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  1. #1
    Aut Vincere Aut Mori Snuffleupagus's Avatar
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    Racing While on Vacation in Europe?

    So I've got about 3 weeks of leave that I'll end up losing if I don't take some time off work by Fall of 07. I was thinking today as I was putzing around cooling down from a hard ride that it'd be cool to hop on a MAC (aka free for me since I'm military) flight and go over to Europe, and hang around spectating at Tour, the Giro or the Vuelta.

    I'd be going solo, and was thinking it'd be fun to do a race or four while I was mucking around the continent. I speak a little German and even less Spanish - but given my past experience over there, I think I could get around okay.

    Has anyone done anything similar to this? Any suggestions?

  2. #2
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    I can't believe you even have to ask. BELGIUM.

    Plop down in Flanders and ride to races any day you want. Race every other day and sit at the cafes on the others, just chillin' with the locals. Kermesse racing is the ultimate amateur scene, with most daily races paying 20-50 deep and lasting 100-120km.

    All you need to do is get a UCI license through USAC (extra $50 on top of your domestic).

    Man, I'd love to go back and do that again. Everyone speaks english to boot and TV has lots of English speaking shows/movies.

    This is like a no-brainer.

  3. #3
    Aut Vincere Aut Mori Snuffleupagus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YMCA
    I can't believe you even have to ask. BELGIUM.

    Plop down in Flanders and ride to races any day you want. Race every other day and sit at the cafes on the others, just chillin' with the locals. Kermesse racing is the ultimate amateur scene, with most daily races paying 20-50 deep and lasting 100-120km.

    All you need to do is get a UCI license through USAC (extra $50 on top of your domestic).

    Man, I'd love to go back and do that again. Everyone speaks english to boot and TV has lots of English speaking shows/movies.

    This is like a no-brainer.
    Sweet, Belgium came to mind right off. Hopefully I can make it happen this year

  4. #4
    Ink-Stained Wretch pinky's Avatar
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    +1 on Belgium, see if you can get your butt into the town where the Cycling Center is - oughta be a group of Americans their who at least oughta find you amusing if they don't offer to help.

  5. #5
    Peloton Dog patentcad's Avatar
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    What's the amateur racing scene on the less serious level like in Europe? I presume the Cat 2+ guys might be very tough, but how about the racer hacks like me, aka Cat 3-4-5 here in the USA? Can't be too much different.

    One fascinating thing I learned this year is that Euro pros are often astonished at how FAST criterium races at the pro level tend to be here in the US. Apparently they are often considerably faster than those in Europe. It surprised me to hear that - somewhat. Domestic pro crits here are totally ballistic. Go figure that one out.

  6. #6
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    Cycling Center is in Oostkamp, which is West Flanders. You won't get place to stay as they are full, with paying wannabees. A lot of foreigners stay in Gent. A large town with plenty of hostels and fairly central to races.

    I would recommend staying in Oudenaarde, which is very central to races, has a great bike path along the river for your rest days and plenty of local charm. You'd be right at the base of the hills you read about in the Ronde. The Flanders bike shop is there as well, which is the base for their pro and amateur teams. Say hi to Ronny Assez there. He rode pro for the Flanders team for years. His Dad Frans ran the team and just died last year. He's always good about helping out non-euros. There is a place called Hotel Tyl, that will put you up for about $25-30 a night. They have had lots of racers stay there. You get to use the wash/dry and they feed you breakfast and dinner (or lunch on race days, since it will be too late for dinner when you get back).

    There are cheaper ways, but staying in Hostels sucks. Stuff gets stolen and you don't have creature comforts. Either stay at the hotel I mentioned or try and find a friend that is already over there and rent a room for the 3 weeks.

    You'll find races in the magazine Cyclo-Sprint. It is all very easy and the perfect "racing" vacation.

  7. #7
    Banned. El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    YMCA, this is only slightly off topic, it sounds like you spent some time over there. How long were you in Europe, what time period, and did you go over specifically to race or was it a matter of 'I'm here so I'll race'? I'd really love to hear about your experiences.

