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13 september 2010 19:23

See ya at the worlds

On the 6th of January, just before boarding a plane back to Europe, I told everyone in Australia that I’d see them again at the worlds. I wasn’t completely joking but it was definitely wishful thinking, I didn’t even get close to getting selected for the World Championships in 2009.

Ever since I heard the World Championships 2010 would be held in Melbourne and Geelong I wanted to be there but the fact that my girlfriend, Kaitlin, is from Melbourne made this an absolute goal for me. Racing a world championship in one of the most beautiful countries in the world is one thing but also racing for so many friends, family and on my training grounds (for about 3 months a year) would make that one of the most beautiful races I’d ever do.

I would be exaggerating if I’d say I trained the whole pre-season thinking about the worlds but it I did think about it a lot whilst riding on the roads around Melbourne. When I stayed in Geelong the first week of January for the Bay Crits I decided to do a couple of laps on the course to make sure I’d know the circuit and I could tell everyone about it. My good friend Wade (from www.cyclingtipsblog.com) decided to make a video of me and Tiffany Cromwell checking out a lap of the circuit, watch it here.


Back over in Europe the season started and the world championships got pushed a bit to the back of my mind but obviously the closer we were getting to October the more I was thinking about it. During the criterium period, just after the Tour de France, I talked to Leo van Vliet (Dutch national coach) for the first time and I knew it was up to me to show myself in races to get selected. After I did a good Eneco Tour where I felt really good in a couple of stages I knew I had a chance and it was a big relief to hear I made it to the pre-selection of 9 riders for the last 3 spots. Unfortunately there was some fierce competition but after I spoke to the coach on the phone shortly after, I must have convinced him of my good form in the last races and my possibilities and motivation for this particular world championships race.

I didn’t know if I’d be in the final selection until the 8th of September, my birthday. What a birthday surprise, the best one I could be getting this year. I did it, I’ll be there in Melbourne and Geelong on October 3rd and will see ya all at the worlds!!
 
01 juli 2010 12:06

Dutch National Road Championship

One of the strangest races of the year and one of the most important races of the year: the national championships. It’s completely different than any other race because only Dutch riders can take part and I think in the last 8 years I haven’t done any other race with only Dutch riders.

Now I’m riding for Skil-Shimano, I at least have teammates with me in this race and actually a masseur and a team car in the race. Riding for Liberty Seguros and Astana I was the only Dutch rider which meant I had to organize the hotel myself, organize a massage, get my own racefood, fill my own bidons, put my spare wheels in a neutral car, basically going back in time to the U17 category when I had to do all that myself as well (or my dad did that, thanks dad J). Of course it’s no problem at all to do that yourself now and then but it does somehow give you the feeling it’s not important which of course isn’t correct: I’d love to have that red, white and blue jersey for a year….

Having teammates in the nationals is obviously a good thing as we can help each other out in the race but with the 9 riders we had on the startline it means we also have a tactical responsibility in the race. Whenever a group would break away without any riders from Skil-Shimano in there we would have to chase the group down and that would mean sacrificing a few riders and we can’t have that happen. There are riders of many different teams at the start but the tactical ‘war’ happens basically between 3 teams, Rabobank (with 20 riders), Skil-Shimano (with 9 riders) and Vacansoleil (with 9 riders). It’s not difficult to see that both Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil have a tough time battling with Rabobank if only just because of the figures.

The night before the race we decided that five of our riders would try to get in the early break and that always one of these five riders would be in any group breaking away in the first 150km of the race. Of course there is always a possibility of the early break making it to the finish but this year that didn’t happen and we basically sacrificed 5 riders before the final even started which left us with 4 riders (that included me). Both Rabobank and Vacansoleil by that time had sacrificed about as many riders in the beginning but that meant that the relative overhand of Rabobank only got bigger.

