with a bike with the above mentioned pass for free.  To take your bike on the train it will cost you an extra 5 euros each way or you can purchase an 8Euro day pass. You can buy either of these tickets on the train or at a ticket window. 

 

To check the train timetables use <http://www.belgianrail.

 

Food:

To save on groceries you can often choose between shopping at places like Lidl or Aldi. The more expensive market is Delhaize. Bio food stores are becoming more popular here, but they are not like ones in the states where the options are vast and fairly affordable. Everything (at least where we live near Brugge) is so expensive compared to other european countries my girlfriend and I have traveled to for racing and riding. Especially eating out. You could dine at a Michelin star restaurant in New York City for the same price as a regular family run restaurant here. Where we look to go to stay on budget if we cant eat at home are the Sandwich/snack shops. There a ton of these places where you can get a decent sandwich for a cheap price (3-6 euro). If you are on the binge and its your first time in Belgium, just to say you have tried it, a Frites shop is delicious cheap and calorie loaded (perfect after a long ride.) They really are unlike any frites you will have anywhere else. 

 

In the races: 

Its true what you hear about racing in Belgium. It really is a matter of kill or be killed. 

Belgians will yell at you A TON and tell you to, “work!”. They’ll tell you “no foreigners in the break today” and elbow you out into the wind. They will chop you even if it means throwing you into a trench over 50th place. Rain. Lots and lots of rain. There is no organization. Expect chaos at very hard, high speeds. Expect to see people 

bunny hopping curbs and avoiding poles in the road. Getting good position is the hardest part and it takes practice more than anything. 

The website to find races you can do is <http://new.wiebovlaanderen.be>

Always ask about the primes before the race when obtaining your number.  Sometimes they are every lap.  sometimes every 3rd lap, etc.  Sometimes they are one place, sometimes 2, sometimes 3.  

 BRING YOUR OWN PINS to pin your number. 

 This website had proven helpful to me and has more helpful logistical info about races.  <http://www.thechainstay.com/bicycle-racing-in-belgium-guide-help/kermis-racing/kermis-racing-in-belgium/>

 

 

 

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Ride to Annecy

“I don’t know what I’m writing about but I feel as if it’s been far too long since I hand wrote anything.  It’s been 2 years since I stopped attending classes at Fort Lewis College.  I recently broke my hand pursuing my dream of being a professional bike racer.  I can barely read my chicken skratch anymore unless I write everything in capitals.  I speak to people with multiple pensions and a plan to go on holiday every other month.  I think to myself, I’ve got debt from doing what I love, debt from attending school and not finishing my degree.  I think I can always go back to school but then I hear credits expire and more and more times do I think to myself, “what the hell am i doing with my life in grand old belgium?”’

The love of my life has sacrificed her entire life for me.  I’ve thought for a while now, “if you love her than you should put a ring on her,” but as most men think, if you can’t provide for her and you can’t even afford a ring, how could you possibly afford a marriage and the lifestyle that comes with it?

The thoughts of endless acts of gracefulness from my parents drive my stress levels even further.  I want to achieve success in cycling far greater than anyone else in the world but I feel as if things have to fall in place in order for that to happen.  I think maybe i’ve passed my expiration date?  I think I cannot posisbly let all those people in my life and career down.  All those peopole that have followed my cycling, been apart of my cycling, helped me get to where I am today.  I feel as if this list is always endless.

There will always be great people in this wonderful sport of cycling.  There will also always be a lot of people choosing to dope and cheat their way to the top.  But the real conclusion I am coming to is that I just need to do the best I can do with what I’ve got and learn to be satisfied with that.

This……”do the best with what I’ve got” just keeps leading into more and more questions and thoughts of why cannot this change or why cannot this fall into place but the brutality of it is sometimes life sucks and its just not going to happen.  And it certainly isn’t going to happen without you trying your hardest to go out there and get it.

So whether or not I continue to race my bike for one more week  or till the end of the year, or the rest of my life, I have to do so at the best of my ability? This sport is so fucking difficult!

