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By Michael Scherer
Editor’s note: Michael Scherer is an American who has been living and racing in Oostende, Belgium, for the past month. Originally from Casper, Wyoming, Scherer spent last season riding for Prime Alliance while living in Boulder, Colorado. He moved to Belgium this year to take the next step and “to prove that I have what it takes to be a bike racer.” Scherer will be sending back regular updates throughout the season. This past weekend my ABC-Aitos teammates and I raced the G.P. de La Ville de Nogent Sur Oise, a UCI 1.6 race in France. The race organizers took exceptional care of us, yet another reason why racing in Europe is so awesome.
Not only did we receive start money for travel expenses, they booked us a nice hotel complete with three meals. We arrived the night before the race to typical European extremely small, but clean rooms. The Hotel prepares a special “Athletes dinner” for the four teams staying there. Lunch the next day was at 10:00, three hours before the race start. They put a great deal of thought into pleasing the riders.
Ten different nations were represented in the 185-rider field that included many of the top elite French teams. The course was four laps of a 35km circuit and three small finishing loops to create a 161km course complete with some hills and, of course, the ever-present wind.
My teammates and I have finally adapted to the speed of these races and stayed near the front. We even threw in a few attacks. What makes these races so hard is climbing out of the valleys to the crests of the hills. The climbs were not long enough to break up the race much, just string it out. Then at the top we hit big crosswind sections. With no time to get recovered, it becomes a gutter fest. I always rode on the very last edge of rode to have some wind blocked from me: in the gravel, in the grass, its all part of the fun.
As the race dragged on I noticed how much easier it became to move to the front. Everyone is so tired that they are simply trying to hang on. I am used to U.S. races that start off slow and end fast. Here they start fast and then seem to get slower.
As we hit the big climb on the last lap I felt really good, we crested the hill and I was having fun in the gutter, when I noticed a split just five or six riders ahead of me. No problem. I thought it would come back like it had been doing all day. Well I was wrong. Nobody had the strength to pull them back. My teammates RJ Rooke and Jacob Fetty (Ex-Zaxbys) made the split and finished around 25th.
My group lost motivation and went really slow to the finish. I was trying to find out if we would still have to do three small finishing loops with that big group in front of us. I asked a French rider and he replied “When you learn to speak French I will answer you in English.”
Little did he know I have been listening to French tapes for two months now and I know a few words.
So I said “Trois peu rounds aussi?” (Three small rounds also?), which was the best I could come up with on the spot. He just kind of laughed and told me he didn’t know. We ended up doing the three small rounds and my teammate Peter Barlin and I rolled in around 40th and 50th
Our average speed was 43.7km/h (26mph) not bad for 100 miles with the wind and hills. My whole team seems to be improving by leaps every week against these Euro’ guys. The next couple weeks we will be fighting it out back in the gutters of Belgium. Until then,
Michael Scherer’s earlier stories: April 1,2002