It has been one month since I moved to Geleen, Netherlands and left my home in South Africa. Geleen is a large city in the province of Limburg, but more importantly it contains a certain house that houses me, six teammates and a few other tenants. I have to say, I’m already well-adjusted to life in a team house. Living in a house mainly filled with cyclists means that the majority of people share your interests, mainly going to bed before 10pm and eating ridiculous amounts of food. Despite the crazy amount of dish soap we go through, it also means that cycling never has to play for seconds on the TV and that, on rest days, a game of draughts is as strenuous as it gets.
For training the city is well positioned with canals nearby which means canal rides, with their endless web of bike paths, have become a staple. Also, the Belgian Ardennes are within an hour, so you can still get a hill fix close by. On top of that, we are close to the 2012 World Road Race Championship circuits and the famous Amstel Gold Race that we went to watch this past weekend.
Amstel Gold Race (Sylvain Chavanel)
In a region that is obsessed with racing and riders who share this obsession, there are races almost everyday. These “small” Belgian amateur races are hotly contested with 200+ starters racing around a small lap of between 5 and 15km. These “Kermis Races,” as they are known, are perfect for lifting your level for the UCI races because they are often just as fast as the pro races (+-45km/h) but are shorter at around 110-130km. There are races so often that for many training becomes almost obsolete and a focus exists purely on racing.
Having raced last weekend in two amateur races, I am happy to see progress. I was blown out the back of my first kermis but now I am easily sprinting out of the 150+ corners in the race, slipping into some moves, and hardly feeling the distance in my legs. But that doesn’t mean the races aren’t challenging!
One of last weeks races, the Hakendover Kermis, was 12 laps of 10km. The conditions weren’t so great to start with since it was only six degrees but that turned out to be the least of my worries. On lap two it began to pour with rain. The narrow country “roads” went from bad to worse and before we knew it, it was a mud bath. I remember looking at another rider’s face completely covered in mud thinking “what happened to that guy?!”, when I realized I too was a Paris-Roubaix lookalike covered head-to-toe in mud. I was holding up fine in the crosswinds and even found myself in some moves, but the sheer quantity of mud rendered my shifter useless. Unable to shift, I ended my race early at 90kms. Not long after, with the unyielding horrible conditions, the race was shortened and we soon saw what was left of the whole field (approximately 25 riders) finish….from the warmth of the team van!
As we drove home, my Ethiopian teammate shivering and my eyes bloodshot from the mud, I realized I loved every minute. It was the first time in three weeks I had felt that overwhelming enjoyment riding my bike. I don’t know what it was but those two hours confirmed it for me that, even with racing at its absolute worst, if I could enjoy it, then I was in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.
If you do what you love you never work a day in your life…