Belgium, March 29, 2006
Greetings from a still cold and wet Belgium but would like to add that the weather is improving, my cold headache has gone and the form is coming along. Other news from this period is that Leigh had a stint in hospital after somehow developing an abcess on his little finger that needed some pretty immediate attention. Three days, eight IV bags of antibiotics and a couple of sponge baths later Tank returned and is now back into racing. Speaking of racing, the team has been racing consistently and we have been garnering some good results of late.
I believe last time I wrote we were leading up to a block of racing, namely Kemzeke, Nokere-Koerse and GP Rudy D'Haenens. In Kemzeke I was solely looking to stay on the bike for 200km, which is a feat in itself in this race. Raced marred with crashes and punctures, with Deano getting two and Russell one. In all six punctures from the team which meant a bit of time at the back waiting for the lads to come back for a bit of assistance. All managed to stay on the bikes and had a little go in the sprint.
Nokere Koerse is the first shiny race of the year. Like years previous the sun was out and the temps were bearable. Team was out for a respectable day, especially with the arrival of Nick Collins from DFL who flew out to see how things were done. It was an attacking race from the start and the likes of Deano, Russell, Yanto and Bernie were having a good go and the wind that was present was making it a harder day than some imagined. The local laps were the same, with 10 laps of a 14km circuit and the finish line on top of the cobbled Nokereberg. A group of 15 sorted out the day in the end with Russell, Dean, Bernie, Yanto and myself in the main group a minute or so back.
Rudy D'Haenens was a few days later - this race used to be a 1.1 but has been downgraded to a pro kermis. Having said this, a strong field was present, so a tough day was in store. We were down a few riders as one or two of the pomgolians headed to Oz for Commonwealth Games commitments. Deano and Tom were having a good day and were up the front but lucked out in the attacks and missed the final move on the last lap. Was content to get the race in my legs and finished in the main group with the other lads. Special mention here goes to Nick Gates who apparently reads my diary when he's bored. Glad I could be of service, mate...
A week was separating us from our next race so a good week was planned and enjoyed thanks to some good weather and our soigneur Raoul Saren. On Wednesday we jumped in the cars and headed towards Liege - Riemst, to be exact. There we met Raoul at a cycling friendly hotel, got dressed and headed off. To cut a long, long story short, seven hours and 45 minutes later we returned to Riemst, sun sinking below the horizon and with 230km under our belts. Hats off to Raoul, who followed us in the van for this time, prepared sandwiches, etc, and organised a feed at the hotel. To coin a phrase - 'mate, can't fault ya'. Nothing much for the next few days. I did however have another 4 hour epic by myself on Friday that included three punctures, one tube, closed bike shops, etc but don't really want to relive that day too much. Off to Aalst St-Truiden we go then...
Our last race was today (as I write) called Aalst-St.Truiden, is a well known interclub here in Belgium. The team has performed well here before and all involved were looking forward to another good day. Rain held off for the race but the wind was still present, and on the large, rolling wide roads to Liege the race was bound to split. Split it did, with a front group of 12 forming. Sven, Bernie and myself just missed it by a few wheels, but our man in form, Deano, made it by clipping the grass. For the remainder of the big lap (approx 80km) the lead hovered around 40 seconds to a minute but no more. Meanwhile, the bunch swelled a little and Dave and Tom regained contact - local laps were where it was going to be decided.
Local laps were challenging and were to be completed five times. Included were a cobble stretch and a nasty little hill. Second time over the hill Bernie and Sven clipped off in a group and caught up to Dean and co. Dean was still feeling good and the guys were ripping along in support. Over the hill Bernie, Dean got away in a move and I managed to bridge across to the group by myself after chasing for half a lap. Last lap over the climb Dean took off, splitting the group before going again with 3km to go and winning alone. Bernie crossed in sixth, Sven in 10th after getting away in the last 5km and I rounded out the team in the top 20. Tom rolled over the line and Dave called it a day a few laps out after being team man all day. Good day out for the team and as I write this a few of the guys are still sinking a few Leffes and Chimays downstairs.
So, things are on the improve, for the team and personally. Things should continue to improve as Commonwealth Games guys return in a few weeks and our racing picks up a little more.