HomeBoy Hamburg: A Month of Rest
Greg Reain – our Hamburg-based ‘crosser Homie is under strict orders to take a month of rest. A perfect time to reflect on his racing so far, and the wonders of life in Europe…
It’s over. Ten months of training camps, traveling, euro-bugs, transatlantic flights and suffering at the hands of the ‘cross gods – hard to believe I’m done. It’s a Tuesday in Hamburg and I am prepping for my flight home for a well deserved month-long rest in Ottawa. Johannes still has a couple of races to do in Belgium over the next couple of weeks, so he still has to keep training. Sucker! No rest for the German champion.
He asked me if I wanted to go training today and I was like “no way, DS’s orders – I’m not supposed to ride my bike for a month!”. No joke. I was all amped up to go to South Carolina on February 10th for five weeks or so, but after my slightly less than awe inspiring performance at the Hoogerheide World Cup on January 22nd Enrico tells me I should be resting for a month (more on that later). But first things first – I’ll give you the rundown on the goings on from the Worlds at Zeddam and then pick up the other pieces afterwards.
Greg and roomies Helen Wyman and Barb Howe enjoying the winter training.
This was my second year competing at cyclocross worlds, so I was feeling a lot more comfortable navigating through all the insanity surrounding this event. It’s odd, because in reality a bike race is a bike race, and there should be no fundamental difference between racing at the world championships and racing at a random C2 race anywhere else in the world. There is no reason to change your equipment selection or your pre-race preparations but nonetheless you find yourself looking around at what other guys are using, what workouts they are doing, etc. Last year was really bad for me; I got super freaked out by the course, then I did just about everything wrong in the days and hours leading up to the race. I was never in the right place at the right time, and I was always unsure of what I was doing. I was able to apply that knowledge to my advantage this year, and with the help of a fantastic group of support personnel we got everything right. I was getting in some good time on the course, getting my equipment dialed in and generally just enjoying doing my job.
All this meant that when it came time to take the start I was less nervous and more confident than the year before, and at Worlds that counts for a lot. All the guys are so motivated to do their best ride of the year here, and that leads to errors in judgement that affect all of us. I think that there was a major pileup in every start of the weekend, so I was well prepared to take evasive action. Sure enough, there was some chaos at the start, but I managed to get around and make up some spots with little difficulty. I managed to keep it upright for the rest of the hour in spite of some close calls and made it home in 47th spot. Not exactly medal material, but better than last year.
That’s where I’m going to leave it for Worlds. There is so much coverage floating around the web that you really don’t need to read it all over again here. Back to the start of January then.
If you need cool cycling digs in Belgium, this lady will set you up. Email Jos at [email protected].
Somewhere in Belgium on a Monday
Belgium is cool. I’d kind of forgotten why I like this place so much. Cycling culture just seems to ooze from the muddy farmfields, it seeps up from the cracks between the concrete slabs of the roads and it permeates your soul like the everpresent fog permeates your clothing. If you are captivated by scenes of racers pounding over rough roads lined out across the road in a vain attempt to shelter from the wind then this is where you must be. Italy is fine, Italy is nice, Italy is for the soft. Belgium is for the hard. This is a country that seems to thrive on a perverse ethic of hard work and immense suffering. Perfect. I love it. The level of cycling conciousness in the general population is fantastic; it’s sort of like hockey in Canada – maybe everyone is not a fan, but everyone is aware of the sport to some degree. Cycle racing is appreciated as a sport and people recognize the amount of work that the athletes put into it. This translates into a high degree of respect from drivers when training on the road, and also a very knowledgeable community of fans. Witness the following conversation:
Belgian Volunteer- (something unintelligible in Flemish)
Me – “Sorry, I don’t speak Flemish”
BV – “Oh you must be Greg Reain then.”
Me – “What the???”
