There has been some news in the media regarding my main sponsor of three years, Planet Bike, leaving and I'd like to start off by saying that I've known about it for a long time. There will be no more bike racing sponsorship for the team, including me.
However, my other sponsors which also help provide my salary - Blue Bicycles, Enve wheels and Lazer helmets - are still part of my team. I wanted to respect the owner of Planet Bike's wishes not to let anyone know about the sale of his company until it was actually done. He's been an awesome sponsor and will always be a friend. At the same time, I knew that I needed to be silently searching for another sponsor for the 2011-12 season.
I wasn't originally supposed to be sponsored by Planet Bike this season but the sale of the company was delayed so the owner was able to get another year in and I'm grateful for that. Of course, it's a bummer for me that they will no longer be my sponsor. Everyone I met through Planet Bike has been nothing but supportive and nice. They've made my last three years with them a great experience. I couldn't have asked for a better sponsor. They also provided me with a sure salary for three years which was the longest of any sponsor so far. It was nice not to have to search for sponsors during that time.
Now that I am able to speak publicly about this situation I've gotten back some pretty good options and some interest so I'm very happy about those prospects. I am not "retiring" as some people have asked based on rumours in the media. I have a couple of good ideas in the works in the USA and in Europe along with my other sponsors who have committed to taking care of me.
Blue Bicycles has designed a whole line of bikes around me and continues to express their happiness in working with me, as do my other sponsors. I have no doubt that they plan to support me until I'm finished racing and beyond. A few good results now that I'm healthy will help too I'm sure. Everyone loves a winner. It just happened that the news of the Planet Bike sale hit the public at a bad time for me. The last five weeks haven't been easy with my back and my stomach but all is back to normal here and it's time to get some results.
So, back to cyclo-cross racing. I took full advantage of my nine-day rest during a national-only race on the weekend of November 7. I was more than glad that I was not able to race. I went to a specialist twice who was able to diagnose and fix my back problems; my pelvis, Lumbar 1 and Lumbar 5 and the whole Thoracic region were out of whack along with the muscles surrounding them.
I also went to a good masseuse several times and spent lots of hours resting, stretching and heating. Actually, it was a good time to be resting because the weather wasn't good. We had two weeks of rain and driving winds here in Belgium. I was ready to race in Niel on Thursday, November 11, but wasn't sure whether to bring my bikes or a boat at that point.
Niel was under water, really under water. There was so much mud and water and many sections that were normally rideable, were not even runable. The wind was blowing so hard that metal fences were blowing into the road. My son, Milo, who was walking around on the course with an umbrella was picked up and thrown onto the circuit. His new nickname is "Milo Poppins".
I was doing alright during the race. I wasn't in the lead group but somewhere in the second group gaining places, then losing places and then gaining them back again. I didn't really find my legs until about the halfway mark and I was riding in tenth position with less than two laps to go.
A gust of wind blew a plastic netting fence into my rear wheel and snapped off my derailleur. I had a long run to the pit and lost a lot of time and places. It wasn't possible to gain that back in the last lap and half. I ended up 14th, but was happy that I was getting better and that my back held up.
Saturday, November 13 was Dottignies, a non-series UCI race in Belgium. There was flooding all over our province and Cori found a pool of water in our basement. On our way to the race, we had to take several detours because roads were closed due to the amount of water. Dottignies itself was partially under water and the course was too. It was very muddy.
I didn't start well. I was quite far back and was struggling to get toward the front. I could see the lead group of three leaving the station and so was the second group which was already meters ahead of my group. Eventually I join the second group and was chasing Bart Wellens, who was between the three leaders and myself. We got closer to the lead group but time ran out. I passed Wellens just before the road to the finish line and was able to come in fourth on the day. I was bummed to have missed the podium but happy with my placing.
On the way out, we were warned that it would be a tricky drive because lots of roads were now flooded and Oudenaarde was a disaster. Within the first kilometre of driving home we were in a puddle so deep that it was over our tailpipe. The closer we got to Oudenaarde, the more traffic there was and the more sirens and lights.
