Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Cyclo

If you train for events, at any level, and set goals and plot and scheme and work towards them you may experience, here and there, what I call “The Magic Day”.

The Magic Day cannot be accounted for, you may be feeling good in the run up to it, but it always takes you by surprise. I think adrenaline is part of the cocktail, because I don’t remember ever having one in training. Put simply, on a Magic Day, you can do no wrong. Pedals turn on any terrain, moves work, you know nothing can touch you.

I have had, in my 18 years of cycling, 4 of them, my last was in 2012. I barely experience them on the day, they just carry me along in a bubble until, after I finish, I find myself thinking ” good God, that felt great!”

And so, the day after the pro race, I find myself at the Kuipeke in Gent (home of the 6 day) looking for my club mate I’d agreed to ride with, not finding him and setting off for my first cyclo in 18 months, after my first good winter of training in 2 years.

I’d decided at the start of winter when I plotted out a schedule involving 4 events longer than 200km that I’d tackle them by riding within myself until there was 100km left and then going hard to the finish, as Omloop’s longest option was 105km I was happy just to blast from start to finish.

The first 15km were along the famed Scheldpad, a wide, flat and traffic free path alongside the river. I’d decided to get in a group here, roll along at 35kph and save a bit for when I’d need later. Sure enough I found myself engaging in the very Flemish activity of shouldering people to keep my place and stay out of the gutter in a brisk headwind, great fun.

On leaving the Schelde, we took a steady climb out of Gavere and some twisty farm roads into Oudenaarde that I hadn’t been on before. Eat, eat eat. Drink, drink drink. Resist urge to pee… Another good group moving pretty quickly and working well together saw me through to the first feed stop and blessed relief.

Again, I wanted a few people around me on the road out of Oudenaarde and into the Vlaams Ardennen where the cyclo course joins the professional route for its last 65km. I was happy to sit at the back of this and take a tow to the bottom of the Taainberg.

I’ve never really got on with this hill, its always just a bit too steep a bit too late in the ride. Today though, as soon as I got on it, my pedals were just rolling over. I’m the saddle, in the storm drain, only going on the stones to get by riders I got in the big ring at the top and pushed my speed over the top and into the sweeping descent into the next little valley. Strava tells me that not only was this my best ride on the hill, but top 100 out of over 8000 riders, the power of the magic day, boys and girls.

The next phase took in the Eikenberg, where the photo was taken, and a fast run along the main road to Horebeke where I first spotted, 200m ahead, a rider on a mountain bike that i could not reel in. Down a little drop towards the next set of cobbles, I caught him. On Haghoek, he passed me again, on the Leberg, I caught him, on the Molenberg he got me again. We must have leapfrogged each other 5 times, he was pulling 35kph on the flat on a mountain bike! Just before Paddestraat, I realised why. He had an old Lazer helmet on with Quick Step livery from back the 2000s and under it the name Kevin Van Impe. It was lucky i saw it when I did, as he waltzed away from me on Paddestraat, into the distance. Klasse, as they say.

After Paddestraat, there’s only 20km to the finish on SintPietersPlein in Gent and I’d resolved to time trial to the finish from that point. I began my “emptying out” on the cobbles of Lippenhovenstraat and caught a couple of guys as we turned back into the wind. 5km of twisting farm roads follow that (I almost missed the turn at one, riding hard on the front!), and then you have the last obstacle; 2km of well set cobbles on Lange Munte. Today, we were right in the teeth of a 30kph headwind. My companions were gone, wanting to ride a little easier. I kept hopping up to little islands of 3 or so riders, only to find they were grovelling along at 15kph and so any shelter they could offer would cost me all my momemtumn. Then I saw Kevin again. He rode for Quick Step so he must know his way around the windwind, i reasoned. Turned out,hauling  the mountain bike around was finally catching up with him, he dropped in behind me as soon as he saw me and then waved me on at the return to tarmac.

The final 10km is a slightly downhill main road drag back into Gent, ridden on my own, as hard as I still could. The wind was behind me again now and I was enjoying the feeling of spinning a big gear on the road I’d watched Standard, Boonen and Terpstra on the day before.

Over the finish line, I stopped the clock. I’d targeted an average speed of 27kph for all 6 of my cyclos for the spring and found that I’d held 28.9 for the 105km, for a top 10 time of 03:39.

Not to go too “coach” on you, but my enjoyment of these events comes from the process, not the end result. All the work I put in from October to February was the bedrock of that performance and the pleasing part was being able to ride exactly as I wanted.


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