Kermesses are the local races in Belgium. On almost any day, you may be able to find a Kermessese within an hour’s drive. Usually on a lap of 4-12 km, they consist of many challenges. A race may include technical sections, rough roads, stiff winds and in some cases, a short climb. For the Zulzeke Kermesse, we had it all.
The winds kicked up for 70 percent of the course, the Kapelburg was a 1.5 km climb, and since it had recently rained, many corners had puddles in them. Plus, there was a huge crack down the middle of the whole finishing straight.
The USA Team arrived in our massive blue Sprinter van ready to go. All except for one of us had gone at it in a Belgian race. The team went to registration in a bar, eager to get going, however, since this was the first Wielerclub Vlaanderen Race of the year for us, we had to get race cards from the officials. Add in a language barrier and it was a big mess. Eventually, we navigated the bureaucracy of the Federation and received our numbers. We pre-rode most of the course, except for one of the harder sections, as the signs weren’t crystal clear and the marshal directed us the wrong way. The pre-ride still gave us some idea of what lie ahead.
At the start line, I was the calmest I have ever been before a Kermesse. Since this was my second time in Belgium, I was not afraid to slide up the gutter, dive a corner, or get personal with some Wallonian. The gun went off, and there was an attack within the first 100 meters. Over the climb, my teammate Michael Dessau followed a move and was off by 20 seconds. At that time I could focus on positions, sit up, and relax a bit.
At the start of the second lap, Michael was caught. I went with some digs, which in turn whittled the group down on the climb, with the help of the crosswinds. On the third lap, my teammate, Alexey Vermeulen, and I decided it was time to shred. I attacked hard up the Kapelburg with Alexey completing the work on the sharp descent. We had a group of around 15, which Alexey and I decided was to hard to easily manage. We busted the climb again on the fourth lap, and then rested for another pack-busting brawl.
Soon, I signaled to Alexey that it was all out in the crosswinds. We traded pulls until our group was whittled down to five this time. This was the perfect number – someone to hide behind, but always in position. We continued on with a Frenchman and two Belgians for the next five laps.
I attacked with three to go, hoping to bring Alexey with me, however, the attack went nowhere. With two to go, the Frenchman went away on the uphill finishing drag. I dove into the short descent, then into the climb where I caught him. By his point, I had worked a ton, and was pretty much worked. We traded some pulls, but I was skipping some. When we went into the final climb, I was praying he wouldn’t attack. In broken English, he said, “No attacking,” and I breathed a sigh of relief. We kept a rhythm to the finish, but he popped me in the sprint.
This was a successful day, as it was my first race back in Europe this year, and yesterday, I discovered I was beaten by some real talent. My break companion showed up with the French National Team at the prestigious Peace Race – a race which I’ll also be competing in May 3-6. For more details about the Peace Race, check out the website at http://www.zmj.cz/en/introduction.