The amount of difference between someone wining a local race in their country or region and someone racing in the world tour can be very big or hardly there at all .  It could be 2 watts per kilo@ threshold.  or it could be 5-10 years of experience (which in this sport can be huge.)  On the other side of things, the difference could be very minuet.  The difference could be that the amateur rider has some of the best numbers on paper but can’t put anything together mentally to even achieve a noteworthy result…

Then when you think you’ve got everything figured out, you’ve got your training optimalized, you’ve got you fleet of components operational like the second death star, you’ve got your nutrition and weight at what your happy with, your slammed with the political bullshit that this sport is so full of!

Now i’m rambling on and not going anywhere.  take what you want from my rant…..

On a more positive note, I recently had a really cool experience I will cherish for the rest of my life and would like to share it with you.  I planned another backpacking/biking trip and with most of these trips, it’s last minute and not planned to the level I wanted it to be but it was still a blast nonetheless.

This time around (last year I did a solo bike tour in the Pyrenees) I was lucky to be accompanied by my friend and teammate, Josh.  We had 4 days of riding planned to ride through Belgium, luxembourg, switzerland, and end in Annecy, France. Last minute we had to change this to start in France do to a train strike in Belgium the day we left. We ended up driving across the Belgium/France border to  taking a train (waking at 5AM) from Lille and starting our ride from a place called Charleville Meziers Aka the Gateway to the Ardennes.

We loaded our garmins for our first B&B location Toul, France.  The garmins displayed 148 km on tap for day 1 and we started riding in overcast quite excited the weatehr would improve each day as we creeped our way south.  We rode about 3-4 hours and did not look at our garmins to see how far we had been riding.  When we finally thought we were about 1 hr out from our destination we had a look at our gps location.  Just as we did, we came road by a sign for Toul, France…..”61 km.”!!!  We looked at our garmins to see how far we had ridden and it displayed 120 km.  Just our luck, the Garmin had vie us the direct distance to our hotel but we hadn’t looked at how far the routing roads were going to be.  When we finally arrived it was 8:30 pm and we had ridden 195 km on day !  We finally got a credit card to work on the machine to check ourselves into the hotel.  The man did not understand English and couldn’t figure out to slide the card rather than read a nonexistent chip.  Then we went to the only place open in town for pizza as the restaurant downstairs took away the menu as we started to read it.  We were exhausted after the 1st day so we went straight back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The 2nd day we got on our bikes at a normal time(10AM) not having to take the train.  Unfortunately, what was in store for us was about the same distance but a lot of climbing near the end.  The climbs were so steep josh nicknamed one of them “col de la steep fuck!”.  (a 20% average climb!)  after navigating around a 6 mile detour the garmin wanted to take us on an unpaved road, josh kept me entertained by singing and taking a lot of pictures/videos.  Eventually we made it to a b&B for the night. We had plenty of time to wash kit and relax for another brutal day to follow.

The 3rd day was the hardest.  We could barely sleep in because the rain was peltering down that morning and we knew we were in store for a miserable day on the saddle.  We would end up riding about 7 hours, starting in rain, riding into more rain, having to change clothes mid ride because of so much rain and because we were freezing.  (We did so inside of a tent in the middle of a town fete that was going on).  When we started riding again, we were shivering as if it was the beginning of a ride in the middle of winter.  We rode down through Switzerland and we thought we would have some climbs and a lot of flat because we were staying alongside a giant lake.  We were wrong.  We had climbs and bigger climbs, not flat. Lumpy…… “One of those days”  Me and Josh decided we were going to sprint for every town line sprint and in Switzerland, that translates to a very hard day!  We arrived at our location for the night with the rain easing up but a lot of dissapointment with our campsite not quite being what it looked like in the pictures. Josh has a really great video of this! (add link)

The 4th and final day on the bike was another difficult one.  Mainly because I became so delusional that when I went to take money out of an ATM, I used my American pin with my european card and thought for sure something was wrong with the ATM not me! Using the incorrect pin so many time caused them to put a freeze on my account. So we had a rough morning trying to get enough franks out to pay the hotel. We did eventually start our final stretch of the journey, but only of course after a hardy lunch at McDonald’s.  Luckily the ride was quite flat along Lake Geneva and we had one big steep climb and some rollers over to Annecy.  Beautiful scenery filled the day as the sun was out in brute force just as we had hoped.

