Strava Pro and Cannodale-Garmin Cycling Team rider Ted King recounts one of the craziest races he has ever experienced at Gent-Wevelgem in Belgium.
My ten year college reunion takes place this June, which means two things: one, I’m pleased with my decision to take my degree and thus far turn it into a ten years professional cycling career. And two, this has sparked the chance to catch up with friends seeing if they’re going back to campus this summer. Speaking further with one friend in particular, she’s excited to have slotted a trip to Europe this fall for vacation. At which point she sighed and said something that stuck with me,
Your work is my vacation. (I’m just guessing you don’t work on public policy in your vacation…?)
The timing of this conversation struck a chord, taking place this past Monday, the day after Gent-Wevelgem. It was early in the morning and walking by my bathroom mirror, a small cut just an inch from my eye and directly on my temple caught my attention. I hadn’t noticed it the evening before while cleaning up and decompressing from the race, but with my mind wandering now as to where this might have happened, it was here that I remembered getting smacked in the head with a bike mid-race. What figuratively struck me then, is that this did not occur in the scrum on the ground amid some crash. Instead, we were racing through yet another nameless Belgian hamlet and that I was on my bike as this happened, in what I would easily classify as the craziest race I’ve ever experienced, Gent-Wevelgem 2015.
Our sports director, Andreas Klier, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the northern European countryside. He can tell you to the minute at which point we’ll hit a climb or exactly where the peloton will split based on the cow path roads, the wind direction, and the minute circumstances of the race. With overall a very young team, but bursting with talent, we will sit down the evening before a race and go over the plan for the next day. Each of the eight riders has a very specific role, which provides objective focus… and piles on a decent amount of stress. Concluding the meeting, we shuffle back to our rooms and thumb through the race bible for last minute absorption one more time before bed. Overnight we literally dream of the bike race and where our jobs will lead us and the team the next day.
The morning of a race is actually quite rote. Rise from bed, scoot down to breakfast to shovel in lots of carbs, then onto the bus, we kit up while driving to the start, park in a distinct team area overflowing with fans, snake our way through throngs of enthusiastic Belgians to sign-on, zip back to the bus, down a quick coffee, crack a joke among teammates, and then to the start. All the while we’re internalizing our job as the angst continues to mount right up until the start flag drops.
Rewind to three days prior Gent-Wevelgem, during an atypically sunny E3-Harelbeke, the weather forecast predicted wet and wild conditions on race-day Sunday. That, however, sounds like the weather forecast for any Belgian spring day, so that doesn’t hold much water, so to speak. Having sleepily woken up a half dozen times overnight to the howling wind, however, it quickly became evident as we went about our morning routine just how one-of-a-kind this day would be. Driving to the start, with trees already down across the road, rain pelting the bus windows with echoing force, and seeing the sky scrapingly industrial windmills spinning circles at frightening speeds, everyone quickly knew just how ridiculous this day would be. Converse to intuition, rather than increasing the stress inside the bus though, precisely what was swirling outside of the bus actually cooled the mood, realizing that these conditions resembled something one might classify as biblical rather than under the category of “bike race”.
With wind consistently blowing above 40mph and gusting upwards of 60mph, the peloton was already splintering in the neutral section. As the start flag dropped, the temperature hovered just north of the freezing point. Minutes into the race and with the wind speed ever increasing, there were already DNFs — once dropped here, you’re definitely never going to return to the peloton. Having to lean into the wind more than I’ve ever done before, we were riding at angles that one colleague of mine noted, “I only thought was possible when riding the track.” Angling fifteen, twenty, sometimes even thirty degrees into the wind was mandatory so as to not topple over. Even so, gusts would require us to quickly freeze pedaling and focus all energy on steering our bikes. Precariously racing alongside the characteristic Belgian canals, despite our best efforts, the wind-shattered peloton and chaotic echelons literally sent riders into the ditch and careening into the canals. Between billowing gusts, riders at the tail end of the peloton would turn to the race officials and make the universal hand-across-neck gesture indicating “Cut the race!” To no avail.
160 of the 199 racers to start did cut their day short, because of crashes, ending up in a ditch (as I did) or worse yet a canal, or simply because of just how downright — dare I say it — epic this day was.
Somewhere in this madness, an errant bike launched and knocked me in the head leaving a cut on my temple which I notice as I walk by the bathroom mirror. My mind continued to wander while talking to my friend, eager to catch up this summer. Yes, I agree, this crazy/fun/wild/zany/dangerous/
Enjoy your vacation this fall. And no, I don’t practice public policy on my holidays.
Check out Ted King’s race activity and give him some kudos for the epic effort: strava.com/activities/276172106