Monday, March 28, 2005

Spring really is here!

People looked at me oddly when at the end of February I declared that Spring was here, after all it wasn't much above zero degrees. My logic was that bicycle racing had begun in Belgium. It may not make much sense but it does to those, or at him, who count, i.e. me! Anyway Easter fell in the third week of March and by then the weather had really changed from the deep snow of the beginning. I'd had a depressing cold which took out the first nice weekend, during which I'd planned to ride a brevet near Antwerp, all training for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. So I was very determined to get a good Easter in. This year we got both the Friday and the Monday off. I wanted to use the whole period to good effect.

On Thursday after work I took a train to Maastricht from where I intended to continue by train to Liege, however the train was late and I decided to ride the 30km, which I figured would be fun. It was! It rained a little but the road was easy. I knew I wouldn't get lost as I knew where I was staying, I'd programmed it into my GPS. Or at least I thought I did. At a certain point I realised that the point that the address that I thought was of the Youth Hostel in Liege actually wasn't in Liege. Fortunately I'd been there before and my memory served me well enough.

The following morning was bright and I headed South West to wards Chimay, over hills and dales of the French Belgian Ardennes. This was my first long ride that wasn't almost completely flat, by mid-afternoon I was beat! I arrived at the B&B that I'd booked in the late afternoon. Unfortunately there wasn't a restaurant for several kilometers so I went to a local supermarket and bought some snacks for dinner, which I ate in my room, going to bed early. I paid for this the next day.

The next morning was chilly so I brought along something warm to wear. This was my second mistake as I had to carry it the whole day. The start of the brevet was a couple of kilometres near the centre of Chimay. I had been hoping that the route wouldn't be too hilly and that the pace would be measured. Neither was the case and I struggled. Shortly after the second checkpoint, about 120km into it, I got dropped by the peloton and hit the wall. I paid for not eating enough. This added to a bit of knee pain which got worse and worse. I decided to slow right down and enjoy the day. This was a good move as the surroundings were lovely and the day was gorgeous. At 4pm I rolled back into Chimay. At the last checkpoint they asked me whether I really wanted 4pm as my time of arrival, not something earlier. I was quite pleased with this under the circumstances.

The following day the weather wasn't as nice as the previous one. There was light rain but it was still warm. I took things easy, having decided to aim for Namur and then work things out. At Namur my knee really began to hurt, so from there I took the train home. This gave me a relaxing day at home for the last day of Easter, which I really appreciated as I'd done about 500km over 3 1/2 days!

Sunday, March 6, 2005

My first brevet

I just finished my first brevet, a 200km in the Niederrhein region of Germany. On Friday night I took a train to Venlo on the other side of the border. There had been quite a bit of snow in the preceding week and as a consequence the trains were a bit chaotic. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get to the youth hostel that I had booked in Hinsbeck before it closed. I found the newly constructed but almost completely empty hostel at about 10pm. The assigned bunk room was completely mine, which was nice so I could spread out and most importantly no snorers to keep me up. I woke the next morning to see that the light snow that started just as I arrived had continued and there was a dusting of snow on the roads. Having cycled to work in the week before through much more than that I wasn't phased. I hit the road for the 10km ride to the start of the brevet in Wachtendonk. I should have slept in a little more, I arrived way too early and soon discovered that I hadn't really brought warm enough clothes to be standing around for long. I was very glad when the group of 10 riders got moving at 8am. The first part of the brevet was along very minor roads, covered in snow. This caused a bit of chaos in the peloton, one rider fell twice in the first 5km, not a good start! Our bikes were a real picture, the wheels derailleurs and chain caked in snow! Soon afterward we lost a rider, who fortunately managed to catch up. Of course we got lost, the first checkpoint was Nederweert, which was only found due to my GPS! From there things became simpler, most of the road was in Holland where there had been less snow and more salt seemed to be used on the roads and cycle paths. Even so it snowed on and off all day and never went much above 4 degrees C all day. From there we headed in the direction of Eindhoven and Helmond to the next checkpoint in America where some food and a little self administered massage did wonders. Not long after setting off I had a puncture. I think I was getting a little frazzled, I couldn't work out how to use my new pump and found that I didn't bring a puncture repair kit. If I punctured my new tube I'd have been stuck. From there we were on the home stretch via the last on the road checkpoint at the BP station in Well, the ticking kilometers were watched very carefully. My chain was seriously squeaking and I made a mental note to carry chain oil in my tool kit, I had some with my luggage at the hostel. The reduced group was in silent road eating mode. The arrival back in Wachtendonk about 90 minutes inside the time limit was muted. Somehow I'd expected a bit more from the end, maybe everyone was only too happy to stop cycling and it was too cold to stand around outside and chat. The 10km run back to the hostel was much slow and the arrival was much appreciated.


The next morning the sun was out, though it was even colder than the day before. The water froze on my bike as I cleaned it! I re-oiled my chain and was greatly relieved that the squeaky punishment that I'd meted on it seemed not to have caused permanent discernible damage. I set off South without a particular aim in mind, other than to pile up the kilometers. 130km and a couple of a castles I arrived in Maastricht, 3 hours later I was soaking in a very nice shower. I'd 350km in a weekend!


Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Lot's of snow

The most snow has fallen in the last 24 hours than I've ever seen in Amsterdam ...