Belgium March, 2001
Five days after my return to Europe, I started to feel grounded again. I was happy to stay in one place for more than a couple of days. The weather was crappy but it didn't worry me and I went out in a good mood - for a few days.
On the 3rd of March the GP Chiasso was on the schedule. I arrived in Switzerland, welcomed by falling snow. I left wintry Belgium only to race in the cold and snow on the Swiss-Italian border! Somehow, I didn't find it as much fun to race in it as what I had done building snowmen and going downhill on the sled with my son the previous weekend.
On the other hand, I was relieved to get my first race in after touching European soil. I was feeling ok, with still quite a way to go but with the slow start in January and then having finished a great race - with lots of kilometres in the sun - at the Tour de Langkawi, things did look good.
On the 7th of March, in nice and sunny weather, we rode Fayt-le-Franc (1.4) in Belgium. Unfortunately, I didn't finish that one; in fact, I only got 50 kms in. Trying to avoid some guys who went down as they came onto a section of cobbles, I kissed the stones myself and got T-boned, right in the ribs. I would have continued, but by the time I was over the first shock and got my spare bike handed to me, the group had gone. I knew I wouldn't catch up to them anymore and I got into the team car. A young Rabobank rider was less lucky and got taken to the hospital. He had tried to jump unto the footpath, hit a tree, broke ten ribs and punctured a lung.
Guldensporentweedaagse, Belgium, March 10-11 (2.4)
The boys were speaking to soon when they said it would be nice racing in weather like we had on the Wednesday of Fayt-le-Franc. It started raining the next day and it hadn't stopped, with the strong wind cooling things down to 7 degrees.
172 cyclists took the start. Small roads, a very fierce wind and a lot of nerves: not a good combination. As this was the first race for a lot of riders, there was more than a bit of shit hitting the fan. In the crosswinds, riders were hitting the pavement left, right and centre, some in great style, others with less finesse, luckily none serious.
Some crashes I saw that day were outright funny, even bloody hilarious, like the way in which my teammate Allan Bo got separated from his bike. The Race Radio announcer called to "Team Fakta" (Kim Andersen); "Team Fakta - technical problem" he casually informed.
So here was Kim, speeding past the group and stopping at the side of the road, near to what looked like one of our riders standing there. No bike to be seen, just the figure of a rider almost unidentifiable - Allan Bo had been pushed off the road in the crosswinds, hit a drain (small), got thrown into another drain (much bigger), and went over the handlebars, head first into the embankment.
Kim and Thomas (the mechanic) got out off the car and just burst into laughter at the sight of Allan Bo standing there, helpless, covered from head to toe in black mud from the gutter, with bits of grass sticking out off his helmet (which got broken in the crash). Even though Kim and Thomas were trying not to wet themselves laughing, Allan Bo found it impossible to show even the smallest bit of a smile. His bike lay 10 meters away, with two tubes bent out of shape. The bike was a total write-off. At least Allan Bo will now get the Compact Viner frame he wanted. Kim said he only had to ask though.
The first stage (175 km) of the Guldensporentweedaagse was controlled by Rabobank, along with Domo. As we got onto the finishing circuit (5 times 12.5km), the front group started to split up in the unceasing rain. Rabobank had the numbers in the last lap and kept chasing down everything and then attacked themselves. They ended up with a 1-2-3 (Decker/De Jongh/Boogerd). I finished in 10th place, very happy with the ride and the legs feeling good. My ribs were still hurting but I was able to cope with the pain that day.
Stage 2 started in the same weather. Belgian weather was turning on the good stuff the spring classics are known for: cold humidity, able to chill you to the bone! The day started off well for me but as the race started to wind up after 60 km, during the lead up to the Rode berg, Zwarte Berg and the famous Kemmelberg, I didn't feel my legs anymore. I was only able to think of the pain in my side.
As we started the climb of the Kemmelberg, I knew it was not a good idea. I wasn't able to pull on the handlebars, which made it very difficult to ride up those cobbles. I found myself in the last group over the Kemmel. We chased for a while, but soon this group of 20 riders was looking for the quickest way to get to the showers. Hoping for hot water, which there wasn't.
The group of thirteen that went away on the Kemmelberg stayed in the front. Rabobank took 1, 2 and 3 overall. (I have had treatment for those ribs and am now training well, with only a light pain reminding me not to pull to hard on the handlebars.)
That's it as far as racing is concerned for now.
Saturday (17/3) the team starts in Circuit Wallonne (1.5)
On Wednesday the 21st we ride Nokere (1.4)
The weekend after (25/3) I'll be racing in Cholet, France (1.2)
Waregem (1.2) is next on the list on the 28th
On the 29th of March Fakta races in Bazel-Kruibeke (1.4)
The first of April, Brabantse Pijl (1.2)
Expect another update by then.
So what about the really realistic cartoons you see on this page? Well, 10 of these cartoons, drawn by famous Belgian Cartoonist "Nesten" are lined up along the parcours of the Tour of Flanders. On the Haaghoek (2000 meters of cobblestones) you can admire the fantastic looks of Frank Vandenbroucke, Jo Planckaert, Ludo Dierckxsens, myself and Johan Museeuw and on the Berendries one will be able to see handsome Tom Steels, Peter Van Petegem, Axel Merckx and Andrei Tchmil.
The idea of putting these cartoon-paintings alongside the last 40 kms of the parcours of the Tour of Flanders grew in the offices of our clothing sponsor Decca. Peter Stevens, the manager, mentioned how it would be good to see the cyclists smirk at the sight of it. At that stage in the race all you normally see is painful grimaces. Maybe now a smart remark or a mocking laugh will be heard, momentarily drowning the sound of gnashing of teeth or the noise of rattling bike frames over the cobbles. DECCA spoke to Nesten, who draws "The adventures of Frankie Boy" (=Vandenbroucke) cartoon in the monthly magazine of the Belgian Cycling Federation.
Nesten loves cycling (and by the looks of it he won't say no to a good old-fashioned Flemish revel or anything else that is soothing for body, mind and soul) and he was very enthusiastic about the initiative. The council of Brakel was asked for their co-operation and as they want to promote the cycling in their area, they agreed rapidly.
I was asked to send a photo to Nesten and I already started to panic lightly after I got a mail with a photo of the "portrait" attached a few days later. I had no idea though they would put it in the Flemish countryside amidst some of Belgium's favourite cyclists - mixed feelings, I can tell you! I'm sure I haven't heard the last smart remark about this yet.
Oh yes, our team website is up and running. www.teamfakta.dk is still "under construction" but soon you'll be able to read all about our adventures and results in Danish, English and French! There will be plenty of photos of the good, the bad and the ugly - Cheers!