Racing in Belgium, Who Turned the Fan On?! – By Matt Bigos

Who turned the fan on?!

Part 3 of my trip! I’ve always heard about how windy, rainy, cold, hard etc. the racing in Belgium is, but I was still a bit shocked! After my adventure driving from Cologne to Oostend Belgium for Round 2 of the UCI Para World Cup Series, I had a few days to spin the legs out and explore the area a little. The first few days were rather mellow with just a nice easy spin along the coast, go out for 60-90 minute spin and return in 30-45! Nothing like feeling like a rock star rolling at 45 kph on your recovery spin!

Something new for this race was that ALL of the countries were in the same hotel! With 350 athletes from 25+ nations eating in the same dining hall, it was interesting to say the least! It was nice to get to talk to friends from other countries more than the usual just saying hi in passing. You could tell that not just the US athletes are starting to get a little pre Games stress going if they’ll make the team, and even the athletes that know they’re going seem a little stressed, as well. With what turned out to be an even deeper field than most likely we’ll see at the Games, everyone seemed ready to show how strong they are, which made for some great racing!

Probably my favorite part of this wandering around trying be a “pro bike racer” is the exploring. I’ve always wandered in my life, I wouldn’t say I am lost really, but I’ve always been searching for something. That’s why when the idea of riding to Bruges came up, I jumped at it. On the day between the time trial and road race a few of us did an easy spin to the center of Bruges. The ride was pretty amazing, most of it was on a bike path that followed a canal, which also served as the worlds longest drive way to the random farm house. I really think some of the houses had at least a 10-15k drive just to get to any road. Once we arrived in Bruges my jaw dropped! I’ve always been a huge history dork and getting to see one of the only cities that wasn’t bombed during WWII was rather amazing to me! I probably looked like a little kid at Christmas, I was so excited to ride down the old cobble streets and look at all the buildings. We ran into some of the Canadian Team and had coffee with them and did some exploring together. It turned out to be maybe just a little longer than I’d normally do on a day in between races, but made the trip all that more special!

As far as racing went, well the Time Trial went. Sometimes you have races that don’t go well and have no idea why. My legs actually felt pretty good and the course on paper wasn’t all that bad for me. It had plenty of tight narrow turns, some rain dropping and more wind than I think I’ve ever raced in. It turns out running a super deep front wheel was a bad call as a good bit of the race was too windy to even ride in the aero bars. In the end, it was a rather disappointing result for me, but the pacing was okay and I executed well. I think that’s all you can ask for some days.

Sunday rolled around and brought the road race! We had a big field, 50+ on the line, and it was a combined field, C1-3, which I knew was going to make for a very hard race! I’ve never been so excited to get a call up with my World Cup Leaders Jersey on. The first turn was going to be tight. There was a little bit of rain falling and the first turn was about 200 meters from the start/finish line and went from 2 full lanes to barely 1! The roads didn’t get any better for the next couple K, there were several 90 degree turns and lots of roads just wide enough for two bikes in the first section, oh and most of it was brick too for good measure. I like to think of myself as a decent bike handler and turns out I needed all of my skill and a little luck. I managed to hit the first turn in about 3rd or 4th wheel and the plan was to follow and stay near but not on the front. I was doing well for the first several turns until someone managed to grab too much front brake and dumped it pretty hard right in front of me. I don’t really know how, I am guessing moto, but I managed to jump over the guy and barely clip him in the chest but stayed upright some how. The course opened up a bit more for most of the rest of each lap and things weren’t too bad just sitting in what was left of the main bunch the next few laps. Each lap through the tight section it was a big fight to stay as far up front you could and not get gapped off. About half way through the race the elastic finally broke and combined with a crash in front of me I lost contact with the front group. I found myself with two others and we just couldn’t make it back up. Luckily I had a teammate in the front group that is a 3 and was willing to sit up and wait for me to try to help me. We rode together for a bit before finally being caught by the second group on the road. Doing races with 3 different disability categories can be a bit tricky in figuring out who you’re racing and where everyone is, but the UCI does have helmet colors that we’re required to wear so that makes things easier, I knew I only had 2 guys in the front group in my classification and 1 in the group that came up to us. So at worst I was going to be 4th on the day if I just stayed in. Joe my teammate that had come back to help me ended up getting a flat and never was able to make it back in, I was on my own against an Italian in my group with a very strong teammate. Things rolled along till the very end and we hit the line with about ten riders left in our group and I thought I had the podium spot locked up, but I ended up getting boxed in on the sprint and just ran out of room. No one likes to lose, but to be honest as hard as the race was and some of the people I beat, I was pretty happy with my result. I did get a trip to the podium as the World Cup Leader and increased my lead in the overall! A nice bonus!

Racing in Belgium is harder, colder, windier and more miserable than people make it out to be. But, yet it is also even more amazing! Very excited that they’ve already announced that we’ll be back next year for another World Cup there and Road Worlds in 2018 or 2019! I might have to make an extended trip next year to get a little better at that racing in the wind thing!

It’s been an amazing trip this month and long! Next up I finally head back to the states, but not home just yet. I head to Winston Salem for Road Nationals where I’ll be looking to add to my total of 5 wins in a row in the road race!

A huge thank you to everyone that has supported me this year and helped make this crazy trip happen and to everyone that’s been following along!

– Matt Bigos

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