  8. #8
    Senior Member roadwarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patentcad
    What's the amateur racing scene on the less serious level like in Europe? I presume the Cat 2+ guys might be very tough, but how about the racer hacks like me, aka Cat 3-4-5 here in the USA? Can't be too much different.

    One fascinating thing I learned this year is that Euro pros are often astonished at how FAST criterium races at the pro level tend to be here in the US. Apparently they are often considerably faster than those in Europe. It surprised me to hear that - somewhat. Domestic pro crits here are totally ballistic. Go figure that one out.
    They don't do that many criteruims, simply because they are able to do road races, point to point...mostly due to the fact that it's such a big sport that people don't complain about rolling road closures...race comes thorugh, cops in front, road closes, race goes through, cops behind, road opens. I didn't do many "Fred's Industrial Park Criterium" races when living there...

    Also, many crits are maybe an hour, even at the 1 and 2 level due to the need to get off the property eventually...that's why they are so fast...because they are so short. It's also the reason why good US pros struggle in Europe. They are used to riding roundyrounds and are training for short burst accelerations. Not the long distance (ride for four or five hours) blue zone riding and then taking it up five more notches. They are capable, but just have to retrain for the longer road races.

    Racing for five hours from one end of Belgium to the other is a different proposition...when I came back here, I sucked at crits as I was trained for 100 mile road races. With climbing, descending, etc...totally had to retrain myself. Crits are like running 800 meters, versus 5k or longer races. Different training.

    BTW...they are called kiermesse's there, and designed to have a lap long enough that the spectators can watch the riders go by, get and drink a beer before they get back (according to legend and Belgians do love their suds). It's also the only time I raced where the spectators gambled on the riders (at the top level). That I know of, anyway...

    To the OP...as was said you need an international license. Also, realize that in a place like Belgium, kids race 60 miles. The riders are good and many are experienced...I was fortunate to be on a team and living in the country. It would be an adventure to go unattached. There are a ton of cycling clubs and they have coaches (think little league/AAU basketball organization) but the poster above me (YMCA) gave you good advice.

    Good luck.

    BTW...I'd first contact USA Cycling, but if you can deal with the French/Flemish, here's the website for the Belgian Cycling Federation.
    The biggest issue is that you'll have to deal with the language as in the depths of Belgium in "their sport" it gets a bit more dicey communicating. My advantage is I was on a Belgian team and could manage both languages.
    Last edited by roadwarrior; 12-31-06 at 06:21 AM.
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  9. #9
    Banned. El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    Roadwarrior same question to you that I asked YMCA...dish some stories!

  10. #10
    . botto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snuffleupagus
    So I've got about 3 weeks of leave that I'll end up losing if I don't take some time off work by Fall of 07. I was thinking today as I was putzing around cooling down from a hard ride that it'd be cool to hop on a MAC (aka free for me since I'm military) flight and go over to Europe, and hang around spectating at Tour, the Giro or the Vuelta.

    I'd be going solo, and was thinking it'd be fun to do a race or four while I was mucking around the continent. I speak a little German and even less Spanish - but given my past experience over there, I think I could get around okay.

    Has anyone done anything similar to this? Any suggestions?
    i'll second belgium. i did something similar to what you're talking about 10+ years ago: went to belgium and raced for 3 weeks over the easter vacation my school took. managed to catch a few semi-classics while i was there.

  11. #11
    Member TommasiniFusion's Avatar
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    If you come to England, I live about an hour away from London. http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/web...chome/home.asp

    The TDF will be here this year I am going to that

  12. #12
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    There are more than just Roadwarrior and I that have raced in Belgium. I know ed073 did and a few others, so I'm sure plenty of people will be glad to relive their experiences for anybody who cares.

    I'll give some more later. The wife just asked me to take her for a spin. Man, am I lucky.

  13. #13
    . botto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roadwarrior
    BTW...I'd first contact USA Cycling, but if you can deal with the French/Flemish, here's the website for the Belgian Cycling Federation.
    The biggest issue is that you'll have to deal with the language as in the depths of Belgium in "their sport" it gets a bit more dicey communicating. My advantage is I was on a Belgian team and could manage both languages.
    Good advice.

