After his original travel plans were foiled by a third collarbone break in less than 18 months, Sarvesh finally touched down in Brussels earlier this month to begin another racing block in the heartland of European road cycling.
Words: Sarvesh Sangarya
It’s been nearly three weeks since I arrived here in Belgium and when I woke up today, I had two main tasks to choose from my to-do list:
After 19 hours of air travel, I arrived in Brussels sans bike bag. Fortunately, having experienced the same misfortune last year, I had packed three days’ worth of essentials in my cabin luggage – including my helmet, cycling shoes and pedals – in anticipation of this happening a second time. I gave my residential details to the airline and was asked to wait two days for the arrival of my bike bag. I then caught up with my good friend Ronny Schrijvers who kindly deposited me into Ghent.
As I boarded a train to Antwerp the following morning, I shivered in my t-shirt and shorts and longed for the warm weather clothing packed in my bike bag. I arrived at the suburb of Hove and picked up a sweet Cervelo S3 generously loaned by my friend Jamie Anderson. The next hour was wastefully spent trying to get at least one of my three GPS devices working to help navigate the tricky route back to Ghent. I failed.
I lurched back to the train station and sat on platform number 2, feeling dejected that I wasn’t able to ride to my Belgian home. The train to Ghent arrived punctually, and departed. From platform 4.
By now completely miserable, I headed over to the correct platform and waited for the next train, due to arrive in 40mins. Five minutes before the train was due to arrive, a thought struck my mind – how awesome of an adventure would it be if I tried to navigate my way back to Ghent without GPS!.
So that’s what I set out to do. I asked nearly a dozen people for directions during the 75 kilometre ride – of which 54 kilometres (yes, I counted) were in a headwind – back to the house at Ghent, arriving nearly 3.5 hours after I left Antwerp. I was happy, exhausted and feeling like nothing could get me down, then realised I hadn’t recorded the ride on my Garmin GPS.
That night, I decided to line up for racing the next day despite some resistance from my still-tender left shoulder. It was a weak showing and I was swiftly squashed. The next evening at 6pm, in the quaint town of Zelzate, I pinned on my racing numbers for one of the toughest amateur races I’d competed in since my last stint in Belgium. Knowing I was not race-ready and riddled with self-doubt, I assigned two simple thoughts to my brain to distract it: 1) don’t you dare forget to start your Garmin! 2) Did I leave the stove ON?
BANG! Having successfully avoided the shame of not clipping in on the first try, it seemed everybody around me followed the same script after the start gun fired:
The next five minutes were a bit of a blur as I struggled to reach into the depths of actual and muscle memory to figure out my next move. But due to jetlag and (mostly) lack of fitness, I got dropped from the race in the penultimate corner of the first lap.
Still, I was not dejected. I’d spoken with my coach a few days earlier and realised that I had a lot more work to do before I was in the right physical condition. I returned home looking forward to my second race at the same venue a few days later. I was also glad to see that I had not left the stove on.
The next two days were spent getting back into the rhythm of training, grocery shopping, cleaning the bike, eating, sleeping and repeating. Oh, there was also the annual Kingsnorth International Wheelers team presentation ceremony thrown in between with all the supporters and sponsors of the team showing up.
I rolled up to the start line again on 08 August feeling slightly fresher and with a goal of lasting 20 minutes in the race. Unlike the previous race, I came mentally prepared with a ‘Belgian Racing Algorithm’:
Needless to say, I was elated to overcome the ‘first lap barrier’ – so elated in fact that, when three guys attacked up the road and the peloton seemed to pause for a bit, I threw caution to the wind and bridged across. Almost.
I got stuck in a no-man’s land for the next kilometre or so before being reeled back in. In the penultimate corner of the lap, my sprinting prowess was not yet up to scratch and I got dropped again. This time around though, I tagged along with my teammate Parashuram Chenji (check out his blog) and logged some good training miles before commuting back home.
The following day, I was reunited with my bike bag and the warm weather clothing I’d been so eagerly looking forward to. It felt great to no longer having to worry about timing the laundry cycle around the two pairs of bib shorts I’d had until now.
Along with the rest of the Indian contingent here – Parashuram Chenji, Arvind Panwar and Makarand Mane – I’d also decided to race again that same day. Ensuring our national stereotype would be upheld, we made sure our departure was adequately delayed. We duly arrived in Lokeren five minutes before the start, were unable to locate the registration desk on time and missed the race.
Cue pouring rain.
…which cruelly reminded me of the one crucial piece of clothing I’d forgotten that day – shoe covers. As cold water seeped into my shoes, my focus turned to dry clothing. I began the solo ride back home, leaving the others to watch the race we missed. On the way back, the weather changed from cold (10°C) and wet to warm, sunny and Bangalore-like (minus the pollution) in a span of seven kilometres! Once back home and changed, I headed out on another training ride on the scenic Gentbrugge canal to wrap up my first week in cycling motherland’s in a ribbon of VO2 max efforts.
Week two coming soon!