Entries in Photos (134)
While I am in the zone, I wanted to get these up for you all to have some look sees at the various daily goings on from our trip. You can always go to my PhotoBucket Site to see originals.
OK, I'll let you in on our secret training. This is how we got utterly amped for our races. Who needs EPO? I used to listen to Rage, but have moved on...
Here's Dubba at Fort 6 Sunday. Ha! Sunday. I can't believe I was racing my bike in Belgium last week. Sweet.
Dubba had a very strong race against heavy contracted hitters at Fort 6.
So there you have it folks. Some vid and stills from Za Trip. I can NOT thank you all for reading and commenting religiously. It made me smile. I think I got my points across about the trip and the impact it had on many levels. I can't wait to hear other people's stories of their trips next year. START PLANNING NOW! That is my only advice. Again, Brandon and I are scheming a slide show at Boulder Cycle Sport for local folks and have some beers and give you some color commentary on the experience. I'll post something in the coming days.
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.
Place: Zilvermeer (near Mol) Belgium
Zaterdag! Zaterdag Zaterdag! T-minus 24 hours until go time, monster truck, er ah, 'cross fans! We pre-rode the course op het strand (on the beach) today. Yum. Another AWESOME course, if not super short. All the details coming up below.
We packed up the Vito with all the bikes, tires, etc and got to Zilvermeer in about 45 minutes on an overcast morning. There were tons of people out from ALL sorts of places: France, Great Britain, Slovakia, Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium....and of course the good 'ol U.S. of A. Great to meet you, our Kansas City and Idaho brethren!
We parked, suited up and made our way from the parking lot to the beach. We dropped off our extra stuff at the Materiaal Post (the pits) and I dialed in the FMB's to try out. I documented the course fairly well below but I'll give you a couple of sound bytes about it:
- Sandy: Duh, but it is ever present not only on the beach but features itself in the woods, in the corners and ultimately presents its own challenges outside of just riding through it, running over it. Tire pressure ,tire pressure, tire pressure. Find the balance grasshopper.
- Technical: This course reminds be a lot of Schriek Grootlo in that is is well suited for riders who like to power out of the corners on very tight turns. Out side of the sand features, it has plenty of run ups (2) that are technical in nature in themselves and S turns and 180s everywhere. No barriers on the course but plenty of other features make it challenging and fun.
- Short: This mo fo is very short. In 85-90% effort trials, the lap times where between 6:40 and 6:50 minutes. This means one of two things: The course designers messed up (nope) or the course designers have it dialed and know that the sand will be the attrition spot that will likely accordion the group lap after lap (yup).
- Start position will be EVERYTHING: When is it not in 'cross but seriously, this course will demand it as the recovery sections will be reserved for just that. In no way am I setting myself up here 'just in case' but ANYONE will say (including all the various nationalities I spoke to today) that start position will be everything tomorrow. If you're on the back, well, it'll be a tour of the beach.
- Start on pavement for 300 meters
- Bang SHARP left into a 50 meter slightly down hill sand slog
- Hard left turn on sand for along-the-beach (harder packed sand) for 175 meters
- Into the woods for tight S turns
- Past the pits...
- Up and over the first log run up...
- More wooded S turns
- Around an S an apex into a small bump of a hill and there is a sheer drop off directly into sand. IMHO, it's gonna be WAY faster to run...
- More wooded S turns into 2nd log run up
- More woods, S turns and past the pits again, onto pavement
- Past start finish.
So, let me 'show' you the beginning of the course at least with the magic of YouTube. Sorry I only got the beginning of the course because I crashed filming this mid way through and gunked up my camera! HA! I need a film crew....
Into the sand....
The 50 meter initial slog...
Some choose to ride...some run...
From the sand, into the woods...
Some action through the S's....
OK, now that you get a sense for what the course is like in video, here are some stills for you in sequential order of the course...
Awesome view from above of entry (on the left side) of the sand trap in the woods...
The sand trap from the racer's view...
Oh, one last thing: Our house owner is tight with the Doping Control leader and I've put in a petition to get tested so I can blog that sheeit! HA! I hope the Nutella doesn't trigger anything. Stay tuned...
Wish us luck! Tick tick tick tick....
