It may snow in Belgium, horray!

As you, my faithful readers may remember, our friend Justin Lindine is racing cyclocross in Belgium as part of the Euro Cross Camp. The Fin “suggested” that I set up a blog for him so that we could just link to him; but after a lot of delays on my part I finally got it set up. However, the Flemmish internet provider automatically translated everything into Dutch. Awkward. So, without further delay, here is the latest from Justin:

So it’s been a few days since the last update. I’d say a lot transpired, but in reality a good bit of it has been down time. Which is good because everyone, myself included, were beginning to look a little ragged around the edges with racing and travel. So after Loenhout we had theoretically two days until the next race in Baal. This meant that Wednesday was pretty much spent as a rest day. An opportunity to get the bikes running smoothly again, do some laundry and some grocery shopping and shop around for some choice Belgian gifts for our families. And then, the highlight of the day, a trip to the bowling alley for an inter-team competition.

So let me be the first to say that cyclists should pretty much stick to cycling. There is a reason that we are good at what we do and it does not, as a general rule of thumb (at least in my experience) relate very well to other sports, games or hobbies. The only thing that caries over is the intensity and competitive drive, no matter how misguided. So let me paint this picture for you: seventeen skinny dorks drinking a smattering of cokes (and some waters) in the midst of a relatively small town bowling alley surrounded by a mix of Belgian club team bowlers and families with little kids. Most of who by the way are bowling better then us; and I mean the little kids, not the club guys. In any case, despite out ineptitude and the fact that the highest score of our group was a 140, we had a pretty good time and managed to liven up an otherwise sedated Wednesday evening at the bowling alley. Go team USA!

Thursday was a transition day if you will. For the guys that were planning on racing the next day in Baal it was openers and rest. For those that weren’t it was a longer training day. For me it was decision-making morning. I had initially intended to race the last three days of camp in a row doing Baal, St. Niklass, and then one other that I don’t know how to spell right this second and don’t have the name in front of me. Suffice it to say it’s in Holland somewhere. Anyway, the case was raised that this plan was slightly ambitious. And that Baal would probably be the muddiest, most power intensive course in the camp. So I was left with a debate going on in my head. One side of me was sore, tired and of the mindset that I would benefit from one more day of training. On the other hand, I came here to race and there was a race to go to, and wouldn’t I be letting myself down if I didn’t race?

Sigh…Such are the debates cyclists are always having with themselves. A never-ending series of inner debates ranging from what or what not to eat to racing schedule. After several cups of coffee I finally decided that it might be in my best interest and in the interest of results to take the one more day and then race the last two days of camp instead. After finally making the call on this front, I had the relief of having made a decision and the anxiety of now wondering what to do with my training for the day.

Luckily, this one didn’t take long. We set off for a foreign country. Four American conquistadors on a pilgrimage to cycling Mecca. We were going to Roubaix. Like all great quests, this one was fraught with problems from the beginning. First off we didn’t, between the four of us, speak either of the languages we would be encountering on this ride. Second, we didn’t really know where we were going. And last, but not least, it was raining and intermittently sleeting with a roar of a head wind and dark gray clouds moving quickly over the uninterrupted fields of Belgium.

No problem. The folded map went in my pocket, the rain capes came out, and away we went each of us (or at least myself) narrating in my head the story of how we were emulating out heroic hardmen of the cobbled classics unconcerned with things as trivial as the elements in our quest for glory on the velodrome of Robaix. So it was cold. And wet. But we soldiered on and after some fumbled direction getting from a French speaking Belgian that required the use of a lot of hand symbols and head nodding, and only one altercation with a motorist despite riding on some busy suburban streets (and after the car cut us off and we yelled our newly learned “hofferdoma!” or what the hell in Flemish, and the people on the sidewalk agreed and also yelled at the car), we rolled up to the hallowed gates of cycledom. Making the right hand turn into the sports complex that houses the Roubaix velodrome was akin to a spiritual moment.

I may be biased, and a self admitted bike geek, but as a racer it’s not easy to avoid the goose bumps that creep up the back of your neck and arms thinking of all the greats who have made this same turn to the roar of a stadium of waiting fans. The track may have been closed, and the bleacher empty when we got there, but all of us stood at the gates taking the obligatory pictures and not having to strain our imaginations very hard to hear the cheers and smell the beer and wish for nothing more then to hoist a giant cobble over our heads in victory. For nothing more then the best.

After another rest day/openers Saturday, today, was St. Niklaas. After two days of more frigid temperatures the mud that had racked our racing and especially Baal (which, by the way, I’m really kind of glad I didn’t do) had frozen pretty solid and the course in Baal was fast. As the day warmed slightly under a hazy sun the top layer of frozen mud loosened up a bit and the turns became increasingly greasy and would even more so as the race progressed. I had a pretty good call up-third row- and was on my way to having a good start when the cluster f began. Three turns into the course someone goes down. I dive to the right inside of the turn to avoid the bodies along with some oversized (read tall) euro. When we bump shoulders, he decides that the thing to do is punch me and nock me off the bike. Only then the asshole (excuse the French) has to put a foot down anyway to avoid the crash. And then he takes that opportunity to look directly at me and then use his heel to taco my front wheel.

That’s right…you read that right. The SOB deliberately put his foot through my front wheel. WTF! Anyhow after a little exchange where I was less then polite I remounted luckily able to get the wheel to spin cleanly and make my way to the pit. The good news is I didn’t lose more then a few spots. The bad news, because it was the first lap and no one thought I would be pitting yet, my bike was not out in the pit lane. Commence the standing and waiting while the whole field passes by. Ok…this is not a problem. I rally. I chase so, so hard. I catch groups and blow by them without pausing. I am actually, for once having a really good race. I catch no less then 25 people. Unfortunately when your coming from the 60’s an hour is just not long enough. I end up 31st.

And despite the drama, and the bad luck, I am happy with my race. Without the whole wheel debacle I am confident I would have been inside the top 25. I felt really good on the bike. The course was a perfect mix of twisty slightly sloppy fast rolling fun. There was minimal running and even some single track. Pretty sweet. Oh, and one bit of European trivia…barriers are way less cool over here. Out of all the races I’ve done so far I’ve only encountered one set of double barriers. I love it. Muddy run ups, tricky off cambers and stairs are a way cooler way to integrate the dismounting into cyclocross. I don’t know why everyone feels like we have to have to have barriers all the time, but clearly it’s not necessary, and I for one wouldn’t miss them all that much. But enough of my diatribe against barriers. I am just short legged and probably biased.

Tomorrow is another day, another race, and the conditions might just be epic. There is a forecast of snow and 6 below Celsius. Awesome. Out on a bang. I’ll let you all know how it goes. Wish me luck. Justin