The Garmin’s timer had just rolled over one hour.
I had covered twenty-eight miles in my first sixty minutes of racing in Belgium. The peloton fanned across the road as it approached the corner, with riders bracing themselves for the onslaught that lay across the other side. I was positioned well, maybe a little bit too far back that I’d like, around 30th place, but still ahead of seventy other riders. The squash came, the brakes where applied, lean into the corner, watch the head of the race accelerate out, wait for your turn, chase frantically after the wheel in front. Except there was one problem. The wheel in front was slowly drifting away. And now other riders where motoring past me. I looked at my Garmin again. It said 38mph.
I looked again. 37.5. Still riders were sailing past me. I looked behind and saw the meandering tail of the bunch whipping across the road as riders held on for dear life. They all came past me. I put in a final effort to catch the coattails but to no avail. I had been dropped. I waved the ambulance through; I wasn’t ill, I just wasn’t good enough. I waved the broom wagon through; I could still finish the lap.
Begijnendijk kermesse was my first race in Belgium and I lasted only an hour in a contest that lasted just under three. Racing in Belgium now looked much more daunting than it did before.
My Belgian adventure starts back in November 2013 when The Dave Rayner Fund announced its roster of sponsored riders for the following year. Looking down the list of former National champions and junior series winners I felt a little bit out of my depth. From November, I had only to train and race till the following summer, easier said than done when I’d had just moved to University in a different city with the bike as my only form of transportation.
Nevertheless I put down roots and starting finding the local groups to ride with. That winter, as you may know, wasn’t great with a ridiculously large amount of rain and snow. One memorable ride saw me caught in a freak blizzard at the highest point of the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peaks. Needless to say, motivation was hard to come by and come spring I felt I hadn’t done enough to warrant funding and was considering withdrawing from the Fund.
Luckily in March I had a weeks riding in the mountainous Costa Blanca region of Spain. Form shyly stepped forward towards the end of the week and was followed by confidence. I decided to stay on the fund for the time being.
In May I won a local criterium from a bunch kick that was a much needed confidence kick.
My mind was now set on Belgium and I emailed the Rider Liaison at the fund, Jocelyn Ryan to sort out all the technicalities.
Belgium welcomed me on a sunny day with blue skies and calm winds in the first week of June. After dragging my suitcase and bike box half way across the country from Charleroi airport to my new home just north of Leuven (the home of Stella Artois), I said hello to my housemates. Stoyko Bussarov was a very international Bulgarian would lived near Cambridge and was now racing in Belgium.
He was my first friend out there and I’d like to say thanks for letting me use his espresso kettle and giving me lifts to the brutal 1.12a races over at Aalst.
My second housemate was an Australian from Adelaide, George Tansley, former national Madison champion and a recent signing to the Lotto-Belisol U23 team.