Come the last two laps the race was still completely open and all of our 4 riders for the final had already done a lot of attacking and reacting to attacks so by the time an 8 man breakaway went we were happy we had just one rider in there: me. Vacansoleil also had one rider (Ruygh), two ‘solo’ riders: Honig and Terpstra and Rabobank had 4 riders. Even though Rabobank had the overhand in the race and in this breakaway it would still be hard for them to do it right because only winning is good enough for them. That’s why I focused my attention in this breakaway on two Rabobank riders: Tankink and Leezer, two riders that can win in a sprint with one or more other riders. When another Rabobank rider, Weening, broke away with a clearly faster rider in the sprint, Terpstra, I decided not to react because I thought Rabobank wouldn’t let that happen and this would wear the Rabobank riders out, giving me a bigger chance to win. Unfortunately I quickly saw that Weening was doing big turns with Terpstra but it was too late to react, I would have killed myself chasing with other riders sitting on my wheel. We nearly came to a standstill because no one wanted to ride and the bunch came back just before the last hill. We decided to ride on the front of the bunch for a chance for Veelers to win the bunch sprint when 2 other Rabobank riders attacked from the bunch in a last try to close the gap to the breakaway.

In the bunch we were sprinting for 5th and I still managed to get 5th of the bunch in this uphill sprint, 9th in the day result. Although 9th is not a terrible result I felt really disappointed afterwards. Weening lost the sprint to Terpstra (which I expected) and I got only a 9th while I was feeling great on the bike that day. Especially finishing in the first 5 of the bunch after all that work in the last lap I showed that I had some energy left that could also have given me a medal.

Looking back at it I should have reacted when Weening and Terpstra attacked but it’s hard to do it right when there are 4 riders from 1 team in the breakaway. I guess I learned again today and hopefully I’ll get another chance to win that national jersey another year.
 
11 juni 2010 17:17

European Road Quality

First of all I want to make an apology for the massive amount of time between blog entries.  My excuses are that I’ve been very busy racing with consecutively Tour de Picardie, Tour of Belgium and Tour of Luxembourg. The days in between races I was either at a training camp, travelling (see my last blog entry) or just passed out on the couch at home trying to recover from recent adventures. 
Next blog entry won’t be a month away, I promise… I really do!

My teammate Job Vissers gave me a great idea for this blog entry as we were bouncing over the concrete slab-roads in Belgium: the road quality and specific points to watch out for in the different European countries.

I’m from the Netherlands and have obviously raced on Dutch roads all my life and generally speaking the roads in the Netherlands are of great quality, nice smooth asphalt without any potholes or damages. The town centers sometimes have cobblestone or paved roads but even these roads are still of good quality. The problem with racing on Dutch roads is the ‘road furniture’, the roads are full of speed bumps, traffic islands, roundabouts and traffic guiding lips. Great for safety on the road in traffic but terrible for racing a bike on. It’s hard to see all these hurdles coming when you are in the bunch and they definitely cause crashes occasionally. The smooth roads are great to race on but it’s important to always keep an eye out for any of that road furniture.

Anyone who has ever raced in Belgium knows about the concrete slab-roads. I’m not sure what percentage of the roads in Belgium are made of concrete slabs but most races seem to go over them for at least half the race. The first thing you notice is that the concrete slabs are very ‘bouncy’. Over the years the slabs have moved or tilted and you feel every time you hit a new slab. Of course this isn’t the most comfortable road but the biggest problem is that most roads are 2 slabs wide which means that there’s a gap or height difference in the middle of the road between the 2 slabs. A car or even motorbike won’t have a problem at all with these gaps or height differences but a narrow biketyre is different and it occasionally causes crashes, especially in the youth categories where there are less experienced riders. In pro-races every rider knows not to ride close to the middle of the road or to jump over the middle when needed.

The next countries don’t need a lot of explaining but I’ll just give a quick overview of the road quality.

France has usually got nice asphalt roads to race on with an occasional traffic island or road damage. Not as smooth as the Dutch roads but quite comfortable, except for the cobblestone sections of Paris-Roubaix obviously.

Spain has got nice asphalt roads with hardly any traffic islands or speed bumps. Some roads have been damaged a fair bit over the years and they are generally not super smooth.

Italy is similar to Spain, nice roads without much road furniture but there is some road damage occasionally.

A few countries’ roads are equally good for racing. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg have great smooth and wide roads with hardly any speed bumps or traffic islands.

