In Belgium, the popular race style is called the Kermesse. These are races (for my level) between 70-100km long, usually on a lap between 4km and 10km. The category I’m racing is called 1.18, which is a mix between Amateurs (me), Masters (30+ years old), Elite without contract (unprofessional UCI level riders), and U23’s.
This race was at Heide Linter, featuring 18 laps of a 5.5km course. My teammate and buddy, Jonas, offered to drive both myself and my dad (who was visiting for the weekend). He is probably the best race support you can have for your first Belgian race of the season, being able to translate, give advice, as well as moral support.
On the starting line, there were over 130 riders, including myself. I spotted a U23 team from Luxembourg, some of the bigger teams of Belgium, and one of the Belgian national champions. As I started to warm up in the near-freezing rain, a small crowd of Belgians from the town gathered around the start line. Each of the small races is hosted by a small local restaurant or café. This time, there was a Frituur at the starting line.
The rain didn’t let up as we took off, and almost a half lap in, nerves kicked in hard. I started feeling like I was gonna vomit, incredibly early in the race. But after a lap on staying tucked away in mid-pack, I had made a realization: it’s just a bike race.
Soon, I started having fun. I was weaving in and out of riders, staying low and fitting in the gaps where the big Belgian powerhouses couldn’t fit. My cornering felt great, and my legs were phenomenal. I fought for wheels well, and held my ground, even being a much smaller, lighter guy.
However, after about an hour, my upper body began to shiver uncontrollably. I rode up to the front and took a few harder pulls and chased an attack to warm up, but it wasn’t helping. I couldn’t feel my hands anymore and I made the decision to DNF the race in order to maintain health. Nothing to prove by taking 70th if you get hypothermia and can’t train for a while.
Apparently, I was not the only one with the same idea. The race ended with just 59 finishers. And apparently, may of those elite guys dropped out well before I did. Here is how the team fared:
Team Results (1.18)
Joe Sullivan – DNF
Jonas Cortoos – DNS, but consumed 2 Bowls of Tomato Soup
I’m proud of the effort. The legs are where they need to be, thanks to Coach Geoffrey Chandler, and the mind for racing is getting sharper and sharper. Let’s just hope for a little better weather next time so I can trust test my mettle.
I also got to test my mettle on the prestigious cobbles that mark both the opening of the Belgium and the European racing seasons. Don’t miss my report on riding the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad >>
Joe “Pepe” Sullivan is Higher Gear’s very own European correspondent based out of Leuven, Belgium where he attends university. Pepe is testing his mettle in the European racing circuit – in both road (riding his Specialized Venge named “El Diablo Dos”) and cyclocross (on his Specialized Crux) – as well as enjoying the famed cobbled streets that make European cycling so challenging.