Living the dream. You will too in exactly 364 days. Write it down....
Place: Leuven and Brussels Belgium
I am over the hump of the racing trip. Exactly 3.5 more days remains including 1-2 more races and I will be on the big bird back home to see my beautiful wife and children. I am not going to take up pixels and bytes here to discuss this side of the trip, but it a very real side of the trip...in fact holding UP the trip and making it possible. It should be obvious to you, my loyal reader, that I am a husband, father, worker and racer....in that order....and truthfully this is the longest I will have been away from my family and my growing boys ever since their birth nearly 6 years ago. 11 days is tough with young boys who need their father more than the father needs the racing but I thank my wife for every second she is manning the home front while I live this out and taste the earth that I have dreamed about for so long.
OK, I will move on now but if any of you have children and a wife you respect as much as I do and try and ride the razor's edge of life balance with your passions (especially those that are by their very nature very self centered) you will know what is going on in my head. I am the single luckiest man in the world (broken rental car tail lights and all).
So, what went on today? Dubba, KP and I went on a light one hour spin to keep the legs open before our training day on the Mol course tomorrow. Riding that sand and the course dialing in bikes and tire pressures will be quite a lot of effort, so we went super chill today on a route that was magical. It was super twisty and back road-y that I tried to get it down on Map My Ride buy it was just a bit too hard to remember. We were literally on big roads, one lane roads, single track....you name it. Again, the weather totally cooperated and it was down right beautiful out, if not a wee bit cold.....
After the ride, we scrambled and threw some clothes on to do a sortie out to the cities of Leuven and Brussels. We drive to Leuven first, parked then immediately grabbed a train to Brussels which is pretty close. Brussels as you can imagine is a major city with all walks of life, French is the predominant language but everyone and their brothers speak perfect English. We tooled around and took in the City walking up and down the narrow streets, grabbing some schwag for the fam and shooting pictures of the City....
Students posing or za Americans
This one was Dubbas from his favorite place. We all had the banana and chocolate. I will be fatter leaving here than when I came...
Way too cool for Belgium
Tin Tin...the patron saint of Belgium
The famous Manneken Pis
I'm big here in Belgie
Seamus! Look! Like-A-Bikes!!
Literally in the middle of this cobble stone street was a table set up with this. I suspected like a large rat trap so I only gingerly went around it without touching.
And then, we found it....
The "Wall" of beer.
We found AND purchases exactly 3 Westvleteren Yellow Caps (e.g. their dark Trappist). This beer is INCREDIBLY hard to get and voted the BEST Trappist beer in the world. Yes, 7 Euros a piece....
So tomorrow is Mol training. I'm hearing the course is super fun even with its sand. It will ALL be about the start positioning....which means luck as it is a lottery start.
I miss you my beautiful family and every day when I hear this kids playing at the school directly next door to our house in Blauberg, I smile an intense smile to myself.
Living the dream. You will too in exactly 365 days from this post.
Place: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Super brief report for today as we are on a total rest day. Back on it tomorrow but the boys became zupa-tourists today.
We got on the road from Blauberg to Amsterdam about 10 bells in utterly classic Northern European weather. Tree-bending wind and rain. No wonder why the folks who live and train here are some of the best cyclists.
We arrived in Amsterdam, found parking fairly close to the center (a rarity...) and donned our rain coats. By 50 meters were were getting damp but the spirits were high. KP and Dubba have never seen the city before so we had smiles as we navigated around all the tight canals, ancient crooked buildings settling after 100's of years, the Red Light District's sad state of affairs for sale in its windows, and so on.
The weather was atrocious but we found are way around, hitched rides on the tram like vagrants and finally found our way to a pub and had some food to warm us up and some dark beer to fill the gullet.
Here's some digital celluloid to give you a bit of a view on the day.
Lastly, GET WELL MOM!! Proud Mom just had knee surgery so put a thought out to the strongest woman on earth as she gets herself some pain relief from some over used knees.
Living the dream.
