2018 Kingdom European Tour - NL Crit Series: Draai V/D Kaai
Why didn’t I loosen my cleats if it was already a problem in the last race?!
We’re back at it. This time in the beautiful country of the Netherlands.
Woke up early, explored Antwerp in Belgium, got on a train, changed trains and we’re looking for registration. A Stadium? Registration’s at a stadium? Sounds fancy. Timing chips, bracelets, aero numbers… this is fixed-crit racing taken to the next level. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous. Why isn’t that working? I can’t even count how many of these dudes have gotten Red Hook podiums… Let’s go find the race course.
Security. Gates. Barricades. Tons of people. Cyclists. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.
Ladies are going off soon, this is exciting.
The whole town is shut down. There’s silence as the announcer is counting down. Lead motorcycles go. Gun shoots. Ladies are off. Two laps in and we stop seeing them come through. Something must have happened. An ambulance speeds through the course. That’s not good. Only have a dozen ladies made it out clean and the rest of the race is put on hold. Hours go by as arguments and are had and ideas are thrown around to come to the conclusion that the fixed ladies would race for 5 laps after the pro road ladies and before the fixed men.
Meanwhile it’s my turn to warm up.
This race is so fancy they provided rollers for us, I’ve ever been on one. I put my bike on it and remember the tips I’ve received, pedal fast and look forward. With one hand on the rail I got my shoes clipped in, I’m pedaling, a few seconds later I’ve got my hands on the handlebars and a quarter of an hour after that I’m warm and ready to go. As the ladies finish we’re allowed onto the course for a few neutral laps.
70% of 1.7km are cobbles??
Not only am I not used to cobbles but I’ve never ridden a fixed-gear bike on them and my saddle is an unpadded sheet of carbon-fiber. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.
I went and said hi to Eamon Lucas (professional cyclist participating in the race) earlier because we met at Red Hook (thanks to Christina being so popular), so I’m going to ride around the course next to him pretending we’re best buds so everyone else thinks I know what I’m doing. Now we’re on the starting line and he’s on the first row. I’m on the second to last. Yeah, we’re definitely not on the same level… Either way, I can’t do anything about it because there were no qualification heats, so here’s my one chance to give it all. This is going to be a lot harder than the past Saturday…
Usually on my recovery rides my heart rate beats per minute averages in the 120’s. The race is 30 seconds away from starting and my heart rate is at 135BPM. I’m rethinking all the useless crap I thought of in the beginning of the last race. By the time that’s over the announcer is counting down. I have no clue what he’s actually saying, why would you count down in Dutch on an international race?
I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous
Did I mention how this is the biggest crowd I’ve ever raced in front of? We’re in Downtown Roosendaal where the streets are closed and to get in you have to either buy a ticket or be a part of the race. Still, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of people on the barricades. Even more came for our event, there are people throughout the whole course, I feel like that’s given me a whole extra gear to race with, although I bet I’m probably not the only one.
My main goal right now is to pass as many people as fast as possible. I’ve completely forgotten about the cobbles, I’m racing through these professional cyclists like it’s no big deal. I know it’s going to hurt soon but right now I couldn’t care less. Starting from virtually last place, I’ve passed about 5 people in the first lap and probably as many on the following one. Now everyone’s in a straight line, there's no more bunching. I notice this because on very tight turn I loose 1-2 bike lengths to the rider in front of me. That can’t be good. Either I start taking more risks or this race is going to be over for me very soon.
We’re five laps in and loosing space in the corners is killing me. My heart rate’s been in the 180’s since the start and it can’t last forever, I definitely need to be more efficient, especially knowing that I’ll only be able to close gaps for so long. These have been the longest laps of my life, I feel like I’ve been racing forever and it hasn’t even been 10 minutes.
I’m starting to get worried.
The front group is gone and I’m having trouble holding onto the second one, if I drop from this one it won’t take long before I get caught be the leaders. As I drift back, no one around me is willing to help; either they're as bad at cornering as me or they aren’t fit enough to be here at this point of the race. For a couple of laps I’m leading a small group of riders while staring at the backs of the main group. They’re not getting any closer but I can still see them. Eventually someone comes around me and tries to help but it would take something superhuman to get back in the race at this point.
A few more laps in and it’s just me and one other guy giving it all trying not to get lapped by the leaders. The race is 15 laps long and we’re 11 laps in. Theoretically we just need to last for another 3 because then the leaders finish and we don’t have to worry about them on the last lap. We’re working together and giving it our all. We haven’t heard a motorbike or seen a cyclist in a while. All of the noise is coming from the overly excited (or just drunk) crowd. Half way into the 12th lap and my new friend is not helping anymore. At this point he’s just hanging on to my wheel hoping to make it to the end. We ride the chicane and as we’re heading into the main straight I hear the motorbike. Crap. I’m still hopeful, so I’m about to yell at the guy behind me to help me sprint out and just really try to see this one through with me. I look back and he’s gone.
Now it would just be rude to not follow the rules. I pull aside and not 5 seconds later, the leaders are flying by.
I can say I gave it my all but most importantly I know how much I need to, and want to learn. This is only the beginning, my goal of becoming the best Portuguese Fixed-Gear Criterium racer is only getting started.
Eventually the race finishes and because I wasn’t in anymore I got to watch Eamon sprint to another very impressive win. Thinking that was the end of it I get back onto the course to cool down. The podium is facing the crowd on the opposite side of the course and the participating riders to get to watch it from inside the course. Suddenly the road gets packed with cyclists. I don't recognize any besides the fact that they were all wearing matching gear and it all looks very legit. Not long after that I started recognizing jerseys, then faces… then Tour de France faces… Yes, this year’s Tour de France.
I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.