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Entries in Za Trip (25)

Za Trip: Sunday January 13th - Orange has always been my favorite color

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?”

Boy: “Nee.”

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!

This course is gonna be sick. Right near the flyover is a set of speed barriers as well….all on manicured grass.

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.


  • 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
  • Mad sand run up:

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!

Dubba was up next in a stacked Elite’s field with a Sun Web Projob guy Kenny (see his own website here) with the greatest top tube sticker:

…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….


Za Trip: Saturday January 12th - The low down on the smackdown

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 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.

But wait, there's more!: In his age group in a group behind us, Henry Kramer goes on to WIN and in the womans Masters, 'Trina Baumsteiger rider her Rock Lobster goes in to win HER group!

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:

I am now a card carrying member of the Belgian Racing Federation
Kärcher power washer
Railing it in the peat
The ugly kit Belgie who nipped us
More railing
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
Za Singletrack

I will post more pics when I have better bandwidth.

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.


Za Trip: Friday January 11th - The Americans have landed

Place: Blauberg, Belgium

The Eagle has landed. Even after all of the drama from United the day before, we are here, safe and ready for action.


So, after after the cancellation and ticketing drama previously reported about, Brandon and his beautiful fiance' Heather picked me up Thursday AM in the Boulder Cycle Sport war wagon and we rolled and chatted all the way to DIA.We get to the United Check In and start the whole process. I am prepared to be REAMED for all the bike stuff. The lady says: "Oh you guys are Premier Execs so you get 7o pounds for the bike bike and three pieces. Brandon, like the gangasta street wise Masshole, he is, props his foot under my 70+ pound box to ensure it reads 65 pounds. Genius. All free. We get our tix and we're rolling.

The flight was the best kind: Uneventful and we slept like babies. The big bird landed in Brussels ahead of schedule and Brandon and I got in almost exactly the same time as Kurt via Munich. We all convened at the baggage carousel and waited for or stuff. Everything comes 'cept the bikes. Sweat. Nether regions start to pucker. I go on a hunt and actually see the bike boxes. I make contact with a 'native' and after confirming he speaks (perfect) English, he says "Come vit me, guys." We go into a back room (I think he's going to mug me) and there they are. Our bikes in a TOTALLY different place. All safe and sound. The other boxes I saw, identical to ours...down to the USA Cycling stickers... were of course weren't ours, just the other 7000 people coming to Belgium to ride. In the rain. In January. Chrissakes, we are sickos for this sport.

So the guys says, "Bikes, eh? You mountain bikeeers?"

"No actually, cyclo-cross" I say.

Let the talking begin....

"What?! Veldrijden? I am a HUGE Nijs supporter!" The guy is visibly excited. A bead of foam materializes around his lips along with that spittle in the corner of his know the kind when people get excited and start talking incessantly. We chat, and he sends us on our way saying...

"Don't let the Belgians treat you zat bad, OK? You just race hard, OK?"

The AIRPORT BAGGAGE guy is like the proverbial grim reaper. And a sick 'cross fan.

So with our stuff KP, Dubba and I meandered our gypsy-like caravan of double-bike cases, bags, duffels , etc and we went looking for the van. I separate from the guys, find it, the guy anonymously hands me the keys and I go BACK in search of the boys.

"SON OF A!" Driving to find them, I am spat out of the car rental garage on to the motorway! I loop back (twice) and finally say "F-it". I am parking HERE! I stop the mighty Mercedes Van in the middle of now where and YELL to Dubba an Kurt: "Let's go, let's go!" Within what seems 60 seconds, they run with everything, we chuck it all in the van and with people honking behind, we get the beast moving and we are on our way.

We make it to Blauberg basically uneventfully and find Za House no problems. We come in and are greeted by our hosts, Vicki and Mark who give us a brief tour and introduce us to the other 6 sicklo-crossers here staying for the racing. We go back outside to extract our bikes from the beast, and we see some damage.

SON OF A BEEATCH! Damage to the tail light that either occurred BEFORE we had the car or sometime when we parked to load at the airport. We'll deal with it, but BUMMER.

So we get into the house and make introductions. There are a FEW people here. Oh, we found 'them': The North American 'cross junkie. They are here. 6 of them other than the three of us. All in this house. They come to Belgium. They learn Dutch. The drink good beer. They know how to glue tubulars with precision. Obsessive 'cross fans and racers.

A bit about the house we are at:

It is owned by former Festina rider (yes, pre, '97), Tour de France, Paris Roubaix and Classics rider...oh and British National Champion Tim Harris. The first thing we see:

Podium flowers and trophies from Mark Cavendish, Robbie McEwen and others. PRO. We get the bikes unpacked and all is OK. YEAH! Our new friend Rob suits up with us and we get on our first ride.

In Belgium.

If I could have slowly humped the muddy earth, I would have. Za Mutherland. Bike paths. Rain. 48 degrees. Cross bike parts. Dugasts.


So we finally were so excited to get out...some from being in Belgium, but frankly lots because we were bound of from planes and needed to release. We rolled for an hour to get the legs loose and smiled as the spit from the other guys bikes and rain splattered my face. Perfect. Some digital celluloid.

Form a very tired Blauberg, I'm signing off. Our first race is tomorrow in Schriek Groot Lo. Wish us luck!


Za Trip: Thursday January 10th - What the?

Brief report. I awoke to the alarming blare of cell phone ringing obscenely early. I pick it up. An snippy automated voice says: "Hello. Your flight is canceled. Goodbye. Click." Or something like that. At that moment, if you took this:

And placed it in a certain body cavity, the stress at that moment would have baked this in 2.5. seconds:

Quickly getting on the United 1K Bat Phone, I spoke to a great lady who got Dubba and I all squared away.

Folks, it's on. It's moments of happiness like this that I like to sing my favorite song in situations like this.

Kisses from the road.

Za Trip: Wednesday January 9th - Packing Day

Place: Za Reepoobleek, Coloradee

My friends: It is on. I can't wipe the smile off my face.

So I roll out of bed, get the kids squared away for school and finally sit down in front of the PC to get some morning work done. I get through my work mail and fire up weather dot com. Ah. So it's January in Belgium...
So, i got my sweats on, a pair of surgical gloves, and got to it: za packing. All said and done, 20 minutes with the Tr-All case!

Some tips with the Tri All:

  • Buy some foam insulation for your frame tubes and other key areas you are worried about like side impact near brake arms. Throw this on any and all places where you may think there is going to be contact against your frame and bits.
  • Get some Gorilla Glue as you may need to break off and re-position the foam blocks which support the bottom bracket area.
  • Keep a bit of air pressure in the tires to allow the lid to close tight and keep everything compact.
  • Put all your supplies (tools, lubes, etc) in clear plastic bags. When the TSA rip through this, you can save them some time by allowing them to quickly scan. Also, make it accessible so they do not have to reach down.
  • Have small hands: in all sincerity, it was a bitch to get in there and secure the fork skewer mounts at the very bottom of the box. I finally got it but it was probably the hardest part of the packing!
Here are some pics of how everything fits without the lid. I searched the 'web looking for pics from people who have packed their cases in a specific way to help me with my chore and didn't find any so I hope these help someone who is attempting pack a double-case some day:

So here we go folks. The epic hath begun. I'll report in daily if humanly possible and likely it will given our house has za wi-fi. Stay tuned!

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