Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bikes, Beer, Chocolate & Waffles

My friends back home are always raving on about how great the cycling culture in Belgium is. A few even plan trips over to watch some of the bigger races and stay for a few weeks. I have seen all of the pictures and stories on the internet ; crazy Belgian cycling fans causing havoc on the sidelines as they sink beers while screaming at the bikes going past. Despite this, I never really appreciated what they were on about.

Last week I did a classics race in Belgium and got a taste of what its all about. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the number of people riding bikes. They were everywhere, even going the wrong way down one-way streets. I was told by my Belgian team mates that in Belgium, everything is okay if you are on a bike.

Before the race was even close to starting, fans had already swamped the team buses and the start area. The Belgian ProTour teams drew a particularly large crowd as fans pushed for water bottles, signatures or even a glimpse of their national heroes.

The race began with a 3km 'parade' around the town of Leuven and the entire course was lined with fans at least 4 deep. For the next 200km, it wasn't much different with people on the side of the road screaming. There was even the odd family stopping for a picnic to watch the race and VIP's sipping champagne seemingly in the middle of nowhere as the race went past. Cycling in Belgium seems to have more spectators than the most popular sport in Australia and it is not just a small portion of the population that appreciates it. There were small kids, families, obvious middle-aged cycling fanatics and elderly folk that cheered just as hard.

Since Belgium is such a cycling passionate place, every Belgium rider racing has high hopes of putting on a good show in their home country. The race is televised live, so getting into the early breakaway means that friends and family will see them racing. The team's 2.5 Belgian riders (1 is from Netherlands so he is pretty much Belgian) were keen to make the break and put in the effort to get away at the start. One rider almost made a gap until the peleton charged it back down. Eventually, a small group of 3 riders managed to get away and the peleton began to ease up. I found myself on the front line and took the opportunity to bridge the gap. Myself and two others joined the 3 leaders and established a lead of over 6 minutes.

As we made our way around the course, people were screaming out my name and urging me on. Apparently, back at the team bus, my presence in the break caused some more fans to come and see what we are all about and before the race was even over, we were on the website of one of Belgium's biggest newspapers!

The passion for cycling in Belgium is phenomenal and it is something that I encourage everyone to experience. If you don't like cycling, that's okay because there are 3 other things that Belgian's are passionate about that you are bound to enjoy... Beer, Chocolate and Waffles! 

Monday, April 14, 2014


After a heavy block of training and racing, the body is need of rest and repair. Normally, I can feel when this is the case and there are small signs that indicate that the body needs a break.

The alarm goes off in the morning and I still don’t want to move. I procrastinate about going for a ride and it takes all the energy that I can muster to put on kit and get on the bike. I look for any excuse I can find that suggests that I shouldn’t ride such as, there are 2 clouds in the sky so it’s probably going to rain or I suddenly need to do that odd job around the house that I have been putting off for the last 18 months. And if I do finally manage to get out on the bike, I can barely push the pedals hard enough to get down the driveway. If I notice any of these signs, then generally it’s time to listen to the body and have a rest.

Lately, between all of the races that I have been doing, it has felt like all that I have done is recover and that is all. Consequently, now that I have had a few consecutive days at home, all I feel like doing is ride my bike. I don’t feel tired and motivation is high. However, it turns out that I am still fatigued.

It’s the 21st century, so there is no more relying on the body or mind to tell me if I am tired. Instead, a simple blood test with several indicators is able to tell me if I am fatigued. Values such as Hematocrit, blood cell count, iron, Creatine Kinase, Lactate Dehydrogenase, Aspartate Aminotransferase and a few others can all tell me if I need to rest.

Every month or so, we get blood tests done and send the results to the team doctors and coaches for interpretation.  My latest batch says that I still need to rest.

So now, instead of fighting the urge to lay in bed and sleep, I am doing the exact opposite. I’m fighting the urge to go for a ride and under the strict instruction of my coach, I have to stay off the bike. I have to say, it is extremely difficult to not ride when you want to.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Soul ride

For the last 3 months, I have pretty much been racing non stop. Between each race, I have spent a maximum of 3 days at home before having to leave again for the next one. This means that when I am home, my only goal is to rest and recover. 

My rides don't last for longer than a couple of hours and I can only ride at an easy pace. I search for the flattest, easiest rides that I can find, however, this often means that they are not the most exciting routes in the world. 

I need a soul ride to enjoy it again. A ride because I like to go for a ride. A ride where I don't have to focus on holding a particular power or heart rate and it doesn't matter if I get lost and the ride goes for an hour longer than planned. A ride where I can stop for a coffee if I feel like it and sit for a while. A ride where I can enjoy the view and stop to smell the flowers. 

For the first time in a while, I have a couple of weeks off before the next race. I already have a nice long soul ride planned but first I need to rest after a long stint of racing. Sometimes, you need to take a soul ride to remind yourself that you are doing what you love.