Letters from Abroad – Peter’s Cancellara Moment

Editor’s Note: Peter Horn is an American racing with the Geox-Fuji Test Team, the amateur development team of Geox-TMC. As Geox-Fuji Test Team’s captain, he’s looking to lead the team to victories in Belgium and around Europe, and help break the team’s riders into the Professional ranks.

28 March 2011 – Oostkamp, Belgium

That was an impressive ride by Cancellara in the E3 Prijs. What made it especially nice was how well he and his team dealt with his mechanical problems – two flat tires and three bike changes – and then seeing him go through every group and win on his own. Yesterday we raced an interclub (UCI 1.12) in Limburg, the Trofee van Haspengouw. Apparently I decided I would try to be like Cancellara – I’d start with mechanical issues and then try to win the race.

Haspengouw is a good race with a hard local lap. It has rolling terrain with chances for echelons in the first 50 kilometers. There are hills and small roads in the middle of the course, and in the 7.5 kilometer local lap there’s a hard kicker after a short section of cobbles. From the very start, our team was in good positions and in all the breakaways. Nothing lasted for too long, and everyone was anxious for one particular road where if there is wind, there will be echelons. We were in the first row on this road but the wind wasn’t strong enough. The group stayed together and we would try to get away in the hillier section of the course.

Just before the hills, I crashed in a left turn with a couple others. There was gravel the same color as the road, and since I was in the middle of the bunch there was nowhere else to go. I got up immediately – no pain, which is normal because of the adrenaline – and my bike looked all right at first. Still, I decided to get my spare bike from the car – I would take bottles with me, and no matter what, I would have to use the cars to get back to the peloton. I got a quick bike change, took three bottles and got on my bike.

A few hundred meters later I flatted. Our car caught up to me and I told them I needed a new wheel. But it’s quicker to change a bike than a rear wheel, and my bike was apparently in good shape. So I would switch bikes again. Ok. They pulled ahead, took my bike off the roof, and I got back on my first race bike. Just down the road, I realized a problem – the pedal was broken. It was almost impossible to see unless you looked for it, and since I switched bikes right away after the crash, I didn’t know it before I tried to clip in again.

About a minute and a half later, the car caught back up to me and I told them, again, that I needed to switch bikes. They had already replaced the rear wheel on my spare bike, so for the last time I changed bikes and started riding. I was minutes behind the peloton at this point, but there were still race vehicles around, and I would try to get back into the race while still using the least possible amount of energy. There’s no point in chasing the peloton yourself – you have to use the caravan. I drafted the sag wagon, ambulance, race vehicles, got some help from my team car, and after several kilometers of winding roads and a few hills, I was in the caravan.

One’s own team car is not technically allowed to help a rider back into a race, even after a crash or mechanical. So I have to use the other teams and jump from car to car. Normally, this isn’t too difficult – for the most part, teams trust each other and support each other’s riders when there are problems. Belgian teams know who I am, too, so they’re happy to help a rider who they know is only in the cars because of bad luck, not because of bad form. As long as you kiss the bumper with your front wheel and they see that you know what you’re doing, other teams are glad to help pace you back into the race.

I go quickly through the caravan but try to not waste any energy. I go from car to car and finally jump around the commissar and into the tail of the peloton. I made it into the front of the group about 2 kilometers later, just before the most significant hill of the day. I gave my teammates Gertjan De Vos and Thomas Vanhaecke a bottle each and we moved to the front. At this point I was tired from the effort of getting back into the race and was starting to hurt from the crash. Fortunately for me, the race stayed together and we had guys in positions to go with anything that had a chance.

For the next 50 kilometers I tried to eat, drink and save energy where I could. I was starting to cramp in the leg I crashed on, so I tried to be in attacks and still try to go easy on those muscles. I knew I would need the power for the local laps. We rode close to each other and in the front, and went in all the breakaways. Still, nothing stayed away for more than a few kilometers. I told Thomas and Paavo that our best chance would be to try to get away just before the local laps, where there are some small roads and lots of turns – a great place for a breakaway to establish itself.

Thomas attacked about 10 kilometers before the local laps and his group got a gap of nearly a minute. As we started the local laps, the rest of us stayed at the front and ready to get into a chase group. With a couple laps left, it was only Thomas and one other rider in the lead, and the rest of the initial breakaway was slowly being caught by the peloton. In the end, Thomas was 2nd, and the rest of us in the peloton. It was a good result and race for us – not a win, but being so close to victory only makes you want it more. And I’ll just have to do a better impersonation of Cancellara next time – deal with any mechanicals and win the race!

And the Song of the Week: “Trenchtown Rock,” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I listened to this while I packed my race bags on Saturday evening. The live version of the song is especially good. Talk to you soon,

Peter

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