    I ended up racing in Belgium after writing letters (this was pre-www) to the cycling federations in germany, france, the netherlands, and belgium for info on races.

    the belgians published my letter in their newsletter/magazine that licensed racers get, which llead to a letter being sent to me from a family outside of antwerp, who gave me room and board, and drove me to races, for about 10$ a day. this was back in 1993.

    it was an eye openiong experience. as roadwarrior and ymca has mentioned, the kiermesses last about 120 km, and start out at a ballistic speed. at least beack then there were no cats - just 120+ riders.

    fwiw i didn't speak a word of french or dutch/flemish, and managed to get by alright.

  14. #14
    Aut Vincere Aut Mori Snuffleupagus's Avatar
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    You went over as a 3, right? If I don't upgrade quickly (as I intend to...I've been training my arse off and am 10x stronger than last year when I still did okay) I'll probably put the racing trip off until next season.

  15. #15
    . botto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snuffleupagus
    You went over as a 3, right? If I don't upgrade quickly (as I intend to...I've been training my arse off and am 10x stronger than last year when I still did okay) I'll probably put the racing trip off until next season.
    i was a 3 when i was there. can't remember if i raced with my USCF, or SCU/Scottish license (I was living in Scotland at the time).

    Didn't matter back then, all I needed was a license. Not sure if that's still the case.

  16. #16
    Compressed
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    This thread has me really wanting to go over to Flanders for a race vacation! I've accumulated a lot of vacation time off too and need to use some and this seems perfect, now I have a few questions.

    When is the best time of the year to go over considering weather, amount of races and prices?

    What are the metrics (powerwise) that would be required to hang if not compete? I.e. what kind of power for the classic metrics of 20 minute power and 5mp in watts/kg are typical of amateur kemesse racers?

    I'm a competitive cat 3 in Boulder, CO so I fairly confident in my abilities but would like an idea of the ability of other racers there.


  17. #17
    . botto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Compressed
    When is the best time of the year to go over considering weather, amount of races and prices?
    april

    Quote Originally Posted by Compressed
    What are the metrics (powerwise) that would be required to hang if not compete? I.e. what kind of power for the classic metrics of 20 minute power and 5mp in watts/kg are typical of amateur kemesse racers?
    IIRC only Greg LeMond had an SRM when I was racing there, so I have no techno-geek/training weenie wattage stats for you.

    I can tell you that after a few races, once I adjusted to 120 kms averaging 28 MPH in wind and rain, my cottage of wattage handled the pace well enough to do a good job as pack fill, and even finish in the money a few times.

    Quote Originally Posted by Compressed
    I'm a competitive cat 3 in Boulder, CO so I fairly confident in my abilities but would like an idea of the ability of other racers there.
    There's really only one way to tell. Go.

  18. #18
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    Botto is saying April is good month, because not only do you get to race kermesses (large fields of 100-200 most of the time), but all the pro classics action is in full swing from late March to end of April.

    I'd prefer to go in Jul/Aug. The weather is warm. The fields are reasonable sized (30-80pp). Daylight until 10-11pm. And cafe season is in full swing.

    May/June are bad for allergies, so be careful there. If you do get allergies, check in at the apotheek (pharmacy) and get some over the counter stuff. They have some great medicines that our American FDA makes us get prescriptions for.

  19. #19
    . botto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YMCA
    Botto is saying April is good month, because not only do you get to race kermesses (large fields of 100-200 most of the time), but all the pro classics action is in full swing from late March to end of April.

    I'd prefer to go in Jul/Aug. The weather is warm. The fields are reasonable sized (30-80pp). Daylight until 10-11pm. And cafe season is in full swing.

    May/June are bad for allergies, so be careful there. If you do get allergies, check in at the apotheek (pharmacy) and get some over the counter stuff. They have some great medicines that our American FDA makes us get prescriptions for.
    it's also when i raced there

    as far as apotheeks - do they really have stronged stuff in belgium? not in the nertherlands.

  20. #20
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    I'll answer a few different questions:

    Botto: Can't remember what I took for allergy meds in Belgie, but it was a very small pill and worked wonders. I don't really have to take anything in FL, as allergies are only bad for about one weekend in March, so maybe my comparison to their apotheeks vs our over the counters are a bit skewed.