Just to put this all in perspective, Job gave me the idea for this blog a few minutes before he went down hard on a stretch of beautiful road in Belgium so better roads don’t necessarily mean less or less severe crashes. All these roads have their own specifics and although I obviously like to race on nice smooth roads in Germany, racing in Belgium wouldn’t be the same without the concrete slabs.
 
06 mei 2010 21:32

09 travels

In a moment of rest between some training rides this 4 day team training camp I was surfing the internet and started reading up on some news and cycling blogs. Amongst the usual blogs I read is the blog of my Girona training mate, great writer and overall cool guy Ted King. He gave me an idea for a topic for my own blog, my travels for 2009. I do understand this isn’t very original but my defense is that he got the idea by reading another rider’s blog as well so I don’t feel too bad about it…

For certain tax reasons it’s important to log my travels and amount of days in other countries and thus it isn’t too hard for me to give an insight to my travels, racing and training whereabouts. I won’t give them to you with the same punctuality as I have to submit my whereabouts to WADA, the doping authority, but you’ll at least get the idea.

Are you ready because this might take a while… For the first time in 4 years I celebrated New Years Eve in The Netherlands (and not Australia) with my cousin Daan and some friends and partied my way into 2009 in Boxtel, near my Dutch home town of Liempde. After sleeping extensively on the 1st of January I caught a flight to Girona on January 2nd. After training there for a week from my second home, Palamós (near Girona), I flew back to the Netherlands on January 8 to leave again on Jan 14th for a team training camp on Spanish island Mallorca. Arrived back in the Netherlands on the 24th and drove out of there again on the 29th to go to Frankfurt, Germany, for my flight to Qatar. After training and racing there for 10 days I flew back to Germany, drove to The Netherlands and took a flight to Girona. I stayed in my apartment near Girona for a few days and then flew on towards the south of Spain (we’re talking 14th of February now) for the Ruta del Sol. After this race I flew back to Girona, trained another few days and flew to Belgium the 24th of Feb for some classics recon rides and subsequently two classics races. Anyone still following this? We’ve only just reached March, the 2nd to be precise, when I flew back to Girona for some days before I had to fly to Paris for Paris-Nice. I flew back from Nice to Barcelona on March 15th and trained for another 6 days in Girona. On March 22nd I travelled by plane to Belgium for the classics campaign. I travelled between Belgium, the Netherlands and France for a good month to do Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 prijs, Brabantse Pijl, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel, and Liège whilst staying at my parents’ house in The Netherlands between races.  With the start of May came my first rest period which I spent in Spain to enjoy some good old sunshine at the beaches of the Costa Brava. After a week of sipping sangría and eating tapas on my terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, I started training hard again, preparing for the Tour de France. For my first race after my rest period I flew from Girona to Paris, May 14th, did the Tour de Picardie and flew back to Girona on May 17th. Trained for another week in sunny Spain and flew to Belgium for the Tour of…. right: Belgium.  Straight on to Luxembourg for the tour of…. oh yeah: Luxembourg.  After that a flight to Girona, which was closely followed by a drive up to Andorra for some beautiful mountain training and Tour de France stage recoinnaissance. After a few days I drove back to Girona where on June 16 I took a flight to the Netherlands for the Ster Elektrotoer. After that race back to Spain for the last hard training days before flying back to the Netherlands for the Dutch national championships and Tour de France press conference by the team. The 1st of July we then flew to Monaco for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. This superbly organized bike holiday took us from Monaco through parts of France, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy to the Champs Elysees in Paris. After a classic and unforgettable party with some Aussie friends in France’s capital I drove with my parents back to the Netherlands for  11 days of criterium racing for a bit of extra pocket money.  August 8th I flew to Spain for some good training for the rest of the season. August 15th I caught a flight to Hamburg for the local pro-tour race followed by a drive to the Netherlands where the Eneco Tour took me through the Netherlands and Belgium. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish the Eneco Tour due to at least 1 broken rib in a crash but after only 3 days in the Netherlands I flew with the team for a 5 day blitz visit to Japan for the Suzuka Road Race including travel days and 2 races. We’re getting towards the end of the season now…. I stayed in the Netherlands for the race in Leuven (Belgium) on September 6th. For the first time in 8 years I was in the Netherlands for my birthday, had a great day with friends and family and raced Paris-Brussels and Koolskamp in the following days. Back to Spain for another 2 weeks of training before I flew to my last race of the season in France:  Paris-Tours. After 3 days of off-season in the Netherlands I went with my partner Kaitlin to her native country and my second home (or is it third): Australia, where I stayed the rest of the year.

