Place: Zilvermeer Strand, Belgium -
MASTER'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, BABY!
Ladies and gents: She's in the books. The UCI Master's World Championships age group 1968-1973. I will say this before I dive into the gory details: I left every single solitary ounce of myself out there on the sand, pavement and single-track today. It is done.
So let's get to the day, shall we? We rolled out of Blauberg at 11AM for our 45 minute drive to Zilvermeer. We passed Dubba on the way as he's getting his training on today. All those 'nice' days we had caught up with us today with pissing sideways rain and windier than a mo fo out there.
We get to Zilvermeer and look out out the course...
It's gonna be brutal today. We proceed to inschriving (registration) and it is like a well oiled watch. You walk up, fill out a form, show them your UCI license and they take care of the rest. Oh, and they all speak perfect English.
While there, I was able to meet with Phillipe (did not get last name, but the gentleman in the middle below in the pic) who is the MAN. He literally runs the show. We chatted and he is an incredibly great guy who was as excited for us to be there as we were. Thanks Phillipe!
I finished up and grabbed my numbers for the back and arms. I got Bo Jackson'd today. Sweet.
So, let me tell you a bit about the atmosphere. In the summer, you could see how this place must go off with a bunch of pasty white dudes with banana hammocks hanging with their kids and tanned brides. it's a full on beach play land in the middle of nowhere. Today, only the hearty, not afraid of sideways rain and fashion faux pas with a set of Wellingtons on came out to line the Visa tape of the course. There was cheesy 80-'s re-mixed music blaring (e.g. I could NOT get Hall and Oates out of my head...STILL can't: "I can't go for that. Nooo, no can do.") and lots of cross fanatics from EVERY place in the EU. Sick. So many languages it was incredible. I spoke more German today than I have in 10 years.
Dubba was our FULL ON mechanic, soigneur, coach...you name it today. Brandon, thank you my brother. I tapped into so much of your calmness and advice this week. I am indebted. Dubba dialed us in on our pits, spare bikes, etc and came to the start with all the other North Americans (thanks Dave, Tom, Henry, Gannon and Kathy....and CONGRATS KATHY ON YOUR WIN TODAY! Sweet! American's rocking the dark blue and stripes. So g.d. good).
OK, stay on topic, Greg. So KP and I were able to pre-ride about 3 laps between races. The course had changed significantly in my opinion within the woods...the sand being exactly the same as we rode it yesterday. What changed were the berms and more importantly specific drop offs and the like within the woods. This was significant enough to keep you on the bike in some sections versus running them or taking totally different lines we trialled yesterday. So net net it was great to get at-speed laps on before our race.
We kitted up and headed to the start. Everybody is circling and then the UCI officials head down to us with their clipboards and watches. "TWEEEEEEEEEEET!" Whistle blows and the racers flood up to him. He starts announcing names and numbers in the language of the racer! Sweet. 1, 2, 3, 4 people called up. Then "No. 34, Gregory Keller, U-S-A." Holy shit. I GOT IT! I got the front row call up. I shit you not I had dreamed it two nights ago and today it materialized! I let out a gutteral sort of shout and Dubba gets me back in the game. Focus grasshoppah! It gets better. "No. 35, Kurt Perham U-S-A." What the??? YES! KP got called up next. This was TOTALLY odd as they were calling TOTALLY random numbers a la Bingo. 1, 22, 46, 51, 7, 17....you get the picture. The fact they had two numerically sequenced numbers was mad.
In our midst today were ALL the big big guns. German master's national champ. 2 or 3 previous multi-time world master champions...the list as we were told by a local was fairly mad. I will do some research and maybe do a post on some of these guys. Lined up directly behind KP was the winner of our Schriek Grootlo race last week, Bert Vervecken. Sicko...but cool guy.
"1 minute gentlemen!"...then the 30 second count down. I am gonna f-ing drill this mo fo. Taro is in my head saying: "GK, don't win the hole shot. Save it hombre." but there are exactly 52 other dudes back there who want to tear my legs off. I can feel my tire being bumped in that empty silent space between the 15 seconds and 5 seconds to go eternity. Then I remember: Look Up, man. I looked up at the sky and smiled. Smiled and closed my eyes once I knew I realized where I was and where I'd been and what sacrifices have been made by more, WAY more, than just me to be here.
TWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!" 'Cross fans, we are OFF!! Check this sheeit out caught by Dubba "Graham Watson you've got nothing on me" Dwight.
Your fearless blogger won himself the hole shot to the beach with Bert and I plowing through the sand. I followed his wheel through the wooded section past the pits and on through the woods itself. 5 guys came past and I hung on to that group until I was absolutely cross eyed. I was drilling the lines, nailing the run ups all PRO like but the BPM's were in the 180's.
We get to the pavement and the last guy on the train LITERALLY waves me in. Sort of like a "hang in here in this group" gesture. I put my wheel like 2 cm's from his and these guys get it in the 46 x 11's...click click click click....down their chains go to the 11. Almost like the sound of a hammer on a revolver being cocked back before it is released to hit the primer on the bullet that will launch into my head.
I follow this group of 5 about 10 seconds back from Bert onto the beach again. One guy bobbles and forces me to and dismount. "whoosh whoosh whoosh". Belgies flying past. Like 3, maybe 5. Frieght trains. Back in the woods and we're rolling. I am so loaded but doing everything I can to dig ever deeper and spin fast. More dudes bridge, drop me. I stay on for dear life. My eyes are crossed and I am starting to lose composure. Lines are taken not the way I want, power is lost on the flats. I need to collect myself.
The race then is attrition. I swear to you I am drilling it as deeply as I ever have in my life. I am saying to myself: "Dude this is the master's f-ing worlds. Go f-ing faster". On the pavement I literally ran out of gears in my 42 x 12. The whole bike was a mess of sand. All the gears worked miraculously but I did consider changing bikes, The problem was that the racing was SO TIGHT with dudes around, I did not want to risk losing spots. No one was changing. It was just WAY too fast.
2 laps to go. I know I am in the 20's. And I STILL can not believe I am in a cluster of dudes. People are shouting at them in every language. I am being yelled at by every language. F-ing crazy.
Klang klang klang klang! Laatste Ronde. I'm in the woods and I can here it. a 1/2 lap down on the leaders. I guess I can't complain. I am literally closing my eyes in the woods to eek out more power. I am drilling sections and am so inexplicably loaded in the legs...but I am still rolling. I am way smoother now and decide to attack in the woods. I drop one guys and another follows. He comes past me, I wait, then attack him past the pits on to the pavement. This is exactly when that happened:
Folks: It's in the books. AM I stoked? Absolutely. Could I have ridden any harder. Absolutely not. Taro had me at the absolute fittest I could be. I rode my heart out and left nothing in reserve. I raced as smartly as I possibly could have. Could I have ridden smoother? Absolutely. You have NO IDEA how gifted and experienced my competition was today.....and frankly during my experience here.
I am so tired as I write this. We made a dinner at home and I downed some Leffe Browns. Dubba handed me chocolate with a smile. Hard earned.
Living the dream folks. One more to go tomorrow. Wish us luck.