    Compressed: You'll have no problem with the daily kermesse scene if you are at least a competitive 3, who is headed to cat2 very soon. It sure would help if you had been racing P12's more, but if you are truly one of the guys making the action in 3's and always place in the top few at TT's, then your fitness will be okay.

    Most importantly, make sure your ability to handle and drive the bike through crosswinds is up to snuff. Races happen in the crosswinds, so understand gutter action.

    Also, since you are wattage guy, my advice would to do a lot of work in the "musc-end" zones. Basically, I rode almost nothing but races, hard group rides and long steady sessions in prep for the Belgie style. If you prefer intervals, then stick with 10-30' type stuff.

    Most courses are 5-15k loops, going 100-120k. Flat to slightly rolling, with an odd power climb here and there. Plenty of heavy roads and always with some wind, especially down those infamous one lane country roads.

    I saw plenty of avg 3's and even some 4's show up and have a blast during their visits. Rare that any of them ever finished a race or placed in the prizes (top20), but the experience they gained was priceless and usually gave them much quicker gains when they got back home. Even if you only last 1-2 hours in a 3 hour event, you'll have accelerated your learning curve in a way only NRC stuff in the US would be able to help.

    Snuffleupagus Why would you put off your trip?! You've got 3 weeks. You may get to next year and not even have the chance. I went in my 3rd year of racing and basically got hooked to the sport. It was like some Belgie kid coming over here and playing b-ball everyday in the local ghettos. The experience will bring you to that next level, whether you wanted to or not. Heck, it may even cure you of any addictions to the sport, especially if you found you truly had no talent. I did good enough to realize that was why I wanted to ride a bike. Don't miss your chance!

    El Diablo Rojo I went over six years in a row, for 4-8 weeks each year. I didn't take it seriously enough (big regrets) and missed out on my chance to live the pro dream, but I did get to savor the culture, learn how to race a bike properly and best of all, get to feel and breathe what all my homeboys could only read about in their monthly glossy's.

    I actually plan on going back one summer for a month and would love to take over some newbies for a taste. My wife and kids want to go as well, which would fantastic, but it's hard to work out vacation time for that length, so I may just end up grabbing a group of wannabees and go relive the experiences sans family. Although my 12 year old daughter would be a great helper, so maybe I could bring her for some good international experience.

    Hmmmm.... you guys are making me want to train properly and try my hand again, even at age 42. This is my favorite subject, so writing a long post is easy.

  21. #21
    Compressed
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    YMCA, thanks for that insightful post. Thinking about heading over there to race has really stoked my fire to train. If you do decide to head over and be a mentor, which from your posting you would be great at let me know!

    I've been doing weekly maintenance threshold intervals at around 15'-20' and will be starting to build those up in frequency this month so that should dovetail well with the belgian requirements. Threshold is my weakness as a sprinter so my goal is and has been to train that weakness.

    We have some good flat to rolling road races out here that are on the plains east of Denver that typically have high winds and consequently always turn into gutterfests so I'm fairly familiar with the crosswind dynamics although I'm sure it's more extreme across the pond to the east.

  22. #22
    Senior Member zimbo's Avatar
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    Man, this is a great thread! I would love to do something like that (i.e. spend a month in Belgium racing).

    --Steve

  23. #23
    Aut Vincere Aut Mori Snuffleupagus's Avatar
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    Great post man, thanks

    You're right about postponing it. I know too many people who've postponed themselves out of life altogether

  24. #24
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Compressed
    We have some good flat to rolling road races out here that are on the plains east of Denver that typically have high winds and consequently always turn into gutterfests so I'm fairly familiar with the crosswind dynamics although I'm sure it's more extreme across the pond to the east.

    Perfect training for Belgium. Just remember, the daily races are 2.5 to 3 hours. Most Americans come from a short RR and crit background, which means a lot of guys are done after an hour over there. And learn to be aggressive here, 'cause you won't have a chance over there if you are passive.

  25. #25
    starting pistol means war YMCA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zimbo
    Man, this is a great thread! I would love to do something like that (i.e. spend a month in Belgium racing).

    --Steve

    I'm addicted to this thread. This is the stuff that makes me ride my bike.

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