Greetings all, welcome to the second edition of my experience of bicycle racing in Belgium. I'd like to use this opportunity to introduce myself to those who don't know who I am. My name is Wei Chen, age 19 and this is my second year racing. Currently I race for Jonathan Adler and prior to that, CRCA Junior Development. I am currently a student at CUNY and I am studying psychology. I am of Chinese(obvious) and Portuguese decent. My father's side of the family is 100% Chinese, while my mother side is mixed with Chinese and Portuguese. I have been living in NYC for roughly fifteen years now and have developed a love/hate relationship with it. But I can't imagine living anywhere else. No, I wasn't born in the United States and yes I was born in China. More specifically, the Fujian Province of China. I first started to ride on two wheels at the age of four riding along side my mother as a child. The memory is forever embedded in me. Moments of true happiness are never forgotten.
Now, onto my trip thus far. My flight was a non-stop flight from JFK-Brussels via Delta. I arrived four hours prior to my departure because I wanted I eliminate any risk of having my bike box or rather any of my baggages misplaced or lost. As I waited and starred out the window watching airplanes arrive and depart, I started getting rather bored.....so I took out a book written by one of my most admired people that have ever dwelled the planet, Albert Camus. The book was L'Estrange. As time passed, I eventually heard "Passengers please board the plane". At this point I was excited but when I sat down and realized four rows ahead of me were two little babies, I knew....I knew that this flight would be somewhat uneventful. And my guess was correct, throughout the flight the babies simultaneously cried. As one would start fading in tears, the other would go ape s***. So, no I had all but half an hour of sleep on the flight. The food was also not that desirable, chicken with mango barbeque sauce. I am now sitting here typing away in attempt to keep myself awake and not linger off into a deep nap that would cause me to stay up all night. Jet lag is never fun.
As I arrived to the house located in Oudenaarde, East Flanders. I unpacked my bags, reassembled my bike, and quickly fell asleep. I eventually woke up somewhat grouchy and went out for a quick spin in town just touring around. I immediately realized once again why I love this country so much, the town, the people, the architecture all are vital aspects of what I love about this spectacular country. The bike racing scene here is fantastic, locals come out and gather to see amateur cyclist, virtual nobody's like myself pedal a bicycle. Although I did not race today, I will be in the next few days and will keep a daily blog/diary of what I experience each day.....until then. Au revoir.
Day # 2, First Race
Dag!(Hello), I hope everyone is ending their season on a good note and learnt lots this year as I have. Last night I slept immediately as it hit 9pm because I was told by fellow compatriots in the house that if I fell asleep any earlier they would bang pots and pans to wake me up. I am a man or rather a young adult who loves his sleep especially when Im tired. So the idea of a bunch of teenagers and u23 guys with farmers tan banging pots for my entertainment was not a desirable scene I'd like to put myself in. I slept for nearly 12 hours and laid in bed reminiscing about last years experience racing with the juniors. One thought came to mind, PAIN! So I can only imagine the hell I'll have to put myself through racing u23's with pro contracts and elites with pro contracts. As it hit 11am sharp, the director banged on our doors since this is the designated time of awakening. We all woke up, and went down a set of stairs that spiraled down to the living room and then finally into the kitchen. We all ate breakfast and discussed the days plans.......when I heard there was a open pro kermesse today, I got excited.
Initially the plan was to race the Pro kermesse but since we "Americans" didn't have official Belgian licenses....we were unable to do the race. However since there's around three races you can do per day, everyday of the week. We found a kermesse that was 116km in distance, for all you using miles on your computer or daily lives back home this is around about 72 miles. Three guys and myself hopped on a train that took nearly a hour and a half. We transferred three times in order to reach our start/finish location. The registration was a bar filled with both elderly and young men and woman who were avid cycling fans.
As the race rolled off, I immediately felt myself feeling constricted. By constricted I mean my lungs felt like they were unable to take in as much oxygen it normally would be able to. However I was not disappointed with what I expected from the race. It was extremely aggressive and I was hitting 60km on a flat stretch throughout the race, in fact the entire race was flat and exposed to wind. The course was extremely technical, nearly 20 turns within a 8km course. After several attacks the pace settled down but only for 5-10 minutes and then it went ballistic. I found myself sitting on the rivet for the rest of the race, grinding my 53-12. All I remember about the race was staring at the backside of cyclist's bib and legs that have about a pound of embrocation or baby oil on them. Eventually a 50 year old man won the race in a break with himself and another Belgian. 50 is not a typo. I wish it were but the way he was riding, it made me seem like I was a toddler riding a tricycle.