Dubba, KP and I made our way to Walloon, home to the French speaking part of Belgium, and home to Eddy Merckx (although the Flandrians would probably brawl me on this topic). Today's plan was to ride before the rains came on a medium paced ride to keep the legs turning and enjoy the stunning country side. Our tour guide having been born and raised in this region: Michel Bajorek, long time friend of Dubba, master mechanic, movie star, and bike racer but most importantly like an insta-brother to us. As you'll hear about in a moment, this is a guy who's been raised right by a mom whom we spent time with today whom I feel is the re-incarnation of my own mom, Elizabeth.
We got on the road for our hour trip from East Flanders to the Walloon region about noon for a 1:30 ride. The countryside is as you see it in pictures: rolling, vast, church strewn and beautiful. The wind was howling Belgie style on this beautifully sunny morning. Destination: Michel’s beautiful house. We BOMBED through little villages that had one-laned roads. We knew we were in Walloon when the signs become French….so you see less of ‘Duisbergstraat’ and more ‘Rue du Fromage’.
Pulling in to Michel’s house, the garage door is open and a man is feverishly working on bikes. It’s Stu Thorne from CyclocrossWorld Dot Com dialing in a gaggle of Ridley’s, Cannondale’s, Mavic wheels, et al. Michel is the wrench for Lyne, Tim and Jeremy whom are all staying at Chez Elizabeth et Michel. We come in and say our hellos and all are having some lunch lovingly prepared by Elizabeth. We chat with Stu, Lyne, Tim and Jeremy for a bit as they are taking a WELL needed rest day after yesterday. If you haven’t met Tim Johnson, you need to. He less interested in us asking him about his time over here but more of him and his wide open eyes asking us how OUR time has been. “How were the races??” “How are you guys going??” “What was the Holland race like??”. Tim, you are a human Labrador retriever with your tail always waggin’. Props.
So we say adios to the folks and wish them the best on their trip to Brussels for the day. For us: the Eddy Merckx tour of Walloon. Holy crap on a stick. I am a cyclist reborn. Michel takes us on one of his favorite loops that took us on a 2 hour tour of the region that was the ‘fo shizzel. Belgie to the core. Envision all your World Cycling DVD’s and put it on steroids. Rolling hills, narrowed cobbled streets, 12th century castles and churches. Like buttah. Michel and I got our tempo on in the wind all the while talking of FMB’s, his pit and mechanic antics, racing, family….you name it. As I said: Insta-brother and I am indebted to your hospitality today, Michel.
I’ll show you what the ride was like below in film and video, but here’s the talk of the day: Michel’s Mom. Mom, I know you read this crappy blog of mine, but I met you today. Born in Poland and fluent in French, Dutch and her native Polish, she is CRUSHING her English skills which have gone from zero to better than most NATIVE English speakers in 2.0 years. After our ride, Elizabeth had:
· Towels and shower stuff prepared for us
· Hot and delicious tea
· Delicious home made soup and crepes with NUTELLA (my first time having that devil’s food)
· The warmth that only a mother can provide to her boys that have been out training.
“What do you think of the cyclocross here in Europe, Greg? Hard? The Americans need to train some more, no? 2 hours training today? I think you do 4.Now have this soup and get warm.”
You are the best Elizabeth and I know my own mom 2000 miles away when she reads this will know that at angel was met today. You will never be forgotten. Ever.
So the adventure continues, my peeps. Today, the biking was epic, but the bonding with family was exponentially more present in all of us.
And now the digital video and celluloid:
Yo, I knows where a buncha like cool bikes are. You want one?
Lastly, as a side note, if you have time, read the Pez article on British Cycling Tim Harris. It is his house we are staying at here in Blauberg. Cool read.
Living the dream here in Belgie, my friends.
You WILL be here next year. Write that down, pin it up and see it once a day through next year. You, me, all our buds. We've seen the 'pro' movies about the pro lifestyle. You, me...we are the ones who need to experience this as well. It is not a PRO thing. It is special if you consider yourself a cyclist. It must be experienced. Start planning now....
Place: Bakel, The Netherlands
It has occurred to me today that, if the entire world were composed of people with the sensibilities, personalities and friendliness of the Dutch, we’d probably not be flying airplanes into each other’s buildings. Yeah we’d have to say our G’s like static through a large microphone, but we’d be happier as a race.
Life in Orange just seems….happy.
Today my friends, Cyclocross Bakel, sponsored by Rabobank (of course).