In the likely case you got bored and didn’t read it all, I can make it a bit shorter, I flew 36 times, stayed for 68 days in the Netherlands, 80 days in my apartment in Spain, 78 days in Australia, 16 days of training camp, 6 criteriums and 87 other race days.

For the lazy readers I’ll make a 5 word summary of this post: I travelled a fair bit.
 
01 mei 2010 17:55

Mid-season break

My first part of the season is over and my preparation for the next part consisted the last week mainly of resting and easy training. I was meant to fly to Girona the day after the Amstel Gold Race but unfortunately I, like so many people, got ‘stuck’ and couldn’t fly out until a week later. Instead of having a relaxing time in the sun in Catalonia, I had a relaxing time in the sun in The Netherlands. The weather was absolutely amazing and I decided to do some touristy stuff with my Australian partner Kaitlin in The Netherlands. We went to the Efteling, a beautiful amusement park based mainly on fairytales. When The Netherlands played Lithuania in the World Championships ice hockey we managed to get tickets and saw a great game, won by 'Oranje' of course... Finaly, we went to the former concentration camp in Vught, I had actually never visited it myself but rode past it in training many times. It’s not fun going there but it really shows how inhumane and horrible WW2 has been. It’s scary to see the ovens and emotional to see the names of all the people that have died there. Absolutely a moment to put your own life in perspective and to realize how lucky we are.

Of course I trained a little bit in the Netherlands as well but I’ve really picked it up again since arriving in Spain. After not doing too much on the bike for a week I did some long and easy rides the last 6 days, just to make sure I’m well rested and won’t have my form too early. I have also done a few harder rides with long efforts but I made sure I got nowhere near my maximum heartrate. It’s important to have a good base level again, but doing too many hard efforts will bring the form back too quickly. My next race period will stretch from the Tour de Picardie, from the 15th of May, until the Dutch national championships, the 27th of June. I definitely don’t want to have my peak form before the start of Picardie or there will be no way for me to keep it until the end of June. It’s very important to time the hard training at the right moments.

I won’t be in Girona until Tour de Picardie though because next week the Skil-Shimano Team will have a 4-day training camp in Heerlen, The Netherlands. We will train there together, supervised by team-trainer Merijn Zeeman, and work on team-building at the same time. The team organizes a few of these mini-training camps during the season and I think it’s a great way to train hard and spend some time with teammates without having the stress of racing.

I’ll definitely write another update what exactly we do at the training camp. In the meantime, keep an eye on the website of my friend Wade for a guest post by me with tips about riding on the cobbles: http://www.cyclingtipsblog.com

 
14 april 2010 09:32

Crash

It’s inevitable, every rider will crash a few times during a season but you always hope the tumbles are harmless. In the Tour of Flanders a few riders went down in front of me and I crashed as well but I got away with a big bruise and a graze on my shin, if you have to go down you want to get away with something like that. Since I have been a professional I’ve got a nice average of about 5 crashes a season, some riders crash a little more often than others but I think I’m not a rider that crashes very often.

The race where nearly every rider will crash at some stage during the race, Paris-Roubaix, I didn’t get away with just a bruise. I had been feeling pretty good all day but it was all over just before the Wallers cobbled section, number 18. A rider in front of me went down because he couldn’t make up his mind which side to go around a traffic island. I couldn’t go around him anymore so went down over him and had a fair few riders land on top of me.

Everyone that has ever had a bike crash knows the sensation; the whole world suddenly seems to go in slow-motion. I saw the other rider’s bike in front of me and I tried to brake, which is obviously just a panic reaction, I was never going to be able to avoid crashing. When my front wheel hit the other rider’s bike I went over my handlebar and started to go down face first. I put out my hands to avoid my face hitting the ground and I would have managed if another rider wouldn’t have landed on my back. Instead of slowing down my body from 50km/h to a complete stop with my own skin I had another rider on top of me making the grazes extra deep.

