The clock is ticking. My last race of the season is coming up.
Actually, I’ve been exaggerating a little in my last few blog entries. Scherpenheuvel-Hapert isn’t a race. According to the organisers it is strictly a touring event, aimed at recreational riders aiming simply to finish the 90 kilometre ride with 200 metres vertical ascent. But that is merely the official edict. Let me give you the word from the street.
Scherpenheuvel-Hapert starts in the pilgrim town of Scherpenheuvel at the town church, which is given the title of ‘famous’ in local guide books. At 8:25 a.m. the priest will bless the 1600 bicycles by spraying holy water over the crowds. Then all the touring enthusiasts will be let on the track through a narrow gate that allows only two riders to start at a time.
While all this is happening, some 100 racers gather at a local parking lot down the road. As soon as the first rider from the official start shows up, it is ‘go-time’. The bunch takes off at over 40km/h. There is one hill on the track nicknamed ‘The Poggio’ – 300 meters at a gradient of 16 per cent incline. Apparently the moniker was later used for another cycling event in Italy. In either case, this is where the men get separated from the boys.
Coming into Hapert, the finish line is inside a bar. Everybody gets a medal, because this is only a recreational event. And then everybody gets a ticket for a free spaghetti. These tickets are numbered. First one to finish gets number 1, second one gets number 2 and so on.
There, now we have the all the necessary elements for a race. Not for prizes, but instead for pasta vouchers. Every bikeshop in the area sends out their best riders, but since this is the last event of the year it is okay if you try to ditch your teammates, if only for bragging rights.
Sprocket Scientist will make its first appearance in Scherpenheyvel. It will be the presentation of the team race kit (any similarities with any well-known stuntmen is pure coincidence). We will show up with four riders: Hans is the winner of last year’s race, or technically the fastest man on the tour of 2009; my friend Mathieu, an elite level road cyclist in his off-season, and his friend of who I do not remember the name, but he’s broadly referred to as ‘the Flemish Jan Ulrich’ – apparently he’s a beast on the bike, but tends to gain 10 kilos over winter. And then there’s me, silently hoping to be the slowest of the bunch, because that means my team is whooping ass in the front.
I recall spitting out a lung on the first 10 kilometres last year and wondering why I was part of the third group, not the first. This year I will try to make it to the Poggio with the big boys and then improve on my pasta ticket 23 of 2009.
Training efforts finished last week, emails full of big statements have been sent to the other teams, riders are equipped with fresh lycra. The ‘World Cup Flanders’ – perhaps next year it will be the first recreational event where UCI marshalls show up for blood testing.
I’ll let you know how we go!