After the race I was starving and the first thing I saw was a cart selling frites and bratwurst. It took me a few minutes to finally decide that this was probably not the best recovery food but by the time we arrived at the train station I was desperate. I saw a vending machine that sold a loaf of bread, not the cheap wonder bread you find at supermarkets but artisan bread probably baked that same morning. I digged through my bag and pockets for some euro but only found two, so my only option was Coke-Cola with real sugar and a twix bar. I figured I deserved it after the mayhem I put myself through today. Finally our train arrived and we hoped on the train for 5 minutes and had a transfer at Gent but it wasn't for another hour. So we decided to dine at a bar across the street.
We sat down and a Belgian waiter greeted us, asking us what we'd like to drink. I got myself a glass of Leffe blondie as did everyone else. Being the ripe age of 19 did not prohibit me from ordering beer since the drinking age here is 18. Which I believe it should also be in the states. As we waited for our food, the unavoidable smell of second hand smoke was beginning to irritate me a bit and time was ticking away. At this point, 40 minutes have passed and when the food arrived we had 5 minutes to either devour the food or steal the plate and grab a fork. I created myself a ice cream cone like shape out of some table paper and contemplated stuffing my pasta in it. I was not about to waste this since I was starving. I ate and ate eventually finishing the plate in 2 minutes. The others were unable to finish and begged the waitress for a take out carton. We stuffed it and also were able to steal ourselves a fork in the process. Since the three compatriots I was with were of American and South African decent, I figured they probably weren't accustomed to eating with their fingers, not that I have anything against that. So stealing the fork was a last resort. But enough ranting, more rest. Im cooked and about to fall asleep as I probably should. Stay tune for more. Also I'd like to use this opportunity to apologize to the waiter we stole from. Maybe he reads this and forgives us?...... Je suis désolé
Day # 3
Greetings again. Today was another great day in Belgium. Weather has surprisingly been quite spectacular, none of the rain and drizzle that is often if not always around. Again, today was the same routine as far as the morning goes, eating breakfast and talking about the days plan. However, we all decided that we shouldn't race today as the race was nearly 3 hours away from East Flanders, where we're staying. I was quite jubilant when I heard this since I wasn't feeling great after yesterday's effort.
So today did not involve much excitement. All I did today was relax, call up my family and get in touch with some friends leaving for college this week. Once it hit noon my stomach began to growl and I suddenly had this urge to eat some pastries and get a cup of cappuccino. So I went with one of my roommates down to the town square on some old authentic Belgian town cruisers to one of the many cafe's situated in that area. I found myself gazing through the glass as I drooled over all the scrumptious pastries that was presented upon me. You name it, they had it. But I decided if I was going to devour a 800 calorie pastry, I might as well have some good fat along with it too. So when the woman over the counter asked me what I desired, I found myself concentrated on her rather then the food.....let me stop. This is PG rated. So I ordered a salmon panini with tomato, mozzarella, and some arugula. Accompanying the panini was a cup of cappuccino, floating upon the top of the glass was a tiny squeeze of whip cream along with chocolate shavings. To say that this is the best cup of cappuccino I've ever had is an understatement. In fact if I were on death row, this would be the concoction of choice. However Im not, cudos to me. The pastry I bought was a creamy one, one that looked like a sandwich, in between it was berry jam with loads of whip cream, topped with chocolate and of course a cherry on top. Immediately, I started to have orgasmic sensations as I dived right in. The cappuccino accompanied along with the pastry was to die for. Enough about food, Im not Anthony Bourdain, however he is also one of my role models. No Reservations on the travel channel is great, especially his recent ones. The Rome episode was probably my favorite.
For training, I had a couple hours of recovery. So I headed out with my roommate to the Koppenberg, Paterburg(the steepest ascent in Belgium) and some other cobble roads that were unbearably harsh not only for me but my bicycle. That poor thing must be bleeding from the inside out, luckily Im not. Actually throughout the ride we followed the route of Tour of Flanders. It was spectacular but at the same time incredibly stupid, however I did feel good, better then I thought I'd feel on the bike. After the ride was done, we opened the door to the smell of burgers cooked by our director who is also a French trained chef. Yes, I apologize for the frequent topic of food on this blog but damn it, food here is just better. Maybe it's because it all natural and full of fat. None of those diet fads like no carb diets, no fat diet, etc. etc.
For tomorrow, I am thrilled to say I will be touring around the historic town of Brugge and not racing. Everyone here seemed to be tired and need a bit of rest. From what I hear from everyone in the house, It's amazing. So we'll be spending an entire day touring around, relaxing and just enjoying life because that's what it's all about really. Then the next few days will be racing kermesses. Also we will be saying goodbye to one of the South African kid's leaving the house tomorrow, Kyle. Great kid that has stayed here for two months racing kermesses. Hope his experience here has taught him how to suffer, if it didn't he should go to the torture chamber. That's all for now updates about tomorrow along with photos to come....
