An Italian in Belgium
By Luke Seemann | Apr 26, 2009
Race name: Leland Kermesse
Race date: Saturday, Apr 25, 2009
Our Flatlandia friends promised a grueling, Belgian-style road race Saturday, and the Leland Kermesse did not disappoint.
You know what else didn’t disappoint? My new bike. I’ve had my Max Lelli for a few weeks now and have been thrilled beyond measure with it. It’s light and snappy—you merely look at it and it jumps forward a bit. And I’m happy to report that in its first taste of combat, it performed perfectly under the harshest of conditions.
I expected the race to be intense from the get-go: 20 mph wind (with gusts to 30) whipped from left to right, meaning there’d be absolutely no draft at all for the first four miles. Fields would detonate.
Sure enough, as soon as we were racing, Mark Swartzendruber, the bard of Downstate, went to the front and brought the pain. (He is a 1, but a small 1/2 field was folded into the 3’s.) Behind him the field stretched out like pizza dough, with holes opening every couple of riders.
It was some of the hardest riding I’ve ever done: You’re at your limit just to keep up, but then you have to exceed that limit to come around the rider in front of you and regain contact with the bunch. But then when you regain contact with the bunch, you realize that it’s not the REAL bunch, so you have to work even harder to come around riders again. Every so often you look around expecting to see people on your wheel and you see nobody.
When we finally turned left and had a tailwind, a group of about 12 was maybe 30 meters ahead. I rode with Waylon from WDT, who had earlier done the juniors race. I saw nobody behind us. We worked hard, but we just couldn’t make any progress. All we needed was for the break to hesitate, and we would be on. It didn’t, and the gap grew until they were out of sight.
Other stragglers eventually caught us, and that’s how the rest of the race would go: Stragglers would catch, the gravel section would shake a few people loose, and then new stragglers would be found.
30 hard miles later, our chase group had settled upon a group of 7. With two 3’s up the road, we were racing for 3rd place. I attacked once in the crosswind—attack when it’s hard, right?—but it was useless. An all-out sprint into the wind yielded a gap of about three feet. Kind of hard to get out of sight this way.
And then the thunderstorm hit.
We first saw darkness and lightning to the west, and each of us wondered how well our bikes conducted electricity. I crouched as aero as possible so I wouldn’t be the tallest rider out there.
In the tailwind section the rain started, with hail at first. Indeed, this was the place to attack, which Burnham’s Tim Hermanas proved convincingly. Attacking with this tailwind was like jumping out of an airplane. About 3 seconds after he set off, he was nearly out of sight.
I shot off in pursuit. Thunder crackled ever so close. Nothing like the fear of God to make you go faster. Forget placing. I just wanted to get under safe shelter.
I didn’t make it across to Tim and was eventually caught by South Chicago and Verizen riders. Exchanged a few pulls with them, then attacked them. Got clear, but they caught me at the beginning of the gravel, which was now slick mud.
This was racing! Attack! Attack! Attack! I felt like channeling all those photos we’ve seen of grim, haggard riders plowing through the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. I attacked a few more times on the gravel and on the third or fourth try I finally got clear of the two others. I barreled down the smoothest section without care. Visibility was nil. My mouth filled with Belgian toothpaste. And prayed that the tractor ahead saw me coming.
I took the final turn gingerly, and that was probably my undoing. It was a quarter-mile from the turn to the finish line and I gave everything I had, but South Chicago was able to barrel past me with about 20 meters to go. Gah!
Nonetheless, an epic day of racing and a brilliant inauguration of the Leland Kermesse. We can only hope that future editions can enjoy such perfect, Belgian-worthy weather.