27th of august 2016. La Roche en Ardenne. 8:48am.
One of my main goal race is about to start.
I'm feeling good, although slightly in the unknown about my form, as my recent races hasn't really been going to plan. But, there's nothing I can do about that know so i'm gonna give it my all and then it should be enough for a gold medal.
The day promises to be a nice one. With temperatures up to 38degrees celsius. Maybe a little to hot for racing in the hills, but better than in the rain.
I'm riding this sportive together with my mate Piet Boom, but he's just here to have fun. So we said to meet each other at the finish line. I promised him a cold beer there.
A last minute word to myself and then at precisely 9:03am we're off. Immediately it's a flat out sprint to the first climb. On the climb itself, 6%, 3km, I'd decided to go a little bit faster than normal and trying to average 325watts to get into a fast group. Reaching the top, the group immediately starts to work together to make sure the pace keeps high.
After 18km we're back at La Roche. And i'm hoping that maybe my girlfriend is there in the crowd. I don't see her, so I think she was unable to make it there at this time. No worries, she'll be at the 68km mark in La Roche to provide me with a new bidon and some gels.
The Mur de la Vélomédiane
As this is my 5th start at this event, I know where to pace myself and where to push. And I know when it's going to hurt. And this race has a flew steep climb that are just a 10minute all out effort. As such is the Mur de la Velomediane. It says 8.8% average for 1.8km but I know it's really about the steepest sections at the beginning. The first 400m are 23.5% and then it's a 8% section for about 250m and then again a 350m 20% part. After that it flattens out. There is only one way to ride this climb. All out on your smallest gear. In the final sprint uphill I pushed 1449watts.
My girlfriend with a bidon and some energy gels
After this brutal monster it's about 10km to La Roche, which means for me, seeing my girlfriend and getting a new bidon with gels. Before the race we spoke about where to stand on the climb and how to attach the gels onto the bidon pro style.
At this stage of the race I was hurting a little bit, but to see your girlfriend there, and another good friend, is really helpful. It makes the pain easier to sustain. And I must say, they did a pro job, because not only did I grab the bidon, there were also some gels attached to it, with a little bit of sticky tape. Perfect! And it's on film.
Severe cramps and lower back problems
At about the 90km point I started to feel terrible. Severe cramps in my upper legs and hamstrings and some lower back stiffness. Probably one has to do with the other. This was really testing me mentally. I just couldn't put the power down like I wanted to. I kept telling myself to push on! Stretching it helped a bit. I knew that this was where my gold medal would be won or lost. This fight, between my mind and body eventually lasted for about 40km. Finally I was starting to feel better. No more cramps and my back had loosen up a but.
The heat of the day
Probably I should mention the weather conditions. Sunny and hot, very hot! In the heat of the day my Garmin said 38degrees celsius. That's hot, even for someone who likes the heat. Off course, drinking is a key element. But the people along the road also help with lots of water hoses and cups of cold water.
Cote de Beffe
For some of us dutch people it's a funny name, but for me it spells pain and glory. Because after this last steep climb it's not that long until the finish line.
Before the Cote the Beffe there is about 10km of almost flat roads where it really pays off to be in a group. I was in a group with people, who, well not really wanted to ride with me to the bottom of the climb. Even though I kindly spurred them on. At the end, it was just me and a Danish rider who were trying to up the pace. We did a good job together and were soon just together. When we reached the climb we said goodbyes and I pushed as hard as I could towards the top.
Another mental challenge
In reaching the top of the Cote de Beffe the climb is not over yet, because it's still about 6km of 5% climbing left. This is really a breaking point. I knew that I was in for gold, but also that it was going to get a close call.
Every inch of my body was in pain, and my mind was playing tricks. One minute I was there and the other I was thinking about everything I'd done this year and all the pain I'd sustained to get to this level. 30minutes is nothing compared to that. Nothing!
Final crazy descent and sprinting to the finish line
I managed to drop everybody at the last climb even though I wasn't really going fast anymore, but nobody was. Everybody was tired and had suffered a lot during this warm and dry day. The last descent is an epic 6% one with good tarmac and only a few tight corners. So it's onto the top tube and trying to go as fast as possible. Reaching a topspeed of 84km/h just before the bottom and then it's just another km. When I reached La Roche I had just a minute left to reach the gold and I gave it my all. Eventually grabbing gold with just 29seconds to spare. My final time was 6h04min31sec.
Now it was time to wait for my mate Piet Boom. I promised him a beer at the finish line. When he reached the finish line I felt so proud. Because this is really not his kind of weather. But the beer tasted great!
Happy with the result and especially with the way I got it.
In the end, the time was not what iId aimed for but i'm nevertheless very happy with my result. It's not just about the goal, it's also about how you reached that goal. And today was a tough and challenging day on the bike. But my mind was strong and in the end, my body was to!
Special thank you
A special thank you to my girlfriend Robin Staal and also our friend Marlou Swinkels, for coming all the way to La Roche just to see me suffer. Your support has been great.
And a very special thank you to my mate Piet Boom. I didn't see you during the race, but you were a big help and I'm very proud of you reaching the finish line in a Bronze medal time. On towards next year.
This race in an epic one
As my title says, this race is epic. Not just for it's brutal climbs and severe heat, but also because of the people alongside the parcours.
Adults making musing and cheering you on, kids with cookies and water, and all the other people behind the scenes that made this day epic. It's an adventure, with ups and downs, mentally and physically. But it's made a lot easier because of all of them. A big thank you to all of you and I'll see you next year!
Thank you for reading my story today and feel free to leave a comment below. I'll leave you with the pictures of the day.