Thursday, June 28, 2007

Story - Experiencing the Belgian Kermesses - Pro Sightings

My reminiscing of the trip to Belgium really sparked something in me. And I keep remembering more and more. I'd dig out the bike memorabilia box but it's in the PODS right now - I have the bike magazines, the UCI license, and a few pictures of us in Belgium (as well as pics from that last race). Maybe later.

One bit I glossed over was the fact that you'd run across pros all the time. With half a dozen large squads based in a lower Southern New England area, and with a deluge of Classics about to happen, virtually all single-day type pros were in the area.

The first pro we saw was a PDM rider. We were riding along looking for a Route 32 or something. The roads are really small - and this numbered road was a lane and a half wide. We were stopped and stared at the tiny road, not believing it's a "main" road. Then a PDM rider rides out of the road and goes by us. We thought "what a poser, PDM jersey, PDM tights, PDM gloves , PDM hat, PDM bike...." We looked at each other, then down the road. "You think he was a...?" lol.

While we were riding there we rode by the Buckler team... or had it just changed. I don't remember. SuperConfex? Anyway, Jelle Nijdam was in the group of about 10. He's an insanely fast finisher 'a la Ekimov' and did some incredible racing in the Classics and the Tour. As they rode by (like 10 feet away - it was probably a major thoroughfare) I pointed at him and screamed out to my teammate "That's Jelle Nijdam!!!!". The guys were laughing. I must have looked like a 12 year old girl at a Britney Spears concert.

Finally, near the end, we got lost training in Holland. We stop on some busy street and am looking at a map. Suddenly, not 20 feet away, from between two trucks, Adri Van der Poel blasts out onto the street, full Tulip gear. We scrambled into our pedals and took off. Van der Poel caught onto a moped (planned? I don't know, maybe) and started motorpacing at about 35 mph.

We made a big effort to get on. My teammate John yelled something like "where are we going?" and I was yelling "It's Van der Poel, I don't care". We rode on his wheel for a few kms and then I realized I have a camera in my jersey pocket. But if I take the picture I lose the wheel. But if I don't, no proof of Adri. I reached for the camera, pulled it out, and sat up to take a picture. I lost the wheel and couldn't get back on. I kept going - about 5 km later my teammate is riding back to me. "What happened?" "I wanted to take a picture". Two really fuzzy pictures and you can barely see the unique Tulip team jersey color but yeah, I have a pic of my teammate John on Adri Van der Poel's wheel. lol.

When I left Belgium it was right after some Classic had just happened. I was in the airport and got all these looks as I was wearing my team jacket and dragging around a bike bag and a duffle bag (no one in Europe used duffle bags at the time - only athletes). There were a lot of people there (of course). Some were dressed up like schoolboys - blazer, shirt, slacks. Then I noticed "Panasonic" on the cheesy blazers. Company reps probably, dressed like a Japanese corporation would make them dress. And I realized the guy with the forehead was Olaf Ludwig. And the guy next to him was Theo De Rooy (he was on CBS's Tour and Paris Roubaix coverage a lot). Then Peter Post came by pushing a cart loaded with nylon bike bags. They were all looking at me like "wtf is this dude".

I didn't have the courage to say anything to them so just picked my jaw off the floor and kept going.

I saw that a lot of people were around someone who had a heart attack or something - someone on the ground. I went over as I had time and things were a bit weird - no paramedic types but lots of yelling and shoving and stuff. I pushed my way in there. On the floor was a PDM rider, sitting, talking to all these mics stuck in his face. It wasn't Sean Kelly and I wished that I'd memorized all the team rosters so I could tell who this redhead was.

On an aside, the other thing that struck me (as an American) were the security guards nonchalantly carrying worn Uzi's around. The only time I've seen comparable weapons in US public transportation areas was after 9/11. When I lived in Holland though there were a lot of train hijackings in the area so I suppose everyone was used to it.

Overall the trip was a blast. John ended up quitting soon after - he went there thinking he'd be a Cat 2 or better (he had some insanely good rides the previous year). For him the trip was a dream breaker. For me, the trip was simply a chance to revisit where I grew up (Holland), stay with my family, and do some hardcore racing. I had no aspirations of being a pro so enjoyed every part of the riding and racing we did.

It only made me love racing more.


Mike Starr said...

Keep up the reminiscing! You've got me wanting to start jotting down my stories as well. Trust me, anyone that even thinks about heading over, will eat this stuff up.

Aki said...

You should jot down your stories. Everyone can read about how such and such super pro attacked on whatever mountain and dropped the rest of the break in the Tour/Giro/Vuelta. But to hear the nitty gritty of what it's like just below that, at a "real world" level, to me that's fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Your stories sustain me. Please write more!