Hi everyone, last night was a bit of a drag as the jet lag has taken it's toll on me. I made a stupid decision to take a nap during the afternoon yesterday since I felt that maybe napping would aid my recovery and help me feel better overall. Although it did, I paid for it later in the evening. I tucked myself in at 11pm sharp and all of a sudden random thoughts began wandering through my mind, consequently causing me to stay up for hours before I actually fell asleep. It was only after 2 hours until I found myself awake, starring into the pitch black night as cars whizzed down the street that connected itself to the highway. As each car passed, I became impatient and irritated. Eventually I found myself walking out of the room and down the steps, into the living room. I sat there for a couple hours before I attempted to fall asleep again. But again, an epic fail. So I gave up and watched television until 6am and dressed up to get in an early morning ride since we were all going to Brugge later in the morning.
Before the ride, I checked the temperature as I often do. This morning it was 16 degrees celsius so I had to put on my fall/winter gear to prevent myself from catching any cold during my stay here. Finally I rolled off at 6:30am sharp and arrived back within a hour and a half. It was chilly as expected but mid-way through my ride, it began to drizzle and I started to panic since I didn't bring a raincoat with me. Throughout most of the ride I was on a bike path. In fact throughout the country bike paths are quite prominent. For me personally, these rides tend to pass by fairly quickly as oppose to riding laps in central park or riding over the GWB. I often find myself starring far into the distance over foreign landscape, breathing in the fresh cow manure/horse manure. The time spent on the bike is one that is enjoyed each moment, after each and every pedal stroke. The people here are extremely nice and patient. Cars always stop for cyclist even at an intersection or roundabout to let you through. Many of these gestures are unusually to me as I have personally experience of cab driver's being completely and utterly oblivious of the fact your around.
As I arrived back from my ride, everyone from the house began getting ready for the day, Brugge. Brugge is a historic city situated in west Flanders, it also happens to be the biggest city in this Flemish region of Belgium. The whole house which was about eleven of us traveled down to the train station to catch a train there. The eleven kids are of mixed cultures, some from Texas, one from Tennessee with a crazy hill billy accent, PA, and some couple others. Once we arrived, immediately you see a giant tower rising above all the trees and other houses in the area. In fact I was intrigued with how it looked in person, I've heard of this bell tower called the Belfry before. So my plan was to get to the top. But before we started off touring around, we found ourselves at a cafe serving waffles. Real Belgian waffles. I ordered myself a cappuccino along with a rectangular shape waffle topped with a miniature scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with some sort of strawberry sauce. Some of the other kids ordered their's with speculos, a paste that is a popular treat here in Belgium.
So finally we set off. And each step I took was towards the Belfry tower. As I entered, I was in awe of the towers architecture and the condition it has been kept in. The admission was 4 euros and the tour comprised of a trip up 366 flights of stairs that spiral through the tower. Each step was about 3-4 feet in length and wider at one end then the other. There was also a solid piece of rope that visitors grabbed onto when you get tired or need some sort of support. Step after step, I realized how much burning I was feeling my legs. There were 4 flights that you step off of, inviting you to see historical bells, instruments and etc. But as we finally made the last few steps up to the top, I was relieved. And the view that accompanied it was amazing. You see the entire city of Brugge in a 360 degree view. I immediately realize how all the houses have red/orange roofs on top of them. Time passed quickly and finally we decided to go downstairs and see the actual city itself. Walking down was actually harder then walking up. One missed stepped meant either you were falling of you were going to make others fall, so we were careful.
The city itself is a tourist area, like NYC. Many shopping stores, some familiar, others not so much. Restaurants are scattered throughout Brugge as well. We snapped ourselves many photos as we toured around and eventually we were hungry again. So we sat down at a outdoor restaurant, ordering ourselves some real food. Not pastries. I ordered a Filet Mignon with some Merlot, frites and salad accompanying it. Medium rare of course. A couple of the other kids that I split up with ordered pasta and some mussels......As the food arrived, the waitress starred into the sky telling us maybe it will be raining soon. However, we ignored this up until the flash of lightning or thunder presented itself upon us. So we decided to move under a table with an umbrella. The meal was great and we needed to meet up with the director at the town square as we initially planned as it was time to go home after hours of walking around. Finally we got on a train and I was exhausted from all the walking. Immediately I dozed off but not for long due to the little children that entered the train, They yelled, played, and cried. All expected behaviors of 5-10 year old kids.
