The temperature: 90 degrees F (30 degrees C), the place: a small café
tucked away in Antwerp, the distance: 100 miles (159 km), the race:
Antwerpen-Tielen for elite without contract.
That's where my day started following the ABC-Aitos team, the guys
from the Cycling Center based in Oostende (click here for the
Cycling Center hub at the Daily Peloton).
As I arrived at the café where the race was to start I found the team
tucked away under the bridge looking for some shade. Bernard Moerman
(director Sportif) and Corey Hart (coach) were preparing the bikes
while the riders were eating something and got changed. The
atmosphere was very relaxed as the music shouted out from the radio
"Born in the USA" from Bruce Springsteen and Nick explains "It's hard
to be an Australian in those situations". Nick White is the only
Australian in a team full of Americans but he seemed to manage pretty
well. The other members of the team there that day: Jacob Fetty
for his diary on the race), Austin King, Brian Adams, Gregg Germer and
Corey and Bernard preparing the bikes
Jacob pulling funny faces
It was still 2 hours to go before the race started so it was first
time to attend the pre-race meeting. Although I wasn't allowed
inside, Ann (Bernard's wife and the mum of the house) was
explaining me what was going on in there. Of all the teams present
they would do a draw to determine the order of the team cars.
ABC-Aitos got unlucky and was car 18, so very far off the back. Other
information like the explanation of the route was given which Bernard
would then pass on to the riders.
Bernard giving explanations
The route would be as follows: a first part from Antwerp to Tielen
over 69 km, a big local lap around Tielen and then 3 smaller local
laps of each 9.7km. Two cobble sections would have to be passed, one
after 42.2 km and the other after 90 km. The riders would pass the
feeding zone 4 times (once during the big local lap then 3 times
during the smaller laps).
The riders listened carefully to Bernard's explanation and then to
Pete's inside information on the first cobble section as he raced it
in the Tour of Antwerp (click here for part one
of his diary) so he was able to tell the others about the 90 degree turn
before arriving on the cobbles. Today, they were lucky in the way
that it hadn't rained so the cobble sections weren't too slippery.
Corey then got passed the word as he started explaining the team
tactics. By then, it was almost time to go and after looking for some
last minute changes, preparing the radios, etc. the riders left one
by one as the start was a bit further down the road.
Pinning on their numbers (Nick, Mike, Austin, Brian)
Nick before the start
So the race was off and I joined Ann at the feeding zone. We were
regularly in contact with Bernard and Corey in the car through the
mobile phones. We got some important information like that there were
Austin and Jacob in the front group, Gregg, Brian and Mike in the
peloton and that Nick had abandoned. He had some problems on the
first cobbles sections and couldn't get back to the main pack. He
found us quite quickly and went for a ride on his own in the mean
time. It was time for the first visit to the feeding zone for the
ones still in the race.
For someone who has never seen a bunch of riders battling it out in
the feeding zone it is quite an impressive happening. Ann was ready to give
the riders their bottles of water (really important in that weather!!) while
there were some other teams joking around that Ann wouldn't be able to
give them all their bottles. She proved them wrong as all riders
managed to get their hands on their drinks.
Ann at the feed zone
The first passing at the feeding zone was over quite quickly and we
had to wait another hour before seeing them again. In the mean time,
I talked with Ann about the Cycling Center, the riders, the progress
they made, the problems they have had... We talked about everything
and I might have heard before that she was supposed to be the mum of
the house, well, I found out for myself that day. The riders can be very
lucky that she is there.
In the mean time, the situation in the race hadn't changed very much.
15 riders were up front with Jacob and Austin from the ABC-Aitos
team. Austin had been dropped from the leaders group after a flat.
But while he managed to stay in the race, Mike had given up. He had
suffered from a puncture on the cobble section (which was reached 10
minutes ahead of schedule) together with about 15 other guys. It was
time for him to head the showers.
So down to four for ABC-Aitos.
Now the riders would pass the feeding zone very fast. Every 13
minutes. As the race was very nervous, the passing at the feed zone
would be our only hints of what the situation of the race was.
2nd feeding: Jacob still up front looking good with a gap of 1m30s.
Brian, Austin and Gregg in the peloton.
Jacob pulling up front in the break
3rd feeding: Same situation only the gap had grown to 2 minutes.
4th feeding: The leading group fell apart as we saw two riders attack
just in front of us. They formed a group of 7...without Jacob. The
race was more or less over for ABC-Aitos as it appeared that the 7
leaders would stay away. Jacob had given it his best but it didn't
work out. But good job!!!
It was the last lap now and after the peloton had caught the chasers,
it broke up completely. It was now time to head for the finish to
take care of the riders there. Walking towards the finish we passed
Brian and Austin who had given up by then as they were in the group
that was just too far behind. They looked dead beat and Ann was very
supportive (like a real mum as I said before) and just giving them a
wet towel to wash off and extra drinks. Not much words were needed,
just her presence was enough. While the two went back to the team
van, we were waiting for the last two to finish the race: Gregg
Germer and Jacob Fetty. The speakers were telling us that number 41
had won the race, but no name given. We didn't need to know...Ann just
counted the number of riders coming in while waiting for our guys.
Over 20 so no prizes today, but a huge effort by Jacob and the others!
Again Ann was just there with water (not too cold of course!) and the
Back at the van it was time for the riders to get changed. It was
quiet in the team camp. Bernard arrived and gave a pat on the back to
the riders, again, no words necessary.
Soon everyone was ready to go again: riders changed, bikes on the car,
punctured tires had been picked up from the neutral car. As no one
finished in the first 20-25 places, we didn't need to wait for any
prize money. Not this time. On the ride back (2 hours) the riders
were very much to themselves. Just reading or listening to some
Back in Oostende it was all quite hectic as there was the unloading of
the van and car from the race in Antwerp and the loading of the car
for the next race: UCI 1.5 in Austria, a stage race (rider's diaries
online later!) and very important for them. They would need to leave
at 5am and drive for 14 hours, arriving just in time for the guys to
go for a ride to loosen up the muscles in the evening. So
unfortunately, not that much time to talk, but Bernard promised us
more news very soon!
As the race was over the day came to an end as well but not before
going out for dinner with Nick in Oostende. We planned this a while
ago, but due to lack of time (I had to take the train back home) we
only managed to have an ice cream (for me - Nick just had a drink) and
a walk to the train station, but even though our time was very short,
I really appreciated it. For the ones curious, he is just as nice as
he seems from his diaries! Nick is back in his homeland Australia
now, but he plans to be back in February, so be sure to keep checking
our websites for his diaries and of course the diaries of all other
riders who will still be racing very hard the next few weeks!