In Annecy we met Stephanie who had come from Paris via train. She had quite the adventure of her own that you will have to look to her blog for. The first day we rented a peddle boat with a little slide. Josh did some flips off  it. One day we did Stand Up Paddle boarding. I road the 2nd to last stage of this years Tour de France up the Semnoz. We did a lot of relaxing and laughing and enjoying life in Paradise.  3 days hanging out by the lake of Annecy. Good food and friends after accomplishing such a long journey in the saddle was refreshing and much needed.

col de la steep fuck

col de la steep fuck

chasseraljoshtractorpaddle boarding

nice collage of bikes on some random middle of nowhere spot in france

nice collage of bikes on some random middle of nowhere spot in france

roisette

last days climb over to Annecy from Geneva

last days climb over to Annecy from Geneva

The lake of Annecy

The lake of Annecy

NEXT BLOG:  The disaster that struck midway on the train ride home leading us to invent our own bike bags!

NEXT BLOG: The disaster that struck midway on the train ride home leading us to invent our own bike bags!

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July 8, 2013 · 1:52 pm

Eagles and Turkeys

Image 2

Image 1

ImageShortly after my last blog I raced my first ever 1.1 race Pino Cerami. I was sick and had injured my hand quit badly a few days before, but I still finished the race as first American in 16th. Which is great considering it was a huge struggle to even hold onto my bars. Immediately after the race I decided that I should go see the doctor about the hand injury and sure enough, my hand was broken. Bad luck strikes me again just as I was reaching my first peak of the season. The sickness also mingled for several weeks. Luckily I had my hand operated on and was back on the bike and racing local kermesses in 4 weeks. I’ve had a pretty decent string of rides in the local kermesses finishing 2nd, 4th, 7th, 11th, and who knows what else but I”m always right there and before the season is over, I’m going to be on the top step!!!

I realize that no result in cycling should be taken for granted and this sport is extremely hard day in and day out. And even more so in Belgium. Its true what everyone says about the life of racing here. It is killed or be killed. There is no unspoken rules of fair play. Things aren’t peachy with the team either. We cannot for the life of us mesh. Its to the point that no one is even trying to work as a team anymore. Sometimes I wish I had taken the offers of other teams. But this is where I am now. This is what I have. The longer I stay here the more I learn that nothing in the sport or life is ever given to you, the world doesn’t owe me. If I want something, I have to go out there and fight to get it. And if anything being here, living here, racing here has made me tough as nails. You know what they say, Its hard to soar like an eagle when your surrounded by a bunch of turkeys!

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Traveling Blog

 

My blog has been pretty uneventful the last couple of weeks but I’d like to take this moment to write about how amazing my life is…..I am truly grateful that I am a sponsored athlete and am capable of racing my bike all around the world.  the people I have encountered along the way and the places I have visited I are memories I will cary and cherish for the rest of my life and experience that will be a positive asset in my future.

 

I’d like to thank a few sponsors who have made my season so far more enjoyable.  Smith has been a great help in supplying me with sunglasses so I don’t have to end up in the hospital with another corneal eye abrasion(that was painful).  Specialized shoes are the best shoes I could possibly be riding with for several reasons(see cyclingnews article).  Cliff bar who provides nutrition for my races with Cliff Shots gels, cliff blocks, cliff bars, protein builder bars, and drink mix.