We passed our friends' house and saw that what was normally a field was now a lake. We called our friends and they told us that despite having filled 5000 bags of sand, their house was underwater. So much damage. We couldn't wait to get home to see what our place looked like. Fortunately everything was relatively fine.
Hasselt - what a cool town, first of all. Christmas markets were already set up and very festive. I wasn't well on Friday night through early Saturday morning but I figured it was just nerves before racing at the GVA Trofee - GP Hasselt. I had some stomach issues but I wasn't too worried about it at first.
The start of the race was a crash-fest and I pulled out of my pedal and so did another guy right in front of me. A second later there was a pileup that took a few guys out of the race, all in the very first corner. I got around it but had to slow way up and so did a lot of other guys.
A few corners later, there was another fantastic pileup mainly because guys were taking too many risks in order to get back to the front. After the second crash, I wasn't going to take any more big chances and just tried to slowly claw my way back into the race as far as I could. Christian Heule and I were trying to chase our way back into the second group and we ended up catching a few that were going backward but never caught the leaders.
With a few laps to go, my stomach started cramping badly and I couldn't ignore it. At the same time, something went wrong with Heule too and so on the last lap we both had to shut 'er down. I was in the bathroom the whole way home and for a lot of the night. Although I lost three kilos I didn't feel that bad and had done my best to drink lots of fluid to fight dehydration. I was hoping I'd be fine for Gavere.
Super Prestige Gavere can be a hassle, both getting into the parking area for racers and for the soigneurs and mechanics to get to where they have to go. This year took the cake. The military that was "guarding" the racer parking got a little too aggressive with some of the racers and staff, including myself. They even sent one guy to jail who was then released for being wrongfully detained. There were also a lot of fights.
During my 'situation' there was an angry mob screaming at the military guards and some very pissed off racers. It was all over some parking passes that were sent to us. Our passes were apparently a different shape than what the military guards had been shown so they were turning everyone away.
Because there are 25,000 people at the Superprestige Gavere, there wasn't anywhere to park close to where we needed to go with all of our bikes and bags. I realised it was impossible to reason with these guys and I just wanted to get out of there, It was too late, they already had my kids Milo and Emma screaming bloody murder in the back of the van and that got my blood boiling.
We got out of there finally and later found out about all the problems that others had ensued that day. Eventually I was able to focus on the race once the kids were safely back at home and less upset.
I started second row and did my best to keep contact with the lead group. On the first lap, I was still there, somewhere in the middle of about eight guys. On the second lap I was the last of the lead group of six and happy to be there. On the third lap, I lost contact with the lead group on the climb. My friend watching it told me it happened when someone had to run the hill and I got caught behind him.
While Sven Nijs was able to motor around him and straight off the front, I couldn't. I dropped back to the second group of between four and six guys and that is where I stayed for most of the race. With four laps to go I was battling some serious cramping, first the stomach and then the legs. By two to go, I was cramping so badly that I had to get on and off my bike in order to climb the hill, still hanging on to a group going for eighth place.
On the last lap my arms locked up in cramps and I couldn't hold my bars or steer anymore. I ended up on the ground for a few seconds while the group I was in passed me and left. A few more guys passed me as I gathered myself up and tried to figure out how I was going to finish the race. I lost 40 seconds in the last lap and finished a sad 14th.
I was really happy with my form until the cramping caught up to me. I was proud of myself for being able to push through it during the final laps. This performance gives me hope for next weekend. When I'm healthy and have no complications, maybe things can come together and I can secure a good result. Maybe even a great result.
I would like to thank all of you out there that have supported me. It's one thing for me to believe in myself because I know first hand what I'm going through and I also know what I'm capable of when I finally have no more health issues. But it's something else when all of you continue to believe in me through all these weeks of crap. I really appreciate the support out on the courses and on the computers.
Thanks a lot,