As we finally arrived in Oudenaarde, I dropped dead on my bed as I have never walked some much in my life. However I did enjoy Brugge today. It was a great day with many laughter and great memories. The kid with the hill billy accent, Taylor made me my day as I laugh all day as his accent was incredibly rich, always talking about Nascar and cursing. That's all for today....stay tune for some racing.
Hi everybody. Today I bring you race action numero dos. The morning was the usual.....however the past few days I have been going to the cafes which is about 1km away from the house. The meals tend to consist rich chocolate croissants with a cappuccino. I also have been going to the cafes for lunch prior to races, ordering myself either pasta bolognese or a panini. My desert is always gelato, emphasis on always. Although Im eating some of the richest food I've eaten all year.....Im still losing weight. I came at exactly 65 kilogram and today after weighing myself I dropped down to 63.
Enough rubbish and down to the action. Today's race was 116km and 14 laps in Kortrijk, you can do the math here. The director wanted to drive my fellow u23 compatriot and I to the race but I decided to ride over as a warm up, spinning the legs out. The ride out was 30km, so I figured I get there within an hour or so. I rode there with a Scottish friend I made over here, Finley. He has about the same experience as me as far as cycling goes and have a bit in common. As we arrived, we registered and I got my lucky number 69......not really, I have no lucky number. I waited for about a hour or so and lined up at the start. However the start was delayed and I began to get hungry. I contemplated buying a bratwurst from a local grilling up a storm. But eventually we rolled off, I took the first lap in front to see how the actual course would be like and how fast the guys wanted to corner through the turns. One thing I have realized while racing here is that Belgians don't take corners quite as well as my fellow Americans(George Bush just came to my mind).....screw him. They tend to brake or slow down and sprint out of the corners like it's a matter of life or death. I like to use the term accordion effect because thats exactly how it feels after each corner. The course was one that had a little section of cobbles. However the entire field including myself used the curb to ride on rather then the harsh cobble. This made the race more technical as we had to bunny hop several times throughout the race.
The first few laps were the most decisive ones. A break of 7 went off the front today and I took a flyer for 1-2km trying to bridge over in "no mans land". When I started closing it, one guy from the break turned around and attacked refusing me to get into the break. As I saw this occur, I began to die and the field caught me. I sat in for the next few laps trying to recover and I did. I felt great up until I began to run low on water. However I was in luck because my director was handing out bottles. My first attempt to grab a bottle was an epic fail, it hit me right in my right chest and ricochet to the ground. As this was occurring I began to panic and the stress caused me to lose it. My edge was suddenly gone for some reason.....
With 5 laps to go I began to struggle but was unwillingly going to give up. So I fought through the pain and minor cramps began to occur, emphasis on minor. I did have 5 bottles or so of water so it wasn't because of hydration. Everyone took flyers to catch the 8 that were away but none were successful. However several groups sneaked away as I was stuck in the middle handicapped. My goal was to just survive and maybe go for the sprint to get in the money. With 2 laps to go someone offered a hand sling and I took it and tried to chase down a group that sneaked away. I closed it down dragging along to field as we caught them. Another thing I've noticed here is if you open up a gap or can't keep up the pace anymore, you either are yelled at or you can be a gentlemen and offer a hand sling to the man behind you. This is so that it is easier for them to close the gap you just opened. With one to go, everyone fought to get up front and I was cooked at this point but wanted a go at it regardless. I tried to go for it but realized sprinting for 30-40 was no worth it. So I rolled across the line. At this point I was cooked, my entire body ached as if I had arthritis. Everything from my back to my neck hurt and I could pedal no more. I immediately rode to the bar where registration was and order myself two cups of Coke Cola.
Arriving back to the house the British kids and some of the American kids orders some pizza and I could not decline. I rode down to the square to buy myself Leffe Bruin to accompany the meal. Personally I feel this was well deserved, so don't criticize me here.....I love my cheese, beer, and pastries. That's all for today, tomorrow is another race day in Balegem. Balegem is the course I had to pull out of last year due to a newspaper getting stuck under my fork......
Au revoir. Today was another day of racing here in Belgium. The town it was situated in was Balegem. As previously mentioned earlier on, I've had some bad luck on this course last year due to a newspaper being stuck in my fork. When this occurred the break had just started to establish itself last year. However last year was the past, and today I was hoping for better luck and good legs.