 

Recently visiting so many cycling meccas around the world, I’ve thought about starting a cycling touring business at some point in time down the road.  Mallorca is the perfect place for this and if anyone is interested in a trip, let me know and I can point you in the right direction.  I’ve talked with people about setting things up in the U.S as well and this is the place I know the most connections.  Lastly, I have a very good friend who is already leading tours in Israel and would go out of his way to make sure you have a great experience visiting his home country.  Visit his site here…..(Genesis Cycling).

 

Last week I got back into action at a local kermess after being sick. Just over 200 starters at a local race in Bruges was mind boggling to me, but luckily I found myself in the main break of the day of 20 riders.  it was also one of the warmer days of the spring. Unfortunately with a bunch of belgians yelling at one another and a lot of determined riders in the peleton, we were caught with several laps to go.  On the last lap I rode over someone’s bike and almost crashed several other times, I decided not to even try sprinting for a place and avoided the carnage that was to come AFTER the finish line!  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x69JhF7VxPs).

 

This past weekend I lined up for Tryptique Mont et Chataeux for the first time.  A 3 day 4 stage race in Belgium and northern France.  The first 3 stages were filled with a fair amount of bad luck for myself.

 

I crashed really early on in the first stage, flying over my teammate and into one of those muddy stinky ditches on the side of the road.  The kind that you see on the tv and think, ” wow, that would really suck to end up down there.”  Myself and Wouter Wippert were stuck in the ditch only 25 KM into the first stage and we were sitting in the top 20 wheels of the bunch.  I made the chase through the caravan only to flat the rear wheel as soon as I entered the bunch.  The team car was still pacing my teammate back into the race so I was riding a flat on the back of the field for several KM’s and finally the neutral Mavic car gave me a wheel and I was back with my teammate near the end of the caravan… again.  I finally got to the front of the bunch halfway through the race when we hit the first climbs of the day.  I followed some attacks but just missed the main break of the day.  I sat comfortable in the bunch for the rest of the day but when I was moving up the side of the bunch with 5 K to go, I was taken out AGAIN.  luckily uninjured I quickly got up and raced through the cars again to get back into the bunch so I would get the same time as the field.

 

The second day was a Time trial in the morning and a short intense road stage in the afternoon.  The time trial being the first one of the year did not go very well.  I really need to work on this as I know I can perform near the top in these events but without racing my TT bike I find it really difficult to use that top end that I need to endure.  A trip over to the U.K might be in store.

 

The afternoon stage was progressing fairly uneventful until 5 K from the first set of climbs and then everyone wanted to be at the front.  I was quite close but trying to move up even further I was moved over and into a small pothole that somehow flatted both my wheels.  It took some time to get both wheels fixed but after I did, I reentered the peleton just as the climbs started and I never really got a chance to recover so I could stay in the peleton, unfortunately I finished a couple minutes down.

 

The last stage I was determined that after 2 crashes and 3 flat tires in 2 days, it couldn’t possibly get any worse and I was going to do something to make the weekend.  I followed move after move at the front of the peleton, determined to not miss thee move. I  made the main break of 4 riders.  I really wished I was going better up some of the short punchy climbs as my breakaway companion took home the GPM jersey I am sure.  The last stage had 10 categorized GPM sprints and we stayed away for 8 of them.  After the break was caught another went away with the yellow jersey and my teammate but was caught near the finish.  My teammate remained in 11th overall after giving it a good shot to move up some more places.  Another teammate sprinted to a top 10 finish on the stage capping off a successful weekend of racing for team 3M.  We placed 2nd and 3rd for team GC the last two stages.

Leading the break on the last stage

Leading the break on the last stage

TT warmup

TT warmup

TT start ramp

TT start ramp

 

TT in action

TT in action

TT 1

 

 

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Pics from Ieper

click the links on the twitter feed or follow me on strava for race files…..

Ichtegem

Wanzele

Ieper

coming through town

coming through town

Morning snow on the cars

Morning snow on the cars

narrow roads?

narrow roads?

sign in

sign in

sign in

sign in

start line

start line

steph

steph

that was fun!

that was fun!

bikes ready to roll

bikes ready to roll

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Another day

As usual time is flying by like it always does once the racing starts! I raced Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday this last week and again tomorrow.