Let me say this:
This was, bar none, the most beautiful course I have EVER blessed a set of tires on in a decade or more of crossing. I’ll get to that in a second and all the day’s events in a moment.
The trip from Blauberg, Belgium to Bakel, The Netherlands is about an hour and 20 minutes. It was epically scenic (tres European)….and yes, we spotted windmills…
On a beautifully partly cloudy to clear day (about 50 degrees) we bombed through these tiny cities to get to Bakel. You literally string a trip in Europe by going through the meticulously marked signs…from City to City all the way from one country to another…Blauberg, Herselt, Geel, Meijer, Bakel…it all links together in such a simple and clearly marked way, it’s mad. The US will NEVER get this. I digress.
So, we get to Bakel and drive into the tiny and beautiful village. We hear the sound of the race on the speakers careening off buildings and in the trees, but can’t find the race! We see a group of kids bombing down the street on ‘cross bikes and flag one down.
Me: “Do you speak English?”
Me: “Uh, Veldrijden parcours?”
Boy: “Ah! “(points down the cobbled street).
So we find it 100 meters away and pull in and it is a FESTIVAL. From the first look-see, like 2 x times the size of the race yesterday. We park literally ON the course tape on the grass and look up and see:
A Euro disco flyover, beeatches!
The registration was similar to yesterday but infinitely more friendly (not that yesterday was unfriendly….so maybe ‘warm’ is the right word.) I hand over my UCI license and 5 Euro and they keep the license, register me (I see 40+ registrations and get No. 42!...d’oh!) and get my number plate. Today the Masters class are are only aged 40+ so KP and I race as “Amateur”. This not like the B’s in the US. It’s stacked. An ‘age group’ Master’s World Champ is there (probably about my age or maybe a bit younger) as is the Dutch Amateur National Champion:
Yes, note the white sex shoes and gloves on Masters Champ
The Dutch champ is a clearly young fast kid looking for glory and contracts in his future. Oh and a BUNCH of juniors just like said Dutch National Champ who are SO PRO it is mind boggling. Oh, and they’re all 6’2 Lars Boom types with 42” femurs.
We wait for the juniors to finish and bomb the course to warm up.
IT HAD EVERYTHING.
- Long paved start/finish with mad bus for race officiating (the ‘Jury Bus’)
- Tight, twisty, tacky densely forested single-track
- Long grass straightways with a double sided pit (see my pic below)
- The aforementioned features like the flyover and the barriers
We line up and they call up the first 10 people, then 20 people, then 30 people….all ‘in the points' in this Dutch Series, and at the very end he says “Und dee reste!” and a remaining 15 or so flood in, US style. I weasel a wheel as far up as I can but KP and are back of the bus today.
Whistle blows and it is a HARD start. Like a sprint at the end of a race. I finagle my way up to the 20’s in the straightaway with a hard punch and then we are into a grass field where we do a 180 and com back towards the start finish before a hard left apex diving us into the woods.
We twist and turn and comb the single-track until it opens up into a large decent downhill towards a full-on beach sand hill. We have to navigate that downhill at speed and it apexes to the right directly back up the sand (seated POWER needed). Then, more single-track occurs once out of the sand eventually flipping and bringing you BACK towards the beach where they send you UP it on an epic, leg sapping run up! You crest the run up (see Brandon's video below) and remount and dive back into single track eventually spilling you out of the woods, up and over the fly-over, the speed barriers and finally back up the start finish straightaway.
On the second lap, Kurt is on a good day...
...and bridges to me again. He drops it into the 11t and says c’mon! On my wheel! and leverages his time trialing to bring us back to the top guys…but that sapped a LOT from me.
The Dutch announcer was great…LITERALLY in the woods with a wireless mic announcing the leaders (e.g. top 20) and says Kurt’s name and then mine at the end. I’m like, crap! We’re in the top 20! So we continue to punch it and battle. KP gets a good turn and is off alone at about 10 seconds. I am battling with these 2 dudes who won’t get off my wheel (also know as smart bike racers). I attack and one comes with and the other pops. The guy who follows sits on me and tries on the laatste ronde to attack through a corner and f’s up by bobbling. He bridges back and sits on me again. I can’t shake him and he beats me on the run up (which is usually my strength) and was enough to stay away from me.
