We arrived in Belgium on Thursday the 14th after a long overnight flight. We picked up our luggage and quickly found a coffee stand to have a drink, picked up the rental car and headed to our home base in Arendonk. I had the good fortune to stay in the tiny Arendonk cottage in 2006 so it would be good to return to a familiar house, family and town.
When we arrived at the cottage, our host Peter and Karlien had the wood stove going and a warm welcome. Unpacking was quick and I headed out for my first ride trying to remember the local roads and get the airplane out of my legs.
When I returned home, local friends of our hosts had arrived for a visit. I had met Jules and Annie on my previous visit. Annie had baked us an apple cake and Jules had a trainer and a bike for Matt to borrow.
On Friday Matt and I took a walk around town to explore, went food shopping and to the bakery and were able to train together exploring the Belgian farm roads in the damp, grey weather. The roads were still snowy with some ice from a storm a week or so ago which is unusual for Belgium.
Saturday morning, we packed up the car for the Roubaix World Cup and drove to France about two hours away. On the way, we stopped at the Radio Shack Team Service Course in Brakel to meet up with Geoff to borrow a few items for our stay in Europe. Geoff greeted us at the door and made us coffees before giving us a full tour of the facilities. The Service Course houses all of the bikes, wheels, parts and team vehicles for the entire Radio Shack Team. Still full of Astana bikes, buses and trucks, there were literally hundreds of bicycles (including Contadorís custom painted time trial bikes). We also had the fortune of meeting Chef Duffy, the operations manager for Radio Shack (and Astana before that, Discovery Channel before that, USPS before that!). He was very warm and friendly. He also really liked our rented Mercedes GLK.
When we arrived in Roubaix, it was raining heavily and pre-riding the course was a completely muddy mess. My legs felt ok, but still a little heavy from the long flight. I picked up my race numbers and we headed to the hotel for the night. A short walk from our hotel was a sort of mall with the French equivalent to Wal-Mart where we wandered for a bit and picked up some things we would need for the race like towels to clean up and rubber gloves for bike washing before getting dinner at a quaint local pizza place.
We were staying at the same hotel as fellow American rider Katie Compton and her husband and Belgian host family. They generously offered to have us park with them at the race venue and offered several helpful tidbits about the goings on at European races.
The weather had cleared and it was a bright, sunny day with temps in the upper 30ís. I rode a lap on the course and it had gone form super wet and slippery on Saturday to sticky, heavy, boggy mud. It would take more power than finesse to motor through the race today. The start/finish was on the famed Paris-Roubaix racetrack making the event even that much more exciting to cycling fans.
My start position was unfortunately quite near the back of the pack due to current UCI points, so it would be a hard first lap to move up in position.
The start was a bit tough because we were on the track with one flat lane and sharply banked lanes to the left. Not may riders wanted to slip on the banked lanes, so it was a tentative start with some waiting before the course opened up.
I pushed past several riders in the first lap and kept up my pace, but it wasnít enough to keep passing more riders. I felt as though I was stuck in one gear and just stayed in the same position for the remainder of the race finishing in 23rd place.
I was certainly hoping for a top 15 or 20 and to have felt a bit snappier, but I think the extended travel is new to me and I will need a bit more time to shake all the bugs out.
Next week we stay in Arendonk to train, relax and explore some of the local towns and cities. The Hoogerheide World Cup will be on January 24th in The Netherlands.
Matt has posted some pictures from Roubaix on the MMRacing Facebook page or on Picasa.
Donít forget about the MMRacing Raffle! Thereís still time to buy tickets. You can win a Pedroís Master Tool Kit 3.0, a complete Thule Roof Rack with two bike trays or a complete custom Seven Cycles bicycle!