Saturday Star Van Zwolle I was feeling really great! Half way through the race my luck was bad (again!)  and I was forced to crash! I broke my shifter and by the time I had located “my” spare bike on the team car and started chasing the commissaire had decided the peleton was too far gone and I would not be allowed to draft the car!  My director told me to focus my attention towards the following day.  It was based out of the same little town that the Three Days of West Flanders finished at called Ichtegem. We did the same finishing loop that the pro race did. With a little hill and one little cobbled section. There was a large field and a break wasnt established until late in the race.  I did a lot of work that I shouldnt have and learned a few things but still managed to cross the line in 32nd (and very happily not to have crashed!)  I would consider it a great training race under my belt… or spandex. And Stephanie, I think quite enjoyed herself. The race was close to where we are staying so she was able to ride in. She got a lot of attention from the Belgians and even the peleton  since she was kitted out in my old Garmin Chipotle gear. She watched my race and was an excellent cheer leader and then watched the pro race… She brags she got to see Cavendish…  IRL. He even looked at her. ;)

 

I was feeling really tired leading into Wednesday’s Kermess in Wanzele, and to be honest, I was very tired for the majority of the 170km. Legs did not feel good. There were 240 starters and only 160 finishers! It was reeeeally fast, 45k an hour average for 3hours45min! I suffered through it. I didnt come all the way to Belgium, take two trains, just to quit. Good thing I was tenacious because the last 5 laps I started to feel really good.(this is a very good sign) I moved from the back of the peloton to the top 15 wheels for the final laps. It was a bunch sprint so I did what I could for my sprinter, and rolled in avoiding the dangers of the sprint. Also learned lots and can’t wait for Sundays race to put what I have learned and all my hard work to good use!

The race Sunday/tomorrow (March 10, 2013) goes up the Kemmelburg TWICE. I did this race last year with the Gramin boys so I hope that experience helps me do well!!  (Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t punch out any team ca tail lights this time around.)

signing in at Star Van Zwolle

signing in at Star Van Zwolle

wanzale2 wanzale3 wanzale4 Wanzale

on the train going to the race.

on the train going to the race.

On the startline before Wanzale

On the startline before Wanzale

wanzale2wanzale3Wanzale

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So it begins

Its Official! FINALLY a blog about actual races and not just the travel and training!

Beverbeek was the first race of the year for me and the team and what better way to start off the season than with sleet, snow, and freezing temperatures. It can only get better from here, right?  It was so cold and miserable that they shortened the race course.

The race was more of a survival kind of day than a tactics and smart racing kind of day for Team 3M. Its hard to think straight when you can barely feel your fingers and toes, shift, break or see. A break was up the road and none of our team were in it so technically we should have gone to the front and tried to bring it back. But I think our brains were all too frozen to think collectively and I was spending a lot of thought just getting back into the groove of the crazy Belgian peleton.

When it came down to the final laps I was up front right where I needed to be to do the lead out for our sprinter, but unbeknownst to me he had just abandoned the race due to the extreme conditions (as had many other riders that day understandably) so obviously we didn’t do a lead out and on that last lap and final long straight I realized people all around me were taking insane risks to try to get to the front for a chance at a good result and knew that it wasn’t worth getting tangled up in a stupid crash the first race of the season… But somehow even in like 80th and trying to avoid the chaos of a sprint I would never win, people were still trying to move up and doing beyond dangerous things. Five hundred meters to the line I was forced to hit the pavement something…. right in front of Stephanie.  I got up, untangled my bike and rolled across the line practically unscathed. Stephanie was just glad I wasn’t one of the two left on the ground moaning in agony.

Like the icicles on my helmet my body and adrenaline rush slowly melted away into a thick desire for more… More racing and awww… Finally the season has begun! Lets do this.

my teammate in action at Beverbeek

my teammate in action at Beverbeek

the field progressing through the balmy weather

the field progressing through the balmy weather

 

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