After a crash the first thing I do (and nearly every rider with me) is get up and see if the bike is still okay. Only back on the bike it’s time to see if there are any injuries. Last year I crashed in the Eneco Tour, broke a rib and bruised another few but still kept riding for another 2 days until I really couldn’t keep going anymore. This crash was different, I was on the ground and my face and knee were really hurting. I tried to get up but the pain only got bigger in my knee and when I saw it I thought it was better if a doctor had a look at it. My first question to the race doctor had nothing to do with my knee though, I asked him if I still had all my teeth, it’s really hard to feel these things yourself as everything is still numb and it’s difficult to look in your own mouth. Luckily the doctor told me my mouth and chin were okay: “no harm done” he literally said. When I showed him my knee he was less positive: “Ai, that’s deep…” Not that I couldn’t see that myself, I clearly scraped away all the skin and could see what’s below the skin, some tendons and a kneecap. Race over…

I love Paris-Roubaix but the race doesn’t love me back very much. Read the news-section on my website about Paris-Roubaix to see what I mean. I’ll keep expressing my love for the race publicly and maybe one day the ‘hell of the north’ will be good to me.
 
03 april 2010 18:32

Ronde van Vlaanderen

It is Easter Sunday tomorrow, a very special day in the lives of a lot of people. This year it’ll be extra special in Flanders because the ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen’, the greatest race in Belgium and maybe the greatest race in the World will be held on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately for the riders, the spectators and probably even the TV camera’s it will most likely rain for a good amount of time tomorrow.

Today the weather is not much better and today the cycling fanatics are riding their ‘Ronde’. Thousands and thousands of people riding on the roads the professionals will be racing on tomorrow. I’m currently watching Belgian television and just like every day the last week they are showing interviews with riders and team managers, videos of previous editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and shots of the course and the hills. Today they are showing interviews with people that just completed their own Ronde van Vlaanderen as well.

I see cold and wet people wearing insufficient clothing and riding unequipped bikes for over 260kms on the hard, windy and rainy roads in Flanders. They all seem so happy though. They are all smiling and laughing, talking about how hard it was to finish the complete course. They come from Belgium, The Netherlands, Britain, Germany, France and lots of other countries. Everything points in the one direction: this race is special for many people. It might be the biggest sporting event in Flanders and I am allowed to start in it. I actually trained hard to be good in it and have a good feeling about the last races I did. The form is good and I can’t wait to make this special race MY special race as well. I can’t wait to smile and laugh after the finish, even though I am cold and wet, just like all these people passing the finish line today, and make my Easter Sunday extra special as well.
 
30 maart 2010 14:56

No TdF

We’re not doing the Tour de France. That sucks.
It is actually quite a big disappointment. Of course I could see this coming a little bit but it is a disappointment nonetheless. Taking it up against the likes of Radioshack, BMC and Sky for one of the only 6 wildcards was always going to be tough but we stayed confident and raced how we were meant to race this season, attacking and showing ourselves, making cycling attractive to watch for everyone.

When we were denied a wildcard for Liège and Fleche Wallone, also organized by ASO, my hope for a tour selection started to fade a little bit. It got even worse when I saw an interview with Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, on Dutch television. He said he liked the way we raced in the Tour de France 2009 but that the competition is stiff this year. I figured he wouldn’t say that if he was planning on inviting us.

I loved doing the Tour last year; it’s not just the race itself but everything around it. It was a big adventure and it would have been the same again this year. There were so many people I know, and lots more that knew me and cheered me on, only in the Tour does it ever get that crazy! It would certainly have been greater and more amazing this year with the Tour starting in the Netherlands. When the Tour started in The Netherlands last time (‘s-Hertogenbosch, 1996) I loved it that much that I wanted to ride a bike myself. Being at the actual start line the next time the Tour starts in The Netherlands would have been a dream come true.