The morning was quite uneventful, just the usual. As it hit half past noon I began to kit up and ride over to one of my mates houses in the town square. We were riding over to the race as opposed to driving since I like to open up my legs and have a good warm up before a race. The sky seem to be threatening us with rain. But as we arrived there after 20 kilometers the heavens eventually opened up and the sun was shining upon us. I was relieved because I know the course has tons of corners with some having a bit of cobble. So no rain meant safer race, not that Im criticizing anybody's handling skills here(no sarcasm inserted). Before the race I drank myself a coke cola to get some caffeine in me because I began to feel sleepy due to the humidity that afternoon...
Eventually we lined up to the start line and everyone tried to begin the race up front since the start was up a hill. The race was 114km and each lap consisted of 8 km of exposed cornfields with numerous 90 degree bends. The hill was by no means long but it was better if you stayed up front, eliminating the risk of getting caught behind someone who clipped into there pedals improperly. As the race rolled off we crested the hill and freewheeled down the hill, turning on a 90 degree turn straight onto a three lane highway. After that the flurries of attacks occurred. Many tried to get away and eventually eight did. There was a crash as we headed towards the corn field and everyone slowed down letting the eight sneak away in the process. The field chased and chased but to no success. The break held onto an one minute lead and sticked it out.
To say this race sucked is no understatement, I was suffering on the hill. Each and every time we turned onto the base of the hill I was just hoping to make pass the top. The field would make a left hand 90 degree turn at around 10 kph and sprint up to 50 kph up the hill. I popped up the hill with 3 laps to go.....that moment I saw the gap open I beat myself up for it. I tried to catch back on but there was nothing left in the legs. Later I found out that two ex-pros were dropped in that race and several others as well since the group I was in was about 30 or so. The race started with about 70? So I was still disappointed but to know that some former professional cyclist dropped out was a bit of relief for me. However Im still my own worst critic and rode back to the house reminiscing about what really went wrong.....
That's all the action for today, everything after was irrelevant since all I did was recover and had some beer to aid my mind and soul from my disappointing day. My beer of choice that evening was Hoesgaarden.
Hi everybody, today is my last day here and I spent it nicely with some of my new friends I made here. We started the day off in the afternoon at the Flanders museum, which is about 1 km from the house Im staying at. As we met we were all hungry and decided to grab lunch in Wallonia. The ride was roughly 20 kilometers away and on the way there we stopped by a bike shop called Jowan in Kluisbergen. This shop had two floors and was quite "posh" as my fellow Brit friends would say. They bought some socks and I bought some new shoes since my Specialized were no longer usable. Somehow the buckle broke during the race yesterday in Balegem. I realized this because every time we come out of a turn I would pull up on my pedal and the shoe would undo itself. So I "fancied" myself a pair of Sidi Ergo 2 with blue patent leather, it was quite nice and the price was half that of what it is in the states so I could not resist......Everyone else bought high top socks, no ankle. Everyone in Belgium wears high tops because "it's so pro". Sorry for the quotations today.
After the bike shop we rode up a decent hill and battled it out to the top, where the restaurant was. As we sat down gasping for air, I realized this restaurant was French and I was correct. I was told this part of Belgium was the French speaking part, not Flemish. However this did not matter as the food was great. I ordered an omelette and one of the Brits order a half chicken. Yes an entire half chicken. He said it was good and I could tell because he finished his plate in about 5 minutes. We laughed and joke during the meal, making fun of the waiter that was apparently ignoring us. We tried to get his attention several times and he saw us!! But turned his face each time.....Finally he came around and we got the check and left. No tip left because they accept no tips here in Belgium.
We rolled off and within a few moments we found ourselves riding with a Belgian team, doing a reconnaissance ride. Turns out the Brits I was with were doing a UCI 1.1 race here on saturday. The course included some of the roughest roads here in Belgium. We did the Kluisberg, Kwaremont, Knokteberg and Patterberg. The Belgians we were with seemed to have wanted to compete with us and went all out on everyone of them. I could not follow as I was unaccustomed to these treacherous roads. My wheel got stuck in between some of the cobbles!.
After the ride we went back to the Flanders museum and sat the the cafe watching the last hour of the Vuelta de Espana. We chatted and had some drink. And eventually checked out the shop at the museum as I wanted a souvenir. Nothing was to my liking but It didn't matter as I would not forget anything about this trip. I enjoyed every moment, every laugh, and every disappointing moment during the trip. I could not have asked for a better ending to the summer....THANK YOU CRCA! and thanks for everyone who has been following my blog. I thank you for your time and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. I will be back in Belgium next year for the entire summer. One week and half was not enough to take in Belgium for all it's have to offer. Until then.....Dank U. Merci beaucoup. Glacias. Thank you. Obrigado. Xie Xie.