Waffles, Chocolate, Beer…and Cycling!

A few of us on team Optum are staying at The ChainStay in Oudenaarde, Belgium for the month of September. The trip is centered around the World TTT Championships in Netherlands on September 16th but there is some good racing before and after the marquee event for us. Last Sunday, I did my first mass start race on European soil at a UCI 1.2 race in Nederland called Kernen Omloop Echt Susteren. As much as I’ve been warned about the racers and roads in Europe, I was still not prepared for the narrow “bike paths”, turns and road furniture that the circuit race took me and 180 or so other racers along. Needless to say, I was a little sketched out and so figured the safest place for me was either in the back or off the front. Well as luck would have it, Jonas pulled caravan car position #2 so that he could clearly see me if I was sitting at the back. Therefore, as logic goes, I needed to get off the front in order to avoid a diatribe from the Boss Man after the race. And like a script, as soon as I made my way to the front, I attacked and it stuck! I was off the front with 2 other guys for 20′ or so when a group of 7 containing fellow big man Magnus Backstedt caught us. Now we were 10 strong and rolling through together fairly well. As hard as it was up there, I was mighty thankful not to be battling for position with 170 Euros on a course like that. As we got closer to the finish of the 189km race, the break whittled down to 6 and then to 4 so that we were just hanging on for dear life and basically trying to make the chasing teams suffer just a little longer. We got caught with 7km to go and I for one was relieved that the pain was over for the day. The sprint didn’t go so hot for us due to miscommunication, poor timing, bad legs, jet lag, whatever. Just one of those days you have to put behind you. But for me, I had just finished my first European race ever – Milestone! Next up we had a kermis in Izegem, Belgium which is about 35km away from where we’re staying. I’ve been hearing about the dreaded kermesses for years now as a rite of passage for any ‘real’ cyclist. This kermis consisted of 16 laps of a 10km circuit and 225 dudes lined up for the start (largest race ever for me!). Again, despite being on wider roads with far fewer turns than the Ned race, I was very nervous at the start trying to get a feel for the flow of the race. I was totally useless to my team for the first half of the race as the break was being established. Luckily, the other guys stepped it up and it sounds like we were represented in every move until the break finally stuck with Soladay latching on to that one. If I could just help out in the sprint for Meatball and Ken, I could salvage my race and be able to look my teammates in the eye afterward. I did my best to move in the last lap and found Zwiz in the gutter on the same side of the road with me. Having a trusted teammate there gave me just the confidence and push that I needed and we somehow found a lane on the very outside of the road (sidewalk actually) and we were able to sprint up to the front and slot in in front of Meatball and Ken. Now it was game on with 2k to go and I just put my head down and buried myself for 30s or so. It took 158km but I finally made it to the front of the race! Zwiz took over next, followed by Meatball, and Ken very nearly took the victory but was just overtaken at the line by Andrea Guardini (who has won some pretty big races if I’m not mistaken). An excellent result for the lowly American team but we were so close to the victory that it was hard to celebrate fully. Regardless, I was proud of the way we rode and was thrilled that I was able to help out even just a little. You can see the results here. Interesting to note is that I was leading with about 1.2 km to go in the race but ended up finishing 153rd! Next up, Zwiz and I have an ITT in Betheny, France called the Chrono Champenois. I’m looking forward to utilizing some of this TT form that I worked so hard for in the weeks leading up to the US Pro Challenge. I’ll try to post some pics of the area in the coming days. And yes, along with the cycling I have been enjoying plenty of waffles, chocolate and beer during our stay thus far. Moderation is key! Thanks for reading.

– Tom Zirbel

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