I had known since mid to late November that six weeks of racing in Belgium were ahead of me. The off-season and early season racing had passed and before I knew it I was flying out of Little Rock to the Brussels airport to meet up with two of my teammates, Jacob White and Adam Koble, who had arrived a week before. The awkward balance of excitement and jet-lag were setting in once I arrived in Oudenaarde, with my first race two days away I had plenty of time to brainstorm how the racing here was going to unfold. Everything I had heard was that it is like a three hour all out technical (5 – 10k lap) crit with street furniture, unpredictable roads, high wind, and a field of 150 Belgian racers with 50 racers who could win if they played their cards right. Everyone I had talked to made it sound like I shouldn’t expect much as far as results go but to use it more as a learning experience more than anything. Deep down, though, it sounded like just the style of racing I had been looking for.
My first couple of Kermesses went okay. I had made it into some of the winning splits but didn’t have the legs to pull off anything better than a top 20.
My first win came on a crosswind filled day in the town of Wevelgem. The course was not very technical but it was narrow and had no protection from the brutal Belgian wind. I made my way to the front of the peloton as soon as I could to avoid being left with the task of covering gaps from the splintering field. About 20 minutes into the race, I was sitting 4th wheel when the rider on the front drilled it through a long crosswind section creating a break of me and three others. Fortunately, we were all committed to making the break stick and started rolling through immediately once we noticed our gap. We extended it to 15 or 20 seconds but were still in sight of the peloton where my teammates Adam and Jacob were marking every move they could to try to prevent anyone bridging across. Unfortunately, for us, in the break one of the escapees cracked 45 minutes into the race, and not 30 minutes later we lost another one to a popped wheel spoke while going through a rough corner. Only me and Stan Dewulf of Lotto Soudal U23 remained in the break. We powered on by taking strong pulls, unsure of our fate with so much race left, we grew more determined to make it stick. We monitored our gap as the lap counter ticked down and a chase group of about 20 riders were closing in but we pushed on harder trying to demotivate the chasers until they finally cracked with about two laps to go. We rode on at a steady tempo until 1.5 km to go. He no longer pulled through and was hoping to leave it to me to lead out the sprint. The remaining 1k was a long back straight, followed by two right handers and the finishing straight. This is where we started to play a game of cat and mouse. I weaved left and right trying to get him to start his sprint early but he never did. While rolling at a slow pace, I started my sprint late with only 150 meters to go, I took the inside line around the bend and he never had the strength to come around. Everyone was shocked, myself included.
Distance: 74 miles
Average Speed: 26.3 mph
Normalized Power: 322 w
Max Power: 1227
Win number two came in the town of Herne, which had two short and steep kickers with one 3-4% drag between them. As all Kermesses do, the race was full on at the start. Adam got in an early move of five or so riders, one being Vitor a good friend of his, that rolled for about a lap. Soon after being caught, a group of three countered, but due to poor positioning I couldn’t go with it immediately. After a left hand turn onto the main highway I launched to bridge up to the three escapees. This break, unlike the one in Wevelgem, stayed together until the final lap. A few attacks within the break were thrown on the final lap, but no one was content with letting them stick. The chase of 15 riders wasn’t far behind and with about 2 km to go we could see them desperately trying to close the gap. With little time to cat and mouse, we approached the final sweeping right hand turn before the finishing straight. As we were approaching the last corner I was sitting third wheel and immediately cut to the inside line as everyone else swung wide trying to reshuffle their positions. The sprint was early but I was already committed. Ten seconds in, I remember letting out an unrestrained battle cry as the finish line was still nowhere in sight. Thankfully, it was only just around the bend and with my head down, legs drowning in lactic acid I held off the three until the line.
Distance: 72 miles
Elevation: 2000 ft
Average Speed: 26.4 mph
Normalized Power: 338 w
12 second peak: 1065
A huge thanks to Oklahoma Bicycle Project’s sponsors: Keith Haney Racing, Schlegel’s Bike Shop, Durbin Larimore Bialick Attorneys, Specialized, Transitions LifeCare, Nathan Elfrink MD, Breast Cancer Screening Center of Oklahoma, Thomas R. Todd MD, First Mortgage Company, and Memorial Hospital.
Also a huge thanks to my local support: the great Ernie and Scotti Lechuga with Leborne Coaching, Spokes Little Rock, Meteor Cafe, BBinfinite, and of course family and friends that helped make this possible.
I am so happy you are having a wonderful experience. Wish I was there to hear all the play by play. Keep at it and enjoy every moment! Sending love and prayers…lee