Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back on the "road"

I haven't done much road racing lately. In fact, I think I only did one (a criterium) last year. This year, I'm back to road racing and last weekend was the Mead Roubaix. It's tough to call it a road race since half of it is on rough dirt, but since I was on a road bike I guess it's a road race. The race was 3 laps on a 12 mile loop, with 6 of those miles on dirt. My road season is pretty unstructured back this year, so I wasn't sure quite what to expect out of my fitness. I just wanted to ride smart and keep all of my skin.

I pre-rode the course on Friday, so I knew what to expect and I knew where I wanted to be. As we approached the first dirt section, I rode to the front of the group and set a quicker pace to (hopefully) get the group single filed. Regardless of what was happening behind me, I was able to pick my own line through the gravel, which was pretty nice.

Everyone took the opportunity to recover when we hit the pavement again. While the first dirt section was pretty consistent and flat, the next one was pretty killer. It's covered with washboard for a while, then you have a 2-tierd climb to make it over (after you're gassed from powering over the washboard). I started near the front, but I was getting passed by people who were a little more on the gas. I managed to stay on the tail end of the lead group up the climb and through to the end of the first lap.

The pace was still high on the second lap, but I was hanging in there okay. I got gapped as we hit the downhill pavement and had to work really hard to get back into the group. My lack of mass helps me on climbs, but hurts me on descents. If I'm not on someone's wheel, I end up working way too hard while people are coasting.

The next trip through the rough dirt was rougher than the first. I was on the right side of the road when someone came up the gutter and bumped my bars as they bounced around on the dirt. I got pushed left, corrected, and did a little fishtail. Then I felt someone hit my rear wheel and go down. It sucks to be part of a crash like that, but I'm sure that guy understands I wasn't just squirrel-ly (is that a word?) riding around. I lost some ground with that slowdown and never quite regained solid contact. I was just getting to the back of the lead group as we reached the climb. I was nearly in contact after the first tier of the climb, but I was completely gassed and got dropped.

I chased solo for a while, but I wasn't pulling them in. I saw a couple riders coming up behind me, so a sucked down a gel while I waited for them. I didn't have any chance solo, but I thought we might be able to make the catch with three of us. We all worked well together, taking smooth equals pulls, but it wasn't to be. We rode hard enough to not get caught from behind, and I finished 13th.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Paris and Paris-Roubaix

When we started kicking around the idea of this trip and found out that my parents would be in Paris around the same time, we decided that we just had to go to Paris to meet them. We were able to meet up for dinner every night while we were there and it was great fun. We all agreed that we should meet in Paris more often.

Mon and Dad

It wouldn't be a trip to Paris without some croissants. Christine's old favorite was under new management so we weren't sure if they were still awesome. Long story short - they're still amazing and we didn't even bother going through the list of award winning croissants that Christine had printed up. If it ain't broke...
Christine in line at Boulangerie 28

On Easter Sunday we drove out from Paris to see a little bit of the Pariss-Roubaix bike race. Similar to Flander the week before, this is a race that features a lot of cobblestone sections of road. It's a real hardmans race, and I love it. We drove up to the start to watch the riders sign-in and roll out, then we drove up to the one of the famous cobblestone sections - The Trouée d'Arenberg. What an amazingly hellish stretch of "road". We were about 100m meters from the end of the sector and I couldn't believe the speed that the riders were carrying. Unbelievable.
Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

All good things must come to an end, and eventually we had to head home. With a 12:30PM flight, we had enough time to drive by Christine's favorite croissant shop one more time and get a couple to satisfy us until our next trip.

And just in case you wondering, we didn't leave Belgium empty handed:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Normandy

Walking around Saint Bernardus

We checked out of our beer lover's lodging on Thursday morning and drove down to the Normandy region of France. We drove most of the afternoon to get down to Mont Saint-Michel, which is a rocky island that his home to an abbey. Until the late 1800's, you could only get to the island at low tide. Nowadays, the road is accessible all the time. The parking lots, however, are not. As we pulled up to park, there was a sign indicating that the parcking lot would be under water in 2.5 hours. It was less time than we thought we'd need, but we went for it anyway. It turns out that it was just the right amount of time for us to tour the abbey, stop in a couple tourist shops, get a crepe, and leave before the tide buried our car.
Mont Saint-Michel

We stayed in the town of Bayeux that night so we could explore the nearby D-Day beaches the next morning. We spent most of our time at the American Cemetary and Memorial at Omaha Beach. It's a breathtaking place containing over 9,000 graves of American military dead. I was really blown away at the number of people who gave the ultimate sacrifice here to literally change the world. Neither Christine nor I are too versed in WWII history but we learned a lot at their awesome visitor center. We were only thinking we'd make a quick stop here, but we ended up staying for a few hours. Well worth the visit.
American Cemetary at Omaha Beach

American Cemetary at Omaha Beach

On our way into Paris we made one last stop in Giverny to visit Monet's garden. We were going to skip it, but it turned out to be such a beautful day that a walk in the garden sounded great.

