The 90-mile road race has it all – plenty of climbing, technical descents, cross-wind roads, and a punchy finale that reveals every riders flaws. There is no denying it, this race is always contested by strong-men that show-up ready to race hard for the entire 90-mile race.
My memories of this course are fond as this is the route that I won the CA State Championship on. During training leading up to this years’ Vlees Huis Ronde, I continually recalled memories from that day in 2012, especially the team work my KHS teammates and I produced to make that result possible.
For this year’s race, the date had been moved earlier, which meant we would not be competing in the extreme heat of the Bakersfield summer. No matter, although my KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo teammates and I love racing in the heat, we were excited to race this course in more mild conditions. As it would turn out, in addition to some substantial wind, we would be buffeted by rain at various times during the race, something race organizer, Sam Ames, a Belgian hard-man (at heart), would be proud of!
The race started aggressively right from the word ‘go’. There were attacks and momentum changes causing gaps in the field almost immediately as we sped toward the first climb of the day. This initial ascent was incredibly intense, we were going hard! The field was attacking on the climb and our tactic was to ensure that each potential break-away had a solid contingent of KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo riders in it before it got too far away.
Luckily, I had teammates Ulises, Fabrizio, and Cory who can stomp the climbs so that our team was represented in every field split on the climb. This allowed me to ride a hard, but steady tempo, and save my best legs for the crosswinds later in the race.
Note: From here on out, I will refer to my boys as I do in the races… Ule for Ulises, Fabi for Fabrizio, Lockwood for Cory, and Duby for Duban.
Mid-way up the first climb, a breakaway established itself with my boy Ule in it. Perfect! From there, the pressure was on the rest of the field to chase back the break-away. However, at the Vlees Huis Ronde, a rider can never relax! The breakaway did not last the full lap and was brought to heel on the second climb of the day.
It should be said, that this course features three vicious climbs per lap and a long cross-wind section that rolls by an abandoned slaughter-house that gives the race it’s name… Vlees Huis, in Flemish, means Butcher House, an appropriate name if I do say so, myself!
The peloton was back together on the flat section of course that passed the slaughter house when attacks started flying again. No doubt, the group was interested in the $100 cash prize that would be awarded by Seth Davidson Bike Lawyer for laps one and two. We were keen to get a chance at the prize money too and raced the section conservatively, after all, we were only thirty-miles into a 90 mile day! Fabi took the cash prize on the line in a hotly contested sprint finish. Well done Bro!
On our way to the three climbs that annotated the second lap, the racing continued to be aggressive, with no break-away gaining significant traction. Although the race continued to be aggressive over each of the three climbs on the second lap, with various field splits and break-aways, nothing was the ‘right’ combination to solidify the race. With all this action, it was clear that the entire peloton was getting fatigued. As a racer, this when you must remain ‘heads-up’, because that is most likely to be the decisive moment when the peloton lets the breakaway roll away.
On our second passing of the slaughter house, the breakaway went. Ule attacked with a small group of riders, then a small chase followed with me tagged on the wheels. We quickly organized our group to establish a decent gap on the peloton.
We worked hard across the windy section, to the turn-around, and then back toward the climb. On our last lap and on the first of the final three laps, my teammate Mr. Lockwood came across to the break-away with a small group of riders. Us the climb progressed, the breakaway split with Ule off the front with a Centric Bikes rider. Then on the downhill, another rider attacked and I sent Lockwood with him. And thus, the stage was set.
Ule was leading on the road with another rider, Lockwood was in a chase group with one rider, and I was with the remnants of the break-away. Team KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo was in an excellent tactical position!
The day ended with Ule taking the win, Cory finishing fourth, and me taking fifth, having won the sprint from my chase group. Being as it was Ule’s birthday, it made our first win of the season even more enjoyable!
Given the success of our team, and the pride I take in seeing my teammates win, you might not guess that the most memorable part of the weekend, for me, was dinner before the race. The race organizer, Sam Ames, and his cohorts, the Rous family, hosted an incredible home cooked meal for riders of the Vlees Huis Ronde. The food was excellent, the hospitality was classic, and the company was incredible. The boys and I had so much fun ‘bench-racing’ and talking about our shared passion of cycling with Mr. Ames and the Rous family.
As I have said before, it is the people in cycling that make this sport special. Whether it is the personal attention each of our sponsors give our team, the extra-mile our Team Manager Paul Abrahams goes, or the kindness of hosts and race organizers across the country, I am constantly humbled by the incredible passion and enthusiasm of the people I meet through cycling.
Until next time, be safe, ride hard, and have fun!
Thank you to our sponsors: KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, JLVelo, Serfas, Shimano, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Xpedo Pedals, Kali Protectives, Infinit Nutrition, Bicycle Blue Book, WD-40 BIKE, Chamois Butt’r, Cycling Illustrated, Rennie & Associates, Big Wheel Coaching, Ultra Cycle, and Q2.
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