La Charly Gaul 2018

What could go wrong?

My fifth Charly Gaul was challenged by the lack of someone handing out water bidons during the race. An issue that took up much of the prep discussion with Stan driving to Luxembourg.

Steen W Sorensen

Blogs van Steen W Sorensen

As we reached the last part of the journey from Echternach to Vianden – yes we picked up our start numbers by car – we surveyed the first part of the race route which took us over climb 1 and 2. Back at the hotel a quick change took us via bikes over the following 3 climbs (3, 4 & 5 in a perfect loop around Hotel Belvedere). Good planning is half the battle.

By the time we were back in the hotel Stan had hatched a plan for the perfect solution to the burning issue of water supply. He had spotted a trash bin on a rest stop after the 5th climb before the long descent to Hotel Belvedere which also marked the beginning of the 6th climb.

After dinner Stan and I set about our secret mission of placing bidons on a surface where they could be reached and grabbed without coming to a full stop. In the dark we once again surveyed the road as it passed the big water reservoir and decided that Stan’s initial spot was indeed the ideal location. It was somewhat made exciting by the presence of a deer standing still in the glaring headlights and a car that mysteriously pulled into the same dark and vacated rest spot as we left it. Returning to the hotel, not 100% satisfied that the bidons would be there in the morning, we decided to put more bidons out on a stone wall behind Hotel Belvedere. We were caught red handed doing this after breakfast by Ello (who for sure would be there first…). Nevertheless with two bidons out for each of us what could go wrong?

My race got off to a good start. Survived the first 8 kilometers of frantic peloton racing to the foot of the first climb where I managed to cut a nice line in the tight left turn (which earned me some kudus from Floris as I cruised passed him).

If my recollection is correct I caught up with Geert on climb 2 and passed him with a handy word of encouragement when your breath is short: ‘gezellig’. The descent of climb 2 had been horrible looking from our survey trip by car the afternoon before and it had even distracted my feeble attempt to fall swiftly asleep. Nevertheless, as I had dreamed for, I descended climb 2 safely on the front of a group. This is what it looked like with the glass half full. In reality a stronger group was riding away and I was getting caught by a chasing group. Having overcome this tricky descent my next goal was just to survive with the same group until and maybe after the difficult climbs 8 or 9.

On our way to and over the easier climb 3 I felt that this would indeed be possible. Not being the best climber but also not the worst I could rely on some heavy fast guys to chase down any gaps after a climb. What could go wrong? And as planned I came over the following two difficult climbs (4&5) – with a fair bit of sucking back wheels bringing me back into the group on the flat parts.

Passed Marcus on the windy second half of climb 5. He was just getting ready to rejoin the race after a flat. I myself just managed to hang on and could not offer any wind break. Sorry, that was not a very sportive moment… but my excuse is that I was mentally getting ready to pick up my spare bidon.

What was envisaged to be a quick ‘drive thru’ pick up of a bidon became a horror show. As much as I tried to get to the top of my group on the slow incline along the water reservoir the guys on the front were producing impressive watts and the tempo was high. Doubting the execution of the plan I nevertheless boldly swung right onto the rest place and aimed for the trash bin. One bidon remained – Stan of course was way ahead of me… With the adrenalin pumping I managed to squeeze the front break so hard that my rear wheel was raised a good half meter into the air and I came to an awkward stop a small meter before the trash bin. With a bit of tip toeing I got my bidon and did a scratch 200m sprint out of the pit in order to regain the group. What could go wrong?

Well, something Stan and certainly I had overlooked was that the descent towards Hotel Belvedere (marking the beginning of climb 6) was probably the fastest of the day. As much as I tried to rejoin my perfect group outside my comfort zone the heavy guys were descending like rockets and the gap to the group was growing. Nevertheless, with a few turns before and the last sharp right hander around Hotel Belvedere into a slow incline brought me back into striking distance. All I had to do was to stay in the heavy ring and do a hard interval standing out off the saddle and maybe all would be good again. Except due to a nervy and totally unnecessary back and forth shifting between the big and small front rings the chain fell off and I had to get off the bike for the second time inside a few minutes. As a result my group steadily rode away and I could trace their progression on the beautiful undulating windy roads towards climb 7 as the distance just grew bigger and bigger.

At this point I was surprised to come across Stan. My recollection of this part of the race is a bit blurred as I mentally struggled to make sense of why my raceday was not enhanced by the clever positioning of water supplies. Somewhere around the top of climb 7 I was joined by several other Gauliste: Marcus, Serge, Geert and Marc. Once again I could greet Geert with my breathless ‘gezellig’. During this time Stan fell back and Marcus and Serge rode away. My own race moral was slowly restored as I managed to get past the difficult climbs 8 and 9 in a new nice group.

What could go wrong now? Well, somehow I managed to lose my chain again after climb 10. Obviously my poor gear handling skills were lurking in the unconscious. And I was again reduced to a single chaser. Who was soon caught by two young and fresh looking guys. Nice. As we (actually mostly they) worked hard to keep the gap to the group on the last climb under control we were joined by an American who with 10 sec intervals screamed: come on guys we can do it. And we did.

At least the last part of the race went according to plan. Stan had instructed me to behave like a proper sprinter and not to think or hesitate in the last kilometer. Just make sure you hit the last right – left turn (or was it the other way around?) at the front of the group. Which I did. And after all this yoyoing back and forth I eventually achieved exactly the same position as last year in the 50+ group: #40. Nice enough. Only the final effort had left both my legs in cramps so much so that I had to hang on to the metal fence for a few minutes listening to a volunteer instructing me to move along in french volapuk before I could dare to demount the bike for a fourth time. Apparently I did not drink enough water.

Lesson learnt: Extra bidon in the jersey or stop at the second food and water hand out two thirds into the race and rejoin whatever group is available after that. Or maybe I simply follow the example set by Serge – which is to grab someone else’s bidon as the opportunity arises at one of the many other team supply stops. Therein lies the motivation for next year’s La Charly Gaul.

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