Groeten uit België! For those of you who don’t speak Dutch, I am in Belgium now for a few races. I am also happy to report that I have 100% recovered from being sick.
I have come to Belgium for a two-week stay and three races. Belgium is the bicycle racing capital of the world. Cycling races here could be compared to the NFL, NBA, MLB — and lets throw NASCAR in for good measure — combined. The races start in town squares where there are thousands of people out to see the race off; the fans then gather in the pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants to watch the race unfold on TV. It’s a very exciting atmosphere! People have pictures of you and autograph books printed out just for your signature. It is incredible!
The reception the team had was great for the first race we did, Nokere Koerse. We had an awesome turnout of people who came and told us how much they respect the team for what we are racing for.
The racing in Belgium is said to be some of the toughest racing in the world. I was told by many people that just finishing these races the first time you go is a big accomplishment. Needless to say, this made me a bit nervous. The conditions are very tough, with small cobblestone roads, wind, rain, cold, tough hills, and some of the best cyclists in the world. The first race we did would live up to almost all of the hype of a classic Belgian race. We had 125 miles to race and it started off very fast for the first hour. We averaged almost 30 miles an hour with two small climbs!
In a bike race you have to always try to keep the best position in the peloton (main group of riders) that you can. With 200 racers, the peloton can stretch out for a quarter mile, with the first rider up to 45 seconds ahead of the last. This makes it tough if you are in the back half of the group. After the first half of the race I relaxed for a moment and lost my position; the race then hit technical cobblestone roads and a portion of the peloton was eliminated. I had realized what a lot of people had been telling me about just finishing these races: You have to be in the zone the entire time.
The positive of the day was the blood sugar control I maintained. I started the race in the 140 range, and over the next hour I went up to 180 as a result of eating about 70 grams of carbohydrate. I kept going up as the racing slowed a bit after the first hour; I injected 2 units on the fly and began to eat more and was in the 160–190 range for the rest of my race.
I was lucky to get a second chance at racing here in Belgium two days later. The Handzame Classic is another 125-mile race through the fields and small towns. This race would give us all of the elements of a classic Belgian race. The temperatures were around 48˚F to 52˚F, and after the first 10 minutes of racing it started to rain. The rain was not too hard, but was a constant drizzle. The race also took place on many single-lane roads through pastures. This caused the rain to wash some not-so-pleasant things onto the course.
This time I took the things I learned in my first race and made sure not to make the same mistakes. The race was very difficult, with only 122 of the 170 starters finishing. I finished the race in the peloton but was not able to contest the sprint, as I was not prepared for the conditions. I spent the last 25 miles of the race freezing, barely able to hold onto my handlebars and looking at my competitors’ rain jackets and thick gloves and wishing I had them as well. You can check the Team Type 1 Facebook page for some photos — you won’t be disappointed.
I had completed a top-level professional race in Belgium on my first trip over… I was able to be aggressive and ride the front and attack… all the things that make racing fun! And I was again able to manage my blood sugars well. At the start of the race I was in the 160s, and I finished in the 180s. The entire race I had around 250 grams of carbohydrate, or about 50 grams per hour of racing.
I have one more chance here in Belgium in what will be the hardest race we do while we are here. This time I will be sure to pack a jacket and gloves.