I was so excited about Woerden, I couldn’t wait to blog about it. Instead, I spent the next morning packing up all my stuff at Sten’s place in Lille, and then driving with my old Nerac teammate Nic Smutny 11 hours from Belgium to his home in the Czech Republic.
We’re in a town called Znojmo, and it’s absolutely beautiful. This whole trip is an experience, but getting to come here has really made it something special. I’ve been to Prague and Tabor before, but to be off the beaten tourist path, to be in the wine-making region of Czech, and to have a local showing you around is really exceptional. I’m most fortunate not only to be in the wine-making area, but also to be here while the burčák is flowing. It’s a very delicious, very dangerous drink. Imagine grapefruit juice at 5-10% ABV. Gorgeous.
So many people have helped me on this trip. Sten, his brother, his parents, his girlfriend - and now Nic. He drove 10 hours overnight by himself to meet me in Belgium, and then ride up to Holland with us to pit for me at Woerden. Then he chauffeured me back to Czech, put me up in his house for a few days, and is now taking me to the World Cup tomorrow in Tabor, staying with me Monday, and pitting for me again on Tuesday in Podborany before I fly home on Wednesday. Amazing.
As I mentioned briefly when I got home from Woerden the other night, things went much better. I really have only had one serious goal for the races over here, and that was not to get lapped. After Ardooie and Kalmthout, I was starting to doubt if that was possible, and if I had wasted my time entering those races. I especially felt badly about asking USA Cycling to put me in a World Cup only to be lapped with 4 to go.
Woerden reminded me that I’m not a terrible bike racer. To be competitive in these races, I need to be on point. If I show up on a bad day at a World Cup, it’s going to be really bad. I’m not the best in the world. I don’t live in Europe. I’m not on drugs. There are a lot of challenges already there just to be in the mix. At Woerden, I showed that I can learn from my mistakes, make adjustments, and have success. I also remembered that even here, I’m a decent enough bike driver to still have that as a strength to a degree. The guys at the front of the race are the ones who have the best fitness in the world, AND the best bike driving skills. I’m really only on par with the latter, in comparison.
Before Woerden, I adjusted my position on the bike back to my traditional fit, and away from my road position I had been trying to adapt to. I moved the bars up a centimeter, and the saddle forward a centimeter. What a difference it made.
My hip angle opened up, I got closer to my bars, I could put weight on my hands, and I was absolutely ripping the corners like I was turning on my front wheel only. Most importantly, my back never shut down, so I could make power all night long.
I also brought a different mentality to the race. I was relaxed and not feeling any pressure, but at the same time, committed to giving everything I had from start to finish. There were about 50 starters, and I was called up in the second row. I started as hard as I could. I still lost a lot of places in the first lap, and for a few moments thought I might be in for another day like Sunday. But soon I settled in and started bringing people back. And by “settled in,” I mean I got into a rhythm of complete aggression and relentlessness. I had no idea what place I was in, but I didn’t care. Whether I was alone, chasing, had someone on my wheel, or someone in my way, I stood up and sprinted out of every turn. Instead of coasting into corners at a good speed, I pedaled as hard as I could for as long as I could, and used my brakes as late as possible. I never let up until I saw 1 lap to go, and knew I was going to finish the race on the lead lap.
At that point I was alone (Sten had been on my wheel for the 2 to go lap and attacked me!) and only wanted to finish the lap safely. I had one rider chasing me still, but I had enough left to ride hard and keep from being caught. What a huge sense of relief and satisfaction I felt when I crossed the line. I gave Sten a big hug and nearly cried.
When I found out after the race that not only did I finish on the lead lap, but that I got 25th place, I was beside myself. Next thing you know I’ll be scoring UCI points or something. Crazy.
There are less than 50 people starting in Tabor. If I DON’T score a handlful of UCI points, I’m an asshole, basically. We’ll see. Remind me in the next post to tell you about my “Righteous 10%” theory of cyclo-cross and how it relates to doping.
When I’m done with bike racing I have every intention of coming back to Europe specifically for beer tourism. I think I’ve earned a real vacation in this lifetime.