I had literally been out of the change rooms for three minutes at Sint Niklaas after changing into my team kit, and since I had not even shown my face in Belgium yet this season I was a little freaked at how this guy knew who I was. I guess it had something to do with the Stevens clothing and the fact that English is clearly my native language. This is relatively normal here though; the fans make an effort to follow the sport, they know who is on what team and they have a pretty good idea (if not perfect knowledge) of a given riders’ results over the course of the season. Often they’ll remember stuff that you did in a race that you won’t even remember. Pretty cool.
Yes, I live in a Farm House
So, I am nicely adjusted to life in Belgium again after having been here for about a week. The bad news is that I have only raced once because I have come down with a nasty cold and I really don’t want to drive myself into the ground before Worlds. It’s hard being in the thick of the racing here and having to chill out, but it’s really for the best. It’s just giving me more time to get acquainted with my new roommates, and another new language, here in Tielt-Winge. Just to set the geographical stage, Tielt is about 40km east of Brussels and 20km north of Leuven (for the even not-too-knowledgeable beer drinker, that’s where they make Stella Artois) and is a nicely rural village – in other words, perfect for biker racers. Right now there five of us here – two Canadians, two Brits and one American. This is an ideal home base for training and racing. For the pavement set, quiet country roads are abundant and an eighty rider strong group rolls out midafternoons twice-weekly for 80km or so. There are flats, small hills and cobbles, and the Ardennes are a within 200km riding distance or a short-ish train ride. For the mudders, there are multiple cyclocross training venues and regular weekly ‘cross training groups for all levels of rider. You can train with the juniors (no pros allowed), or if you need a bit more of a workout you can hit the elite training session where you are just might find Sven Nijs turning some laps.
The house is killer – it sleeps something like twelve people, although there’s only about half of that here now, and is an ideal home base for training and racing. Currently the residents include myself, American ‘cross queen Barb Howe, Canadian Junior ‘cross champ Mike Bidniak, UK ‘cross champ Helen Wyman, Keiran the Irish philosopher, and Dino who is a British guy thoroughly stressed about his first season with a top Belgian U23 road team. You can get in touch with Joscelin, who owns the place, by emailing her: [email protected]. I highly encourage you to check this place out if you are coming to Belgium to ride bikes.
Aah life in the house… apparently no ‘crosser’s nutritional program is complete without a little wine with dinner…
Up until the race at Sint Niklaas on January 2nd, I hadn’t raced on a circuit here this season that I had done last season, so I was having some difficulty measuring my progress. Instinctively, I knew that I was going better and handling the bike better, but nothing concrete aside from my rapidly descending UCI ranking. Incidentally, the only way you can get UCI points here (unless you are one of the best dudes around) is to do World Cups, and since I hadn’t been doing any since I got back here in December I’ve been sliding down the rankings pretty quick. After topping out in 48th place after the end of the Verge New England series in the US I was languishing somewhere around 68th when I went looking for start contracts in January. Not a good bargaining position.
So anyway, St Nik was rad – better start position (2nd row, 75 starters. dope!), waaay faster on the off cambers and through the sand, and I actually got to race some guys instead of suffering on my own, including throwing down the last lap surge to inflict pain on my companions. The result – 33rd last year, 22nd this year. Good enough to send me running to the local bank the next day to open an account into which my prize money could be deposited. Another lovely thing about Belgium, they tax your prize money before they give it to you, hence the bank deposit. If you are a foreigner with no bank account your money gets paid from the organizer to the Belgian federation, to the UCI, to your National federation, then to you. Good luck with that. Once it took the Gil brothers from Poland like two years to get paid (don’t think they pay interest on that though), and some federations just keep the money and feign innocence. I’d rather open a bank account here.
Speaking of racing circuits for a second time, course familiarity and experience count for a lot over here. Just as in road racing, most of the cyclocross courses have existed here for decades, and most of the top racers have been competing on these courses since they started in cyclocross. For the guys at the top of the sport here now, that means anywhere from ten to twenty years worth of races on these courses. That is experience that you cannot hope to duplicate in a few short seasons here. It’s not that there is a lot of track to learn, after all a cross circuit is only about 2.5km long, but in a sport that is run very close to the limit for such a short period of time the smallest differences count.