Kurt: 16th, Wheel Sucker Dutchman 17th, Me: 18th.
And for the second day in the row, we’re in the money! HA! KP and I scored 5 Euros! HA! Oh, AND got our 5 Euros back for returning the number plate. FREE RACE!
I met up with the Black Market crew as well as some other San Franciscans from the Roaring Mouse team….RIGHT by my old house. They are sitting with Harrie and his bud and I come to find out Harrie is the proprietor of Spooky Carbon brakes:
Coolest guy and pleaded for us to come to the World Cup next weekend to meet Richard Groenendaal…my man!
…and the friendliest pit crew we worked next to the whole race. The coolest guys who speak perfect English and core ‘crossers....
Kenny had a great race starting from DFL due to a mechanical to take 9th. Crazy power:
Dubba turned himself inside out but rode way more ‘heads up’ and straight faced today. Clearly on a better day…but in an extremely tougher and larger field.
Lap after lap he battled with local hard men and pulled in a beautifully earned 18th.
The Japanese National Champion Keiichi Tsujiura took second.
We packed up and drive back and came across a great restaurant were we piled in Tapas and had some Leffe Buin. Yum. Well earned. Now home, we are winding down and I am about to call home (for the 2nd time today to hear the voices of my beautiful family).
So that is it folks! Race No. 2 in the books and I am completely satisfied. Great course, I did my best and battled back through more than half the field of fast guys.
Coming up this week:
-A visit to Amsterdam
-A ride to local Abby breweries
-The Vermarc Clothing 2008 sponsor party….including Quick Step, Sun Job….and more.More photos from today can be found here on my PhotoBucket site.
Living the dream folks. You will DO THIS next year….
Place: Schriek, Belgium.
Folks: We entered the lions den. Today was our first taste of European racing (and European race events in general) and it was UNBELIEVABLE! More in a minute. Hold on to your jockey shorts.
Last night the sleep came...then left me for 4 hours...then finally came back mercifully. The range of emotions when you are struggling to sleep are off the charts. "Please God. Just a few more Z's." Sheep counting...whatever it takes. During my 'wake time', the rain was coming down in sheets like only Belgium can produce. So, I listened. It came down to the extent that it was just a solid 'wall of sound'. Hard to explain but you've all been in a good rainstorm. But Belgium rain 'goes to 11.' It lulled me back to sleep.
After FINALLY getting some z's, I woke to scramble. We all rallied in the AM to get out the door with the caravan. Oatmeal, yogurt, granola and killer coffee was all consumed in record time. We piled in all 6 bikes into the van and followed Mark and Rob to Shriek. They had the money GPS in their car and literally 1600 turns later, we found this absolute tiny tree lined 'ally' and we banged the turn into it. I don not think we EVER would have found it! This road T-boned into the race reg and it was already a scene. We parked in front of someone's house and about the same tile Geert Wellens (Bart's little bro) caravan pulls up. It's gonna be a fun day (mainly for Brandon) I thought...
The Shriek-Grootlo race is a 'local' East Flandrian race. This is just like the US where you have your various regional race series....e.g. Cross Crusade, Boulder Racing, Surf City...etc). But holy crap, even this 'small race' is totally PRO. Huge tents, nice sized fields, beautifully marked and WELL thought out courses, PRO double decker start/finish area with cameras, local TV crews....the works. Basically, it was set up and organized like a USGP with a few less people. Oh, and ALL these folks actually paid Euros to get in!
By the team we got to pre-riding, the rain had miraculously stopped. We suited up and began our pre ride. The course was FUN! It was apparently a non-typical course from what I was told as it took place almost exclusively on densely forested single track which featured berms, many many u-turns to power out of but no barriers or run ups. This beeatch was flat. Interestingly, the rain almost immediately sucks into the ground as it stopped raining .....as the soil here is like peat moss. Soil that is dark and super rick looking. It is SO DAMP, the trees all had this perennial layer of moss on them!
The pre-ride was great and even with sleep I did not feel bad at all. As a mountain biker, the course was dialed for me. After the warm up, I made my way to the registration/beer tent and showed them my UCI license and they automatically know given age what group to assign me (which everything is driven my here except elite' men). Master A ('Form D').
