Rathe Report: Back in Belgium to tackle Hoboken
Portland’s Jacob Rathe rides for the Jelly Belly/Kenda Cycling Team and the USA Cycling U23 National Team. He is currently with the National Team racing in Belgium, where he just finished the Elite race at Hoboken.
By Jacob Rathe
HOBOKEN, Belgium — In the first week of May in 2009, I raced at Hoboken as a Junior. I fought my way through the mixture of big roads, small roads, cobblestones, wind and sharp turns for 130 kilometers with 200 anxious juniors. The Hoboken course embodies what racing in Belgium is.
It was nice for my first race of the 2010 season in Europe with the elite field to be on familiar roads. This year I am in a different world. I am no longer one of the most mature riders in the field, but rather, the youngest in the longest race that I have ever done. On basically the same course as last year, this year’s race was 186 kilometers (115 miles), with an elite field and a number of professional riders.
The weather report said that it was supposed to rain all afternoon. We were lucky that it didn’t for the first 100 k, and only on one end of the circuit.
The day couldn’t have been a more stereotypical day of racing in Belgium. I raced in Europe for 13 weeks last year, and I did not crash a single time. I consider that to be an achievement, though at the same time I didn’t win any field sprints. But this year my time came, about 30 k in. It was a straight two-lane road, the sounds of mayhem presented themselves and swept me into the pile of bikes and bodies. There wasn’t much I could do. In the future, I just won’t ride where crashes happen.
I got back on the bike, with torn shorts and minor road rash, and was paced back to the field by the team car. From then, I had 150 kilometers left to race. I definitely thought about dropping out. Just one more lap.
For the past three weeks, the weather in Belgium has been very nice. Too nice. When the sprinkles of rain came, the road turned into a sheet of ice. Riders would slide out in the corners going modest speeds, and then keep sliding.
The downpour came the next lap. It was raining so hard I was instantly soaked and couldn’t see a thing. The entire field was single file in the crosswind section, and water was coming from the sky and the road. If I wanted to see, I had to ride out of the draft.
The spouts of downpour didn’t last long, but they were long enough to put a damper on the aggression of the field. I stuck it out to the finish, even motivating myself to go for the field sprint for 23rd place. I got 6th in the sprint, I think. I haven’t seen the results, but I’m somewhere around there.
It was a long day, the extra 1-2 hours makes for a different kind of suffering than in junior racing. Different, but not necessarily harder. We will do a kermesse this week, then another long one day race on Sunday, Circuit de Wallonie.