Belgian weather in Philly

March 25, 2008

Until recently, the last time I raced my bike was in Belgium. I remember the thick summer Belgium air. I remember the fight to be at the front of the pack as we approached the Kemmelberg. I remember the feeling in my hands as we scoured up, then barreled down that cobbled monster. I remember how the race never let up its intensity, leaving you a feeling of true expenditure in your body when you crossed the finish line.

I didn't remember any green portable bathrooms or a guy with a beard on roller blades sporting ripped jeans shorts while he skated around waving a giant American flag to cheer on the University of Vermont. Perhaps the "port-o-potties" and the Vermont guy with the flag was a good reminder I was back in the United States at a collegiate race. My first race since coming back from Europe, and my first race of the year, was in Philadelphia at the Philly Phlyer collegiate race weekend with my Penn State team-mates. It obviously highlighted the stark differences between the racing scene I was used to, and the brief racing scene that begins my 2008 season.

I can't criticise collegiate racing by any means. It provides a venue for college students to race, who are generally at a disadvantage just by being at school. Generally, college students are strapped for cash and can't easily find transportation and housing for races. The collegiate venue makes it so much easier for us "scholar"-athletes to get to bike races altogether. Although there is a wide range of racing ability in collegiate racing, there are always good racers. It's typical for national champions and professional cyclists to mix it up in the collegiate races.

Speaking of the collegiate racing, my JBCA team-mate Colt Trant won his first collegiate race of the season, the Tunis-Roubaix road race. My other JBCA teammates are starting to show their form as well. Aaron Boyleston won Rouge-Roubaix, which is also known as the Hell of the South. And in Belgium, Steven Van Vooren got fourth in the GP Steve Vermout in Ichtegem. At our training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February, it was very clear that our JBCA-director Bernard Moerman and Team-doctor Dag Van Eislande were paying special attention to our training programs.

Bernard, Doctor Dag and Johan Bruyneel are also following up on our individual race results as well. It's a great feeling having them overlooking our training and racing, but at the same time it means that there is no slacking off. We have to show that we are worthy to be selected for the big races. So there is a healthy pressure to do well, knowing that nothing can be taken for granted at the JBCA. So perhaps I need to show my fitness in the coming weeks.

My first collegiate racing weekend of the year started off with what was supposed to be a road race on Saturday in the Philadelphia area. However, due to absurd and mind boggling amounts of rain, part of the course got flooded. I am still trying to figure out where all the water came from. So instead of canceling the race altogether, the organisers threw together a last minute criterium course for us to race on. It wasn't just any criterium course, though.

The course was a typical one-mile four-corner crit with a few unique characteristics. Turn one was a pond, turn two featured enough elevation to rise out of the water, turn three was a downhill paint-covered test of faith; and turn four, if you made it this far, was a slip-and-slide. Needless to say, I am 21 years old, and I have only ever seen it rain that hard for maybe one or two other occasions in my life. It wouldn't have surprised me if the winning break in the race included Noah's Ark and Christopher Columbus.

Once we arrived late to the venue and found a parking spot, we took a moment to watch the racers on the course before us. After we got sick of seeing all of the carnage in one of the turns, we figured it was probably best to go register to race because we were already running a little late. The registration table changed locations, so before we knew it, we did a fair amount of walking and we were soaking wet. We then rushed back to my team-mate Justin Brown's car to change. We threw on our Blue and white jerseys, pinned our numbers, lathered our legs with warming oil, and attempted to get in a warm up. We only warmed up for three to four minutes before it was time to line up. Getting to the startling cold and waiting for them to start us as the sky spewed rain was not my idea of fun.

I wish I could say that the heavens opened up and God sent warm beams of sunshine to caress our race, but I would be horrendously lying. It rained, and it rained hard. I won't bore you with the lap-by-lap details of a circular race. So in summary, it rained until it couldn't rain anymore, it hurt not getting a warm up, I didn't crash and managed 11th place, my form told me I wasn't peaking in march (good sign), we got another hour of training in after the race ended, and then it rained even more. Did I mention that it rained?

Well as the nature of collegiate race weekends are, there are generally races Saturday and Sunday. So we went back to Justin's house in the Philadelphia area where his family graciously hosted us for the weekend. However, I think Justin's family was plotting to kill several of us. I was sleeping in the basement with two other team-mates. After about an hour of sleep, I woke up to someone sloshing around in the water. The basement had begun to flood as a result of all the rain that I may or may not have mentioned. What if I didn't know how to swim? I have to thank my mom for the swimming lessons I got when I was four years old. Thanks mom! After the Brown's assassination attempt, I was able to snag maybe three more hours of sleep until we had to get up for an early morning team time trial. That event was followed by a circuit race in the afternoon.

After finishing the time trial, we had some down time. So we checked out the Manayunk Wall where the professional Philly race goes up, since it was nearby. Then we got some breakfast at a diner and relaxed for a while. After a little more much needed coffee and a decent warm-up it was time for the afternoon circuit race. That race in the afternoon was a bit more exciting. I managed to get into a break of maybe 10-12 guys that stayed away until the finish. On the last lap, two guys attacked our break and stayed away for the finish. The rest of the break had a sprint finish. I ended up finishing seventh. I could definitely feel a lack of top-end power in my legs. But that is to be expected this time of the year and I can't complain.

After the circuit race ended, we packed up and headed home. It was the start of our spring break from school. I arrived back to my hometown of Johnstown with soggy chamois, a water-corroded wheel, and the flu. It doesn't surprise me that I got sick. I didn't eat as well as I needed to, I was soaked to the bone all day Saturday in the cold rain, I barely got any sleep, I raced three times, and I did a lot of traveling in the car. I guess that's the rag-tag lifestyle of collegiate racing. I hope every racing weekend isn't that exhausting. Next up I race in Pittsburgh, and then we host our home Penn State Nittany Cycling Classic. Stay tuned.

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American Jim Camut is entering his second year in the newly-minted Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy. Formerly known as the Cycling Center, the Belgium-based program turns out sophisticated, smart and strong bike racers. Australia UK USA