So let me take you through the reg process...
a) Go into large beer tent
b) Find old but 'official' looking man smoking a cigarette
c) Learn that it's too early through arm and facial gestures...
d) Come back a few minutes later when they've got things assembled in very typical Euro-ficiency (6 people behind a desk preforming different jobs, laptops...order!).
e) I need to purchase a Belgium Cycling Federation License ( 5) and hold up all the Masters men grumbling.
f) Proceed down the line to the next computer to get signed in and pay (8)
g) Proceed to next person and get my number (No. 18 I think?)
A few minutes before the start, we queue for the call ups. They call EVERYONE up. There is no concept of the 'top 10' then everyone DIVES in to the area to grab spots. They do it based upon race series points and then registration order. I got a 2nd row call up in a field of 30-35. Kurt and our house mates also got in there in 2nd and 3rd row as as well which was good. Behind us, staged in groups that will launch after us in 2 minute interval are the other Master's groups and amateurs. Including amongst us are various Masters World Champions....all prepping for Mol.
The gun goes off and like the parting of the seas, I pop through this hole that miraculously formed and I get on the wheel of the top 5 or 6 front row guys. We bomb into the single track and we are gone! Like 'that' a group of 7 to 10 have detached from the field and we are creating a separation quickly. We drill it continually for 2-3 laps in and out through the singletrack in a train. By lap 2, the top three guys get a gap. I see them through the trees but in no way, can I get the muscle to bridge to those guys. The winner, Bert Vervecken, with some pedigree, is an apparent hard man and would go on to win solo by 1 minute, then my group another minute back after that). I continue to dice with these Belgians. There's no real 'contact' (e.g. pushes and shoves) as I heard about with th exception of a couple of pushes I threw...HA! The younger Master B World Champ from the 30-35 age group came by in the closing 2 laps after I led him for a 1/2 lap and said "Thanks Man" on his way by. Cool. I'm also clearly American....
Moment of Belgie fame: The 'Davle Towle of Shriek (e.g. announcer) on top of the double decker is shouting off the names of the leaders and every lap says my name! SWEET! "Und, nummer achtzehn, Gregory Keller von za Roccky Mountains." HA!
At the 2nd to last lap, Kurt muscles his way up with a strong effort and pulls another Belgie with sitting on him (in an incredibly bad neon green kit...SO un PRO). We settle in as the bell is ringing loud through the speakers and neon Man attacks nicely through the absolute perfect section of trail before single track and dispatches us. Kurt and I groove and has a final good turn coming into the finishing stretch for 7th! I sprint against a Belgie closing in on us for 8th!
Here's the best part: I won some money! 6! Plus, when I returned my number, the gave me 5 back! HA! Cash money. I spent it on a beer in that beer tent, folks. Of course I did.
So now it's time for Brandon Dubba Dwight. He lines up with quite a few known hard men; Wim Jacobs (now on Morgan Blue after his stint with Fidea), Arne Daelmans (former Belgian National Champion) and Geert Wellens...Bart's Younger bro. Oh and a SLEW of super hungry Belgian neo pros without contract wanting points and victories to move up the ladder. Dubba drilled it hard! He floated today with some groups and finished on the lead lap even with a crash and nailed an 18th! Arne Daelmans won in an awesome print finish in a group of three. Geert and Wim were back in the top 10 but were never in contention. Those hungry young'ngs wanted it! You can read all about Brandon's exciting adventures in parallel with my reports and his beer reviews on upcoming Velonews Chocolate, waffles and 'cross diary updates.
So with that said, let me give you some examples of today in my best digital celluloid:
The Belgie in the ugly kit who nipped us.
Rob from our house
Me an KP apres race
On our cool down ride...that's RIGHT! We were 2 minutes from the home of Sven Nijs and Niels Albert! Yeah baby!
My quasi artistic approach at sport photography...
Henry and 'Trina on the podium.
The THICK moss on the trees
Tomorrow is Bakel Cross in the Netherlands. About 1.5 hours away. Not sure of the course but I hope legs respond. We shall see, huh? Kisses from the road, and I miss you my beautiful wife and boys.