105km, 2:20, 2 cobbled sections (each of about 2-3km), and my first finish of a Belgian Kermis race. Finished the full race, not in a second or third group getting pulled. Main pack in the sprint. Right on.
Three of us drove down to the race from the Cycling Center, about a 1 hour drive near Holland. Nice area, plenty of really nice houses, decent roads, nice afternoon for a race. Found Wim Maes parents (who happened to be involved in the organization of the race) who directed us to their lovely house down the road from the start, where we were able to change and prepare for the race. Wim is one of the Belgian riders on the team. After signing in and riding a lap of the course, we headed to line up at the start line. The course was a fairly easy, basically a nice square. From the start you headed down a straight, hitting some cobbles partway down, tight cobbled turn, and then about another 2km of cobbles before hitting pavement again. Followed the pavement again through a few slight turns until the next 90 degree bend. From there it was a another straight until the next tight turn to the next 2-3km cobbled section. Now this turn was made more difficult by the fact that there was a nice smooth bike path next to the cobbles, which the entire 200 or so man pack would all gun for together. Fun. Got a little easier as the race progressed and I learned my line better and more guys got dropped or fell back. On the bike path it would string out single file until the next turn onto the finishing straight. Tricky corner here too, you could stay on the path and have to come to nearly a standstill in the tight corner, or my route of hop to the cobbles and take it wide holding more speed. Less sprint needed and you could pass like 10 people in the corner. Then nice drag race to the finish line through the feed zone. The 3 of us rode very well, always near the front, represented in most breaks and splits. I felt very comfortable in the pack for the first time here, no problems moving through the pack, minimizing my work by working through the pack and on the opposite side of the wind. Got myself into a few breaks and had to dig deep a few times, but held on and finished in the middle of the pack in the sprint. Things got a little dicey on the last lap, held my spot in the top 15 for the lap, then let the rest of the guys sprint while I worked on avoiding crashes. Plus my legs where a little toast. Back to the house after where we were treated to a hot shower, fresh homemade pastries, drinks, and some of the best hospitality I have ever encountered. Seriously, incredible people to let a bunch of cyclists they hadn't met before into their house and feed us like that. Oh, and mom, sister and dad all spent the race in the feed zone for us to hand up bottles. Which was much appreciated as it was a warm and sunny day here in Belgium. Got 15 Euro for my troubles somehow too, so making some more cash money here. Always nice, just to add to my current morale. For now, off to bed as it is getting late and my legs are done. Ciao