Published on 30th March 2015 | By Chris Walker

A strong race the previous weekend in Haringe and a solid week of training left me high with confidence heading into another double weekend of racing, the third in a row. Saturday’s race was in a town called Zele, in East Flanders, a region where the racing is slightly different, especially with a course that is mostly held in town as opposed to endless open fields in Western Flanders. The circuit was an interesting one, with cobbles, brickwork streets plus plenty of corners and bends making it quite a technical lap, made more so by the wet weather conditions.

The slick brickwork section of the circuit! Photo credit Lino Vino.

There is always a  feeling of anxiousness before the start of a wet race, many riders already beaten before the race has even started, as they shiver from the cold and fear the higher possibility of crashing. I find that weather conditions rarely affect me, so I was as motivated as ever to get stuck in and go for a result!

The race went off at a high pace as riders looked to get an advantage through the opening technical section, using the bends to get a gap and line things out. I started well, near the front and following moves within the first kilometre, biding my time, trying to predict when the right move would go. Two riders jumped away from the bunch, before a couple more and then a couple more. Tomacc well represented, with Peter and Rob. One lap down, the gap was called out as 33 seconds through the finish area, time to be vigilant for a group looking to cross the still bridgeable gap. As we entered the the narrow, twisting crosswind section of the circuit about half way round the lap, I noticed an attack from the left hand side of the bunch, I didn’t hesitate and attacked hard on the right hand side from a few riders back. We got a gap, the chase was on! It wasn’t long before a handful of riders came across to us, forming a solid group of 11, chasing 6. After less than a lap of chasing, we made the juncture, it was now 17 riders in front, with 3 from Tomacc!
Pictured here with my race splitting accomplice. Photo credit Lino Vino.
The group established, we were out of sight. I knew it would have to split at some point, learning from experiences of this season already, it could go very soon, with more than half the race still to run. Towards the end of the fourth lap, there was an attack coming into the crosswind section and I was straight on it. This was it. Two riders pushing the pace, as the 15 riders behind fought to stay in contention. After 5 or 6 kilometres of hard riding, 4 riders came across to us, no others in sight behind. The 6 of us were going for the win, no looking back now! The group worked pretty well together, occasionally riders would skip turns but generally it was pretty efficient, no pressure from behind, the task was now to figure out a winning move.
Coming through the finish area nearing the end of the race. Photo credit Lino Vino.

Laaste ronde! 10km to go, a lap of attacks, but which one would prove decisive. I decided to play it cool and watch as the attacks were made and brought back, following the attacks I felt would go somewhere, biding my time to take my turn. With about 6km to go, I attacked, perhaps without enough conviction as I didn’t get too far and I was counter attacked by the BMC development rider Loic Vliegen. The group came back together though as we all took a small breather after the bout of attacks. It wasn’t long before Vliegen was off again though and nobody could respond, as soon as we’d hesitated he was away. The 5 of us began working together, somewhat halfheartedly though as riders started to think about a podium place instead of the win, incredibly frustrating that, but that’s bike racing, I’ve just got to learn from the situation. So, coming into the final 2 kilometres, there was no more working together, it was a case of racing for the podium. After a kilometre or so of cat and mouse, the race was won and the 5 of us were together readying ourselves for a sprint. SPRINT! 400m to go, we were off, a flat out burst to the line, I’d mistimed my sprint very badly coming through 4th from the group to finish 5th. Disappointed to of not ridden the final kilometres better, but I definitely learned from it and was pleased to of been as involved as I was, a conformation that my form isn’t too bad at the moment…

Photo credit Nadiri Daelemans.
After the race, I had my first doping control of the season, something I only experienced once last season, but it is something more frequent by the look of it this year, which is great to see. Based on how they choose the riders to be tested, I hope to be making a few samples this season…
Sprint for 2nd in Zele. Photo credit Nadiri Daelemans.
Sunday. Race day 2 of the weekend. Ichtegem. Despite yesterdays efforts, I woke up feeling fairly fresh and got into my usual pre race routine, keen to show myself in the race again, by way of getting in the break and riding for the win.
140 riders on the start line and a circuit with lots of tight, twisting roads plus a grueling concrete drag to be tackled 17 times, it was going to be a hard race. All I was thinking about was getting in the breakaway as efficiently as possible. And so, as the race got underway, there was an immediate attack off the line, which happens in every kermis race and tends to just line things out  a bit for the first kilometre or so before the moves that are more likely to succeed begin. The early moves were covered well by the team, a full lap of attacks later and the race was still all together. However, on the start of the second lap, 2 riders jumped away gaining a handful of seconds. A few hundred metres later, I decided to go across. I put in a big effort to escape the clutches of the peloton, and it worked, taking one other rider with me, it was the moment to suffer and push on as riders hesitated behind. The breakaway was forming, 2 became 4 and 4 soon became 11. It was looking good!
Photo credit Lynn Huyghe.
It was a pretty strong group, so if any break was going to be successful, it’d be this one. The pace was high, it constantly felt like the peloton were breathing down our necks, 20 seconds…30 seconds…25 seconds. The pressure was on! The gap fluctuated between 20 seconds and a minute all race, the break remained fairly calm though as most riders continued to push on and others perhaps unable to aid the escape. I was feeling strong, being careful not to use up too much energy, but also wanting to ride positively and be in the right place at the right time, a difficult balancing act for sure, one I’m still trying to improve.
Photo credit Pol Demeyere Pomer.
The race was getting exciting, for the spectators at least, as the front group, now of 10 was pegged at 20 seconds by the chase group of 17 behind. 4 laps to go, let the attacks begin! At this stage, most riders were still more concerned about working together, so the few attacks that took place, didn’t go very far. We were now in sight of the chasing group behind, which makes a huge difference when you are trying to close those final few hundred metres. We kept working though and despite the group splitting several times we always regrouped as riders stuttered on their tactics for the last 10km of the race.
Following an attack through the finish area. Photo Credit Donald Peuteman.

Coming into the final lap, up the concrete drag for the penultimate time, the group split to bits as EFC rider Benjamin Declercq put in a big attack, I was fading and try as I might to hold onto the group, I lost contact. However, I looked behind to see 2 riders coming across, fast. One was Stijn Minne, a ‘hitter’ in these races and I knew if I waited for him, we’d get back to the front. And we did. Half a lap to go, less than 4 kilometres, 2 riders were away, but no more than 10 seconds, all to play for. As we turned onto the concrete drag with about 1.5 kilometres to go I followed a big attack which created a group of 5, giving us a few seconds heading into the final kilometre, I hesitated though and so did the other 4. In hindsight, I really should of attacked at this moment, given it all or nothing. In the end it was basically a drag race to the finish line, which I rolled across in 10th, absolutely spent. I was pretty pleased to be involved at the sharp end of the racing for a second day and third race in a row, but at the same time, disappointed to of not been able to push for those top placings. Still, I definitely learnt a few things to take into my next races!

Photo credit Pol Demeyere Pomer.
It was a solid weekend for me and the team, 3 riders in the top 10 on Saturday, 2 riders in the break on Sunday and Peter in the chase group behind. I’m very confident of maintaining the current level and improving on it. I cannot wait to get stuck into another double weekend of racing, I’ll definitely be heading into both races looking to improve on current results, learning how I can win, is my next objective.
We race in Wervik on Saturday and Wijnendale-Torhout on Sunday, wish us luck!