Saturday, May 15, 2010

Long Overdue Post Regarding First Europe Trip of 2010

Warning: I have not posted in a while, so this post is really long

As a bike racer, I have learned to deal with many discomforts, whether it be the pain associated with a long time trial or having to adjust to life on the road. The trip home from training camp, however, was another level altogether. The 18 hour drive itself was managable, but what made the ordeal truly excrutiating was being forced to listen to Toby's never ending country music radio, the notes and lyrics pounding their way into my brain. After surviving this painful experience, I returned home for a few days to get in some training hours with national team rider Paul Lynch.

Unfortunately this was also where I picked up a nasty cold just in time for my departure for Europe. After undergoing the garlic/echinacea/vitamin C treatment, I arrived in Brussels airport with the team determined to have a good trip. Cori Page picked us up at the baggage claim and drove us to where we would be staying, the Bloso Sports center in Waregem, Belgium. We stayed there for a few days while we got the jet lag out of our legs before heading off to Holland for our first race. With us was our mechanic Palmer, who had recently retired from the Katusha team. As is usual with most Belgian mechanics, we couldn't understand a word he said, but we got along great and he kept our bikes in tip-top condition.

We arrived in Holland for the two day, three stage event and moved into our new rooms. Our lodging was on a man made lake that was hosting a large rowing competition, and even our tallest rider, Austin, was dwarfed my the huge rowers walking around. The bike race, which we referred to simply as "Some Race in Holland" due to its long and confusing real name, appeared to have the usual mix of northern European six man teams. We were a man down with only five since our powerhouse Robin Eckmann had been threatened with bodily injury by his girlfriend should he even consider missing prom.

Holland is a very beautiful country if you can get used to the fact that it is entirely flat and you sort of feel like a fly on a windshield as you walk around, and that the GPS never measured our altitude at over 50 feet above sea level. The food was also good, except for the fact that breakfast consists entirely of rolls and sliced cheese and ham. Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal, and I generally look forward to cereal, eggs, toast, pancakes, fruit, orange juice and so forth. Anyways, I survived those trials and got down to racing. In the opening time trial, three of our riders placed well and Lawson won by a single second. I seemed to be riding fast until I was blown into a water-filled ditch by a gust of wind and suddenly and unintentionally became a multi-sport athlete as I was forced to do a Michael Phelps impression to exit the ditch. With that embarrassing incident behind me, we moved on to stage 2, an evening criterium.

I'm not a big fan of criterium's in general, as repeatedly sprinting and then jamming on the brakes seems a little ridiculous. The European criterium, however, doubles the accelerating quotient. The team did a good job of staying near the front with Lawson in yellow. Near the end a small group finished a few seconds off the front to take the yellow jersey by 2 seconds. After the stage finished, we realized that that day happened to be a national holiday for something or other, so there was no places open to get food. Our dinner consisted of apples and cliff shot bloks.

We started the third and final stage in what seemed to be a good position. Lawson was only two seconds from yellow and Stuey and yannick were riding top ten as well, giving us the lead in the team GC. We quickly got a lesson in how fast things can go from good to bad to terrible when Lawson crashed just 5km into the race. The team stopped to help him back in, but he had bike issues and couldn't continue. By that time we were a ways off the back. We did a 95km team time trial to the finish where we all came in behind the pack. With that less than glorious final result, we drove back to Belgium. The next day we did the Vinkt Kermesse, which I had won the year before. About 4 seconds into the race, it started down-pouring. The pig manure on the road turned the course into a skating rink, which was actually kind of fun. Four of us got into the early break of 8, and Lawson soloed off the front for the last 50km to get the win. I had been experiencing a mysterious cramping in my leg, and it struck again near the end of the race. We finished 1st, 5th, and I came in at 11th.

After spending several days trying to remove the various particles of mud and diesel fuel residue from our ears and bottom brackets, we began the drive down to the Trophee Centre Morbihan race in France. This race is considered the biggest junior stage race in France, and is the focus of the Hot Tubes European campaign. For this special occasion, we were allowed to borrow Jonathan Page's cyclo-cross rv for the trip. This made the 8 hour drive much more enjoyable, with beds and a bathroom available. For this trip we had another mechanic named Jimmy. Like Palmer, our communication was limited to "Good? Good?" as he pointed to a part on the bike, but he worked tirelessly and was quickly adopted into the team.

We arrived at Morbihan ready to do some serious damage in the Pelaton. One small problem was that my cold had never gone away, and my lungs were making mysterious sounds like a small animal was living in them. I had also passed my cold on to Stuart and Austin despite my best attempts to keep my germs to myself. After the very exciting team presentation where the announcer yells at us and the crowd in French at 125rpm, we got down to the business of racing. Unfortunately for me, the race quickly went through the tubes again in the first few kilometers.

Just after the end of the neutral start, while descending a small hill, a large pile-up began just a few riders up from me. I slammed on the brakes and managed to stop before hitting the crash. I was relieved and in the process of unattaching myself from the various wreckage and flesh lying on the ground, when I was drilled in the back by half a dozen very large riders who had not been so quick with their brakes. I was still relatively unconcerned and continued on my way, until I realized that my wheel was rubbing not because it was out of true, but because the seat stay was snapped. I tried to chase back on behind Toby's car for 15km, but the wheel was rubbing so bad that it rubbed another hole in the frame. While going as hard as I could behind the car, I looked over and saw six riders fly past me on their own power. Eventually Toby had to leave me and I found myself in front of the sag wagon. And with that, only 20km in to the race, my morbihan adventure came to an end.

Stuey, Yannick, and Lawson finished in good position, Austin got caught in a crash from which he never rejoined the group and was forced to abandon. That night I went to bed expecting to spend the next day doing feeds and watching the race. The first half of the night was spent listening to about a dozen Polish laborers drinking copious amounts of liquor, puking up their guts in the communal hotel bathroom, and then continuing to drink. The second half of the night was even worse. I woke up with very intense cramping pain in my entire left side, that got stronger and stronger until I couldn't even breathe and was shivering uncontrollably. Yannick got Toby, and eventually we decided to try to find a hospital. Strangely enough, two in the morning seemed to be the time to be out and about in France, and the streets were full of sketchy looking people. On one highway entrance ramp, we saw three guys sitting in a row on a guardrail in the pitch black. We arrived at a "hospital" which was made up of several large stone buildings. There was only one light on, with one person peering out. We looked for signs for a main entrance or emergency room, but only saw more signs for the morgue. At that point I was feeling better enough to breathe at a descent level, and I told Toby that I wasn't getting out of the car there.

We drove around looking for another hospital, but eventually gave up and headed back to the hotel. I woke up the next morning able to breathe, but with a fever, body aches, head aches, cough, and dead tired. After finally getting enough energy to Skype home, my parents decided that my planned post-morbihan national team trip was going to have to wait, and that I was coming home to see a doctor. I didn't feel like arguing, and they got me a ticket.

The team, meanwhile, did well and Lawson won the time trial and got second in the overall. We drove back to Belgium the next day, and flew home the following day. My parents got me in to see my doctor, and he said that my cold had just turned into bronchitis, which somehow caused that whole cramping/breathing issue as well as the fever. Breaking my bike may have been better luck than it seemed, since continuing to race may have made it worse. Stuart was not so lucky, as he came down with pneumonia shortly after in the Canadian National team house.

I'm feeling much better now and have a bike to ride again. I'm looking forward to returning to Europe next week to get back to the races with the national team. I'm just hoping for no more midnight hospital trips or mortuaries.

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