I decided to fly to the start of TCRNO6 as I live on an island and this seemed the most logical means of transport. Naturally, I feared for my bike’s well being at the hands of various non cyclists, particularly as it wasn’t in wrapped up in my nice bike bag but wedged into a cardboard box filled with bubble wrap and pipe lagging. However, I reminded myself it’s steel and I love to worry, it would be fine.
It wasn’t fine. Obviously. As I stood in the baggage hall trying in vain to force my rear wheel into the frame of the mighty Condor, it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be riding to my AirBnB. Thankfully I’m not an idiot so I definitely hadn’t torn the box to pieces, or forgotten to pack any spare gaffer tape for such an incident. Nor had I started to sweat profusely, or started uploading blurred images of a steel dropout to the TCR Facebook page in a frantic attempt to gain reassurance that everything would be OK. Because I hadn’t done any of these things, this wasn’t a stressful situation.
When I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, an American gentleman (I use this term VERY loosely) began to absolutely lose his shit at the airport staff when he couldn’t locate his child’s pram. Much to my delight the guy behind the baggage counter used the ‘stare blankly’ approach in response to this completely disproportionate outrage. Whilst entertaining this was also like a red rag to a bull. I was very much in the midst of this drama so I decided to pack my life into the now rather bedraggled box and extract myself before the Condor suffered even more indignity at the hands of this arsehole, who was now stomping round like a man possessed.
My new plan was to get a train but I was advised by my Mother (henceforth to be known as Katy- because that is her name ) that a taxi might be the more sensible option considering how badly I’d dealt with this situation so far. The taxi cost 120 euros, a price which included my driver coming to a complete stop in in lane 1 of 3 on the motorway to ask me which way I’d like to go. I will never know why he thought that the man he’d only 15 minutes earlier collected from an airport, with whom he had struggled to communicate due to a very distinct language barrier, would turn out to know the best way to Geraardsbergen; because guess what? I didn’t. Clearly this was another raised voice, raised heart-rate moment. Despite this I think Katy was absolutely right to suggest a taxi and by the time I arrived at my accommodation I had already calmed down and realised that I had perhaps let the Condor’s injuries get the better of me. Perhaps.
I was welcomed by Hans and his wife (sorry I’ve forgotten your name) at B&B Rijbaan Molenzicht. They very kindly arranged a taxi to take me to the bike shop the next morning. They also provided me with an old mountain bike so I could ride to the local village for Pommes-frites (they had a good chortle when I referred to it as a chippy, so I can only presume it means something filthy in Flemish). After a good feed and a few beers I went to bed and didn’t get a wink of sleep. I was stressed about the bike. What I will say is the BnB was perfect for my needs, but it was a room above their stables and on Belgium’s hottest day of the summer I was eaten alive.
Next morning, Hans made me eggs and bacon in a tiny pan. Great start to a good day. Next, a Taxi to S-Bikes Specialized Concept store in Geraardsbergen. I was the first customer of the day and was confronted by an army of mechanics. A mechanic was selected. A quick look and a mallet was selected. My pinched dropout was then hammered out. Wheel inserted. 8 euros. Happiest man alive. This was such a painless and quick morning and anybody with any mechanical issues in Geraardsbergen on the Friday and Saturday, I can’t recommend S-Bikes enough.
Quick coffee in town then back to the BnB to start packing stuff. Oh and I was in an excellent mood, proving I’m not a little bitch as may have seemed the case in paragraphs 1 through 5.
That night I went back into town for a Question and Answer with former participants of the race. This was really enjoyable and I picked up a few tips that I’d take with me. Firstly, “don’t be a hero” (Josh Ibbet) and secondly, get rid of your warm water at every opportunity (Melissa Pritchard). Sound advice both.
One of the weirdest things about that evening was how many people I knew, that didn’t know me. I was in full creepy stalker mode. I’ve read all blogs of these people and watched the various videos they’ve featured in. I recognised them all and knew their backstories. I guess its how teenage girls might feel backstage at the MTV Teen Choice Awards, except I didn’t cry, I just stood, glanced awkwardly and probably made them all very uncomfortable. Soz.
That evening I also met Joseph (#165), Oliver (#50) and Alistair (#200). I would see Joseph on a regular basis for the next two weeks as we bounced back and forth. Much like any other event where you arrive alone it is initially very fucking awkward. But these chaps were sound and we had a few beers, so thanks lads.
Next morning, I was again fed eggs and bacon from a tiny pan. Class. I was in zero rush to leave as I didn’t have the room that afternoon (which is something I’d certainly change next time). I wanted to avoid arriving at registration too early as I’d be spending the rest of the day there.
When I did go I got my cap #105. This is what its all about, that cap. I also got my photo taken which was nice. At this point I had all kinds of shit hanging off my saddle bag, but I realised how chad this looked and later packed it away.
Bike passed the bike check fine and I confidently reassured the guy I had spare brake pads. I am of course an idiot and hadn’t noticed that they had somehow escaped my foolproof packing process, but that was remedied a week later…
I then went for a small bucket of Carbonara at Pasta Al Dente who were doing a roaring trade. It was very tasty but by god it sat heavy and might not have been my strongest meal choice. I met a few guys here, two I cant remember (sorry there’ll be a few like that) and Chris (#88). Me and Chris went hunting for a supermarket as we both agreed our lack of food for the upcoming night ride was a shocking oversight. Of course there were no supermarkets open, so several packets of biscuits from a scantily stocked bakery looked as though they’d have to suffice.
Then it was time for the briefing which I sat through with Chris and the soon to be heroic pairing of James (#253A) and Johnny (#253B) . Their relaxed demeanour proving to be very deceptive as they established themselves as a lethal combination from the word go.
The briefing was of course very useful. I was also very moved by Frank Simons’ son who addressed the racers. I thought he spoke very bravely, and his sentiments about the community around this event bore themselves out repeatedly over the next few weeks. It really is an amazing thing to be part of and I’m glad it stood by him and his family so much in what must have been an incredibly tough time.
Then it was off to the main square for an agonising 3 or 4 hour wait to the until the race start. Had a beer and a few coffees. Panicked about food, about my kit, about anything. Then finally, after a few speeches I’m afraid I couldn’t quite hear, we were set off on the neutral loop to much fanfare. It was dark and I had no sense of where we were going but we arrived back at the square and were directed towards the Muur van Geraardsbergen. I enjoyed the neutral loop, after a day of sitting round feeling very antsy it felt so good to get on the bike and roll round the town, soaking up the atmosphere and chatting with the other racers.
Then before I knew it I was on my way up the Muur. I was probably mid pack and in no rush at all. The climb was lined with people cheering us on, and it’s probably about as ‘Pro’ as I’m ever likely to feel, so thanks Belgium. There wasn’t much space and I was very aware of anybody struggling in front of me. This awareness obviously wasn’t sufficient as two people stopped and as a result so did I. My foot went down, glory over, I’m walking up the first climb and I’ve never felt less ‘Pro’. Class. Fortunately, a very enthusiastic Belgie gave me a push and as I rode the last part of the climb with people quite literally screaming in my face, the buzz was definitely back. I rolled away into the night and so it began.