Of course I do understand ASO's decision to give the wildcards to Sky, Garmin, Katusha, Radioshack, BMC and Cervelo but I still had hope to be there in Rotterdam. Unfortunately I can forget about that now.

What’s left for me to do is focus on the classics period, starting with the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. I have to think a little bit longer about what I will do instead of the Tour de France and what my goals will be for the rest of the season. I do really like the Tour of Belgium and the Tour of Luxemburg though, maybe that would be a nice next goal.
 
23 maart 2010 21:59

Pre classic day

I’m back in my home away from home during the classics period. Nearly every night before a race in the Flemish Ardennes you can find the Skil-Shimano team in the vd Valk hotel in Nazareth. I think I have slept in nearly every room here and I’m starting to get to know the staff of the hotel by name.

I don’t mind staying here at all though; the rooms are big enough to be able to open your suitcase without having to put it on your bed, like some hotels we occasionally stay at. The restaurant is good and we get a buffet, which is great. It can be nice to sit down and have a long dinner with friends but during a race I like to be able to eat quickly and not having to wait for the food for hours. That way we can have an early team talk and I can have another few relaxing hours on the bed in the room before I go to sleep. The best thing about this hotel is that there is free internet, VERY important! In a stage race like Paris-Nice you can nearly hear the cheers of the riders when there is free wi-fi internet in the hotel we just arrived at. We are away from home for about 150 days a year so it’s nice to have internet in the room so you can relax and stay in touch with friends and family.

Today was another pretty standard ‘Hotel Nazareth day’ for me. I arrived here at about 3pm and went for a ride for a good hour not long after that. I like to try my race bike and race wheels out the day before a race so I’m sure everything is 100% good to go tomorrow. After the ride I had a shower, got a massage and browsed the internet in the spare time before dinner. On the internet I like to watch youtube video’s of last year’s version of the race I’m about to do. It helps to know what happened the year before and where the important points in the race are. I usually already start watching these video’s a few days before the race so I can really focus on the important points and visualize what I want to do. I then try to make a plan for the race for myself and talk about it with the director of the team and hope my personal plan fits in the team plan, which is discussed in the team talk just after dinner. This is done in one of the hotel rooms with the director and the 8 riders sitting down together. After going through the course of the day everyone gets to say what they think of their current form and what they want to do in the race. After taking everything into account the director comes to a team plan and we try to stick with it in the race. Easy… or at least kind of easy. Of course we can always get yelled at by the director through the race radios if we don’t do what we discussed the previous day.

Currently I’m just relaxing on the bed after the team talk, watching some tv and browsing the internet. Tomorrow a big classic, Dwars door Vlaanderen.
 
25 februari 2010 22:06

Race course reconnaissance

The North European opening of the season is coming up. Every year I get excited to be able to do the ‘Omloop het Volk’ (which is since last year known as: ‘Omloop het Nieuwsblad’) and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The first two races in Belgium of the season are both being held in the very tricky area of the Flemish Ardennes. This means narrow roads, steep climbs and cobblestones.

Because in these races being in the right spot at the right time is nearly as important as being strong, it is vital to know all the roads. For example, starting the ‘Taaienberg’ outside the top 30 almost automatically means you won’t be in the front group because there is hardly any room to pass riders on the climb and the group is bound to break on this hill. Knowing the last few kilometers before the ‘Taaienberg’ is very important so you know when to fight for position and when you can take it relatively easy and save energy.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday we rode part of the course of ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ and on Wednesday part of ‘Kuurne’ as well. On Tuesday we started at the cobbled section of ‘Haaghoek’ and rode the full course over all the hills and cobbled sections until ‘Lange Munte’. On Wednesday we started at the same point but rode around in the hilly area a bit more to ride a few hills we will do on Sunday.
Clearly doing a reconnaissance ride is extremely important because even though the weather was quite miserable we saw several other teams riding nearly the same route as us. The teams we saw were: Garmin-Transitions, Cervelo Test Team, HTC-Columbia and Omega Pharma-Lotto. I have no doubt there were even more teams there for a ride in the rain and mud.

Even the media and Belgian people are getting excited; there were several camera teams, photographers and even spectators on the course. The season is really going to start this weekend!

 
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