Monet Garden
Monet Garden

Monet Garden

Belgium and France 2012 - Wandering around Belgium

We filled some of our other time in Belgium by visiting some new beer cafes and checking out other sights.

- We went to the World Cyclocross Championship course in Koksijde. It turns out there's not much to see there, but we did have a good time shopping and having a picnic at the beach.

- We drove just across the border to Roubaix France to see the famous velodrome where Paris-Roubaix finishes.
Roubaix Velodrome

- Flanders is a big hop growing area, so we went to the hop museum in Poperinge. We only expected it to be mildly interesting, but in actuality it was really interesting. We learned a lot about how hops have been cultivated and sold throughout the years.

- The finishing city of the Tour of Flanders, Oudenaarde, also is the home of the Ronde museum. The race has a rich history in Belgium and they've collected a lot of cool stuff.

Without a doubt one of the trip highlights was having dinner with the Paneels, who run our favorite cafe. (I've babbled ad nauseum about In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst before here and here. We love that place and these people.) On our last trip, they had us over to their house for dinner and we wanted to return the favor by taking them out. We showed up at the house and were greeted like old friends with warm hugs and smiles before they invited us inside to catch up over a nice beer. Their son, Yves, also came over for a little while to chat. He's really involved in the lambic community and we had a good time chatting about some past and upcoming events he's planning. We spent the next couple hours laughing and chatting with a combination of English, French, Dutch, and wild hand gesturing over dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Before we drove back to Flanders, they invited us back inside for a special treat. In celebration of Lydia's birthday, her sons created a custom geuze blended from the region's well known lambic brewers. [Briefly: lambic is a style of beer that uses wild fermentation, aged hops, and a lengthy oak barrel fermentation. Old and young lambics are then blended together by skilled blenders to create what's known as geuze. It's often considered the "wine" of the beer world.] They made 20 bottles of this beer and then the grand kids painted labels for each bottle. 20 bottles of an expertly crafted geuze, and they chose to share one with us. It is truly a special beer, and I felt pretty honored that we qualified as a special occasion. I don't know when it will happen, but I can't wait to go back!


Cuvee Lydia label

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Ronde van Vlaanderen

About a year ago I was watching the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix bike races in front of my TV with a nice beer in hand, and I started thinking about how fun it would be to actually be there. So...I made it happen this year and went to Europe to watch my 2 favorite bike races. I'll take any excuse to go back to Belgium, though. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: Belgium isn't generally the most scenic of places, but there's something about it that feels comfortable. The people are friendly, they love cycling, and they make great beer. What's not to love (I mean, besides the weather)?

De Lambiek MuseumAfter a pleasant trip on Air Canada through Montreal, we arrived in Brussels Saturday morning. I like the fact that we've been to this airport enough that it's familiar. Our first stop was the new Lambic Museum in Beersel, which was worth a visit. If nothing else, they give you a sample of their lambic to taste. Best part - it comes out of a box (like wine in a box). I wish I could have bought some lambic in a box to take home.

On our way out to our B&B in Flanders, we scoped out a good place to watch the Tour of Flanders the next day. The Oude Kwarement had a pretty good setup with beer and food vendors and a large TV so you can watch the rest of the race. That seemed like a good plan for Sunday.

When I was starting to look for a place to stay in Belgium, I found out that there was a B&B right next to the Saint Bernardus brewery. Saint Bernardus is one of our fevorite breweries, and the B&B came equipped with a fridge stocked with all of their beers. Dreamy. Sadly for us, the nearby Westvleteren Abby was closed for the Easter holiday. Tragic, because I'm nearly out of the Westvleteren 12 we brought back from our last trip.

On Ronde race day, we tried to get to the Kwaremont but they had a bunch of the roads closed off. Instead of continuing to drive around trying to find a good route, we parked near a different big climb - The Paterberg. It got used 3 times during the race and they had a similar setup that we say the day before at the Kwaremont. Having seen both on TV now, I think they Paterburg actually looked like a better place to watch from.
Ronde van Vlaanderen - Paterberg

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Paterberg


Ronde van Vlaanderen womenWe were there early enough to walk on the course and check out the whole cobblestone climb. It's nothing you'd want to ride on your relaxing Sunday ride. We then settled in field with a bunch of crazy Belgians, many of whom were several beers into their day. Before too long the pro women rode by. It was fun to see Fort Collins cyclist Amanda Miller tackling that climb. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how nice it is, to see her suffer on a ride. On any ride that I'm on with her, I'm too far off the back to see that suffer-face.

Next up, the big boys came zooming by. I like this picture with Tom Boonen:

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Boonen

You can see the face of pain on Seb Vanmarcke, but Boonen was looking pretty damn comfortable. He eventually went on to win the race, which was no surprise. To be in Belgium watching the Tour of Flanders with a bunch of Belgians when a Belgian wins is awesome. They love their cyclists, and the crowd cheered loudly when Boonen won the sprint. An amazing experience.