By Ben Andrews
With just over 6 weeks until I jump onto a plane to Belgium, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on last year’s trip and expectations for my 2017 trip.
Belgium racing is unique and different from competing here in Australia. Like in Australia they have different levels of racing (Pro, U23 and Amateur), however the majority of the races are run in the form of kermesses. These are 3 hour races or roughly 120km at the amateur level, and consist of multiple laps of a technical 8-12km circuit with up to 15 corners per lap.
The races are based in a local country town or village, which most of the town people come out to watch. Often a town will put on a festival, which means lots of beer and sausages! Betting happens amongst the locals and you can even bet on yourself or a team mate if you want to!
Belgian riders like to take corners slow and sprint hard out of them in attempt to brake your legs. This tactic is very effective over the course of a 3-hour race. Unlike Australia, they aren’t particularly risk adverse. They will run a race down any road despite copious amounts of road furniture thrown in and they don’t care how narrow the road may be. Narrow farming roads as seen in races such as Paris Roubaix are the stomping ground for Belgians.
We did a race last year in Ingelmunster with 200 starters. It headed out of town on a big, wide, three-lane road before making a 130 degree turn onto the small farming road with a crazy cross wind. Just after the corner – as the road was narrowing – there was a bus stop on the left that forced riders to funnel practically into single file. On one of the laps I ducked in at the last second trying to move up places before the cross-wind section, managing to avoid the bus stop at the last moment. I heard this massive bang behind me! Unfortunately for the rider behind me he did not have my timing, and face planted into it.
Reflecting on last year, the racing was hot and quick from the gun with a break keen to get away. Matt De Vroet and I both competed a race in Beitem in which Matt rode the break for the major part of race. The opening hour the race I had an average heart rate (HR) of 177 bpm just sitting in the peloton and trying not to get tailed out the back. Matt on the other hand got into the break in the opening laps which establish a sufficient lead and went to the line in the end. This enormous effort can be seen in his power and HR data. For 118.5 km Matt averaged 287 watts and produced an average HR of 189 for just under 3 hours. Add a 40km ride to and from the race and you have a good day on the pedals. Just to highlight how hard the race is, this wasn’t even for a podium place!
My plan this year is travel over mid-June and return in August. I’m most looking forward to the racing, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t also looking forwards to consuming waffles, speculoos, amazing pastries and cheap beer! I’ll be able to do 2-4 races a week and hopefully do some longer endurances rides combined with some tourist hotspots. The trip will also include a training week in Como, Italy, in between racing in Belgium. Stay tuned for updates!
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