Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A new chapter with Team Stuttgart - Part 1

Finally after many technical problems with my computer that has deleted pages and pages of blog material, I have managed to find some motivation to write again. This time without any failures (otherwise you wouldn’t read this, duh!).

The transfer from Team U Nantes Atlantique to the German Continental squad went relatively smooth and I was in for a tough start. Volta a Portugal was on the cards, 11 days of racing, by far the longest tour I have done. My form, motivation and general classification standing improved from day to day (although the rest day after stage 6 couldn’t have come at a better time) and I almost felt like I could’ve raced a couple of days more. Being 6th in the Best Young Rider Classification was a big morale booster too.

Highlight of the Volta a Portugal: Last climb to the finish on stage 4. Thousands of spectators lined up along the side of the road, even more beer bottles. A Russian grupetto mate chugs 4 beers in 2 km after being in the saddle for 4 and a half hours in 40 degrees heat. Performance of the day, no doubt!

Team presentation (one rider missing)

A week with an average of 11hours of sleep per day and eating non-stop but never feeling full got me wondering if I was ready to race again, 8 days later. Sunny, warm weather got replaced by grim rainy, cold and windy conditions and the hilly, wide Portuguese roads made way for twisty, bumpy, narrow lanes with the occasional cobbled section. Yes you guessed right, the next race was in Belgium and was called GP Stad Zottegem.

My main activity for the race was counting the time difference between the first rider around a corner after a long windy straight section and myself. Results varied from 15 to 40 seconds. As we hit the famous “Paddestraat” towards the end of the race I was a little outside of my strengths and it was no wonder that I wasn’t in the first group when the race split into pieces on the bumpy cobbles. Looking back at the list of DNF’s I’m proud I managed to finish my first Belgian Classic though.

Highlight of GP Stad Zottegem: a crazy Belgian fan riding around the start area, shouting all the names on the start list and which riders he thinks have a chance to win. He came past me about 10 times.
Rattling over the famous "Paddestraat"

Side note: after Portugal I didn’t have a place to stay so teammate Georg kindly offered me to stay at his place for a few weeks in Darmstadt. A few weeks turned into months… Maybe I should seek refugee status?  

After Zottegem the rest of the team left, except for Georg and me who took part in another Classic called Erpe-Mere and a Belgian Crit, Kortrijk Koerse, which we got invited to.
Erpe-Mere was a bit of an anti-climax as Belgians have a rule to make their crazy, hard racing even crazier and harder. Everyone that is 5 minutes behind the leaders (3 min in smaller races) is out. As both Georg and myself are not the Classics specialists we both missed the good break and were out with a huge number of other riders about 30 km before the finish.
Highlight of Erpe-Mere: an Eritrean ex-teammate who I thought was still in South Africa somewhere appeared on the side of the road and cheered me on. The cycling world is small.

Kortrijk Koerse on the other hand was good fun! Getting paid to stand on the start line next to Big Phil (Philippe Gilbert), Sep Vanmarcke and Belgian champ Preben van Hecke was beyond cool! The race was different though. Beforehand the riders chose the winner (one of the big riders) and all us “smaller” riders could do, was get in a breakaway and show our jersey to the crazy fans that stood 8 rows deep at the finish of the 1km circuit which we had to cover 80 times. So more of a show than a race. However not everyone can say they were in a breakaway with Philippe Gilbert…

Highlight of Kortrijk Koerse: two riders almost getting into a fistfight after one of them let a gap open up after a corner. The insults and screaming turned into laughter and friendly pats on the back around the next bend though, as they congratulated themselves on their good acting skills. All part of the show. 

"Big Phil"

Unfortunately it went downhill from there. The motivation to ride was gone. I’m not entirely sure why exactly, but I have a few guesses. One might’ve been that the start of the year has been super tough. Not physically tough but mentally. Luckily Georg took over the part of motivating me to train and I still got a few decent training days in, although he was riding almost twice as much as me and I was glued to his backwheel more than I was riding next to him.

One small motivation booster was a small crit in Mayen, where I managed to take second on a brutal 1km course with 400m of cobbled uphill (yes, 400m isn’t much but try riding it 80 times). I spent about half the race alone in front, collected points after points after points (and primes too) before I got caught by the peloton again with 30 laps to go. Unfortunately another rider had taken a lap ahead of me and so I was still behind. With 18 laps I attacked over someone that sprinted for a prime and managed to lap the field in about 6 laps because everyone was so tired. The rider who took a lap earlier was still ahead of the peloton though, so he would take maximum points at the finish, meaning he would be 1 point ahead of me if I didn’t finish in the first 2 of the bunch sprint. Unfortunately for me he had more friends and teammates than me in the race who knew how to race with their elbows out and I took 3rd in the sprint. Disappointing but also good fun.

Highlight of Mayen crit: the top 3 riders were presented with a cobblestone trophy. Never imagined I’d own one of those. No idea how I can get that one back to Namibia though…
A video can be seen here: (skip ahead to 15:00)

Weight lifting

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