The Aldi is a gold mine. I walked out of that grocery spending just €20 on a smorgasbord of goodies; no, not all for me, something has to keep the driver ticking those kilometers away on a 7 hour drive to Pilsen, CZE. And if all that sugar couldn't keep Simon awake I'm sure the German drivers did as we drove 140kmh and cars passed us like we were standing still at 230kmh. The autobahn is a race track and an exhibition of glimmering German made cars. After last Sunday's feeling like a 5th class citizen in the farm of camper vans at Ruddevoorde, we fit in with our VW on the Autobahn and felt some revenge in cruising passed Sven's gargantuan monster truck of a camper van.
We arrived to Pilsen Friday evening and for once, before a World Cup I did not feel a jet-lagged piece of rubbish, dreading the start line because it would be a complete mystery how my legs would respond and where my mind would wander. For me, it makes a huge difference to be happy and settled, and last week Begijnendijk really felt like home, partaking in the local group ride and training in the Langdorp woods. The group ride meets 3 times a week in the town square at 1pm and batter along in the wind, rain, sun, whatever. A small group is 40-50 people, but on a perfect day over 100 rock up. The best part is in Belgium if you are in a group of 15 or more people, the group is entitled to the entire lane of road. Take that you American SUVs who run cyclists off the road!
It was nice to see 7 Americans on the Pilsen start list and beside the huge Cannondale setup at the venue was literally "Little America", only thing missing were the 25¢ creemees. After pinching Mo's arse and catching up a bit, she asked me how my legs were...and for the first time I can remember in 18 months I could honestly say "good".
I raced Pilsen last year grumpy, slow & tired; the fondest memory I had was the town smelling of brewing beer probably because it revolves around the Pilsner brewery. Beer is cheaper than water and I was hesitant to fill my bottles from the tap in the case it may be beer. Maybe it was the 3-curries in a row for dinner, or maybe it's my happiness and the confidence I finally feel in my legs, but I felt in control of my bike, body and head. I was called up on the 3rd row and unfortunately got off to a poor start but I felt my legs were a manual transmission as opposed to automatic, autopilot and underpowered. I was in control and my legs listened. I played my strengths and instead of thinking about what Czech delicacy I'd eat post-race, I was thinking tactically, thinking ahead. One of the main features of this course is a massive stair case which appears to be a ladder up a vertical bank. I reckon the steep stairs up to our apartment above the shoe store helped my stair legs on Sunday, because although my tree stumps were struggling, this feature suited me. I believe this was also the most critical section of the course. Immediately after being gassed on the stairs you had to re-mount with an oomph and pedal up a sharp hill, maneuver a slick corner, then hammer up an inclined start/finish straight. It was a section to win or lose your legs & head, and was the section I nailed on the final lap to claim my finish.
I think Alice must have felt relieved to crawl out of Wonderland, away from slaying dragons and creepy disappearing cats. I'm pretty sure crawling out my 18 month slump and kicking my World Cup calendar off with a 6th place was a similar feeling. Now it's back home to Belgium, back to the Aldi for more snacks in preparation for an 8 hour drive to Tabor for the 2nd World Cup next Sunday.