This has more to do with learning the subtleties of the terrain such as the slight differences in gradient on a climb, or how the firmness of the running surface changes in the length of a field section. These can be seemingly insignificant at first glance, but again, when everyone at this level is running so close to the same speed, saving a tiny bit of energy on a section where one does not stand to make major time gains can pay off enormously on an only slightly more difficult section ten meters further along the circuit. Repeat this by ten laps, and a four or five meter gap becomes forty or fifty by the end of the race, not to mention the psychological gap that is just as real as the physical gap on the road.
The man of the hour: Greg caught in the act of writing this diary…
The Hoogerheide Debacle
As I said, I raced in the final World Cup of the season at Hoogerheide on January 22nd. That was an experience in pain for me. I had gotten sick (once again) just after the C2 race at Sint Niklaas and that laid me out for two weeks. I figured that it had been almost exactly three weeks to the day since I had last raced, so I was expecting a bit of pain. At this point in the season, everyone is reaching peak form right before Worlds, so the pace was pinned right from the gun. I was able to stick with a group for the first couple of laps, but pretty soon I was starting to yo-yo, and then I got popped off the back for good on the third lap. I was having difficulty with the accelerations and I couldn’t sustain the high pace along the road sections. Technically, I was riding very well but unfortunately for me, yesterday was a fitness day, not a skills day. The positive thing out of all this is that last year, on this course, I had to have the best race of my season to not get lapped. This year, I had arguably the worst race of my season and I was nowhere near getting lapped, in spite of getting dropped a third of the way in. I got to ride a parade lap through the masses of fans swarming the course my last time around, not because they were really eager to meet me or anything, more likely it was because the race was over and they thought everyone had finished. Except me. It was shortly after this that my director busted out with the whole form vs. fat argument. Not coincidentally I started to think about upping my game a little over the spring and summer.
Signed and Sealed
Yes, it is official, if a little bit in the realm of old news at this point – I have renewed with Stevens Racing Team through the end of 2006. Things are looking a little different this year in terms of a race program, but the roster remains largely unchanged. Notable in his absence (although equally notably now present behind the wheel of the team car) is that giant of German cyclocross, Jens Schwedler, who decided to retire on 31 December after a C2 race in Herford which he completed then promptly broke his foot leaving the showers and spent the next three weeks in hospital. Not that there is a good time to break your foot, but thirty minutes after the last race of your career is pretty damn good timing if you ask me. It was a little odd to have the whole team doing a champagne toast in a muddy parking lot to a guy wearing one boot, but whatever.
As usual, the focus of the team will remain the European cyclocross circuit, but we will also be running a more involved road program this season. Our first major event is the FBD Milk Ras in mid-May, with a bunch of smaller one day races before hand to prepare for it. I’m not too sure how that’ll go after being told to “under no circumstances train in February” or words to that effect. Not too sure how that goes with the “you’re fat and out of shape” thing, but I do as I’m told. Beyond the Ras, I haven’t seen a schedule yet, but there is a possibility that we will make a triumphant return to the Tour of Beauce in Canada in mid-June. There is pretty much no way we can pull off a worse showing there than last year, where our only finisher was a first year Espoir riding his first stage race. Out of a team of six pros. And he was the only one to snag a top ten stage finish. At least we’ll be a little better prepared.
Whatever happens later in the year, we’ll be kicking things off with a team training camp in Majorca in early March. Should be nice, 30 million Germans can’t be wrong. In case you didn’t know, Majorca is a little island in the Med that technically belongs to Spain, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was part of Germany given that it is the single most popular destination for Germans seeking to escape the nasty German winter. I dunno, I didn’t think winter there was all that bad, but I guess the sun in the Med ain’t too bad either.
Thanks for reading,