Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New blog

I have now moved my blog over to my new domain: www.adamphelan.com and will not be posting here anymore, but will leave it up to keep the older posts.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The experience of a Belgian Kermesse

A Belgian Kermesse is more then just a cycle race as it transcends the boundaries of such a definitive description; a unparalleled cycling event that is positively Belgian. Instead the Kermesse is better understood as a complete experience, both paradisiacal and nightmarish, a unique atmosphere which foreign and undoubtably exciting. 

It is the huge fence lined crowd with their fritz, their beer and drunken loud voices. The road furniture, cobbles and seer agressive speed of it all. The chaotic feed zones, the near misses and the 200 bikes and bodies continuously battling to squeeze through the narrow roads. It is the concrete slabed road; its center gash that separates each side and the riders that jump, hop and flick over it in a rushed attempt to avoid crashing. It is this, all of it and more, each individual and unquestionably unique element which make the Kermesse more then 'just' a bike race and below I'll attempt to explain why. 

Prior to heading to Belgium with the Drapac Cycling team, I didn't really have a properly conceived idea or understanding of what the Kermesses were like. Sure, I was not foolish enough to think that they were  road races (pfft they would call them that if they were; ingenious deductive reasoning on my part I know) and I knew that they are far longer in distance then a crit. I also was 'clever' enough to have the general idea of how they were raced on looped courses of between 'something like 7 to 15 kilometeres'. However my understanding halted right there, screeching to a dead stop, ignorance blurring the way forward. So as we drove, weaving our way 'though somewhere in Belgie', I sat quiet not truly knowing what awaited me at my first ever Kermesse.

The only certainties that filled my thoughts
1. The suffering
2. The speed 
3. The carnage 

Fun Fact that is somewhat necessary in further reading of this blog: 
Kermesse (sometimes spelt kermis, and kermess) borrows its name from a flemish festival celebration, this is due to the fact that the race is often on the same day as the town festival, although not always.

The first aspect when arriving at Kermesse and being informed of the Fun Fact just above (by your knowledgable teammate), what comes seemingly clear was that these Kermesses are just that- a festival of sorts. The main center of the town that hosts the race is completely shut down, everything is barricaded up, music is blasted from large speakers and beer stalls are put in place. Everyone in town, and in fact all across Belgium, come out to get involved. They line the fences, they eat, they drink and they cheer. People crowd around the team cars asking for photos, team biddons, signatures and team cards- it is immediately noticeable that these spectators mean business. Somewhat like the fans of football and cricket back home, many of the Belgian fans of cycling get completely immersed in the sport, the Kermesse being their chance to get closer to the riders and teams. They are collectors of biddons and other team issue items and go around snapping up head shot photos of nearly everyone in peloton, even if they are completely unknown. On one particular occasion this guy had a complete folder with each name of every rider in Drapac that included their main palmares and image of them. Below that was a clearly measured out section for us to sign. An exceptionally odd experience coming from country were cyclists, at lest at our level, don't get hardly any attention at all.

Then comes the racing. The start line itself is an intimating experience, because lined up next you, behind you and in front of you is 200 other bike riders. Each one of them looking fit, tanned and hungry to race. It is here that once again my ignorance shows it ugly head. Quite simply put, unless they are fairly big names in the sport, I generally don't know who they are. This has lead to a growing trend were I would finish a race, and comment to one of my fellow Drapac riders that 'this random guy was so strong' which then proceeds to them informing me 'this random guy' was Pro Tour for several years, just won some important UCI race but is now riding with a Pro-Continental team. You quickly learn that  every rider in the field is going to be strong, tough and ready to race.

Kermesses are also deeply vicissitudinous, with the race dynamic changing continuously and anything can and, most likely, will happen. Although this holds true for most bike racing, the Kermesses seem to be much more susceptible to this characteristic. A large contributor is the seer aggressive nature of the racing. If you are not attacking, you will not be 'in' the race. If you are not counter attacking the attacks, you will not be 'in' the race. Then if you are not counter attacking the counter attacks... well you get the idea. And although the one day race is over a distance between 160-190km, every single one of those kilometers is raced and raced hard. But what makes a Kermesse largely incomparable to any racing I've done perviously is the courses on which the races are ridden.

Three defining characterics of many Kermesse courses:
1. Road Furniture
2. Concrete Slab roads 
3. Narrow winding roads leading to wide open roads (perfect for gutter action) 

Some special little surprises if you are lucky at Kermesse:
1. Flat Cobbles
2. Cobbled climbs
3. Cobbled descents 

For those of you who are not familiar with the term 'road furniture' it is, among other things: pillons, speed bumps, poles, road islands, guttered chicanes, fences and essentially all the s@#t on the road that is not ideal for 200 cyclists to fly through at 50km/h. In the Belgium kermesse these are plentiful and when the bunch hits top speeds with riders jumping, braking and flicking all over the place your brain goes almost primitive. Your mind strips away the inessential, you are there, completely in the moment- consumed with not another thought but the immediate. Your only concern is to stay on your bike and move forward. This is when the Kermesses become mentally draining, as you have to be focused for the entire race, always on alert ready for any mishap that may occur. Then you add in the concrete slab roads that fill most of the Belgium. The repetitive bump as you ride is admittedly annoying, but that isn't what makes these roads dangerous. Instead it is the the center of the road, and the large gap that separates each side of the concrete slabs, the gap that seems to be designed to be the width of a bicycle tyre. As the bunch swerves and snakes along the road, the riders hop, skid and sometimes crash over the gap (or death gash if you prefer). It adds a new element that you have to be continuously conscious of, one in which makes crosswinds all the more fun. An element that is dangerous, scary and sometimes race defining.

Photo: Gullegem Pro Kermesse

Wether it be the unique festive atmosphere, the riders you race, the roads you race on or towns you fly past as a blur of wind and pain, the Belgian Kermesse is an experience and not just a bike race. An experience that has its up and downs. An experience that is hard, tough and painful. One that is fun and has history. An experience that, I think, just maybe, I'm beginning to learn to love. 

Until next time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

OCBC Cycle Singapore 2011

After 8 hours and 6117km                                            
The air was now thick
& sweat covered my entire body.                                                          
I had finally made it.
Made it to the land of boat topped skyscrapers 
Gondola ride filled shopping centers.


Confused faces and their eyes followed us as we wheeled our bike bags and luggage through the massive Singapore Airport. It's often a common reaction, that of a turned head and an awkward stare, when travelling though an airport with a cycling team. There was time when I thought this was weird, I mean surely we just look normal, right? But then I remember a very important fact.

I'm a cyclist and what I consider normal is highly unlikely to be considered the same by others.

Once I come to this realisation I can see how the same thing could quite easily seem different to others.

I see: A group of cyclist's (in a cycling team as exemplified by their matching team casual 'kit'), clearly on their way to a race, or training camp. Along their sides they carry and/or wheel what is obviously their expensive bikes (packed away with much care to avoid any breakage) and luggage that is sure to contain numerous pairs of knicks and jerseys. The high 2XU compression socks are clearly their help stop their legs from feeling like dead wood after the long flight. Nothing weird to see here.

They see: A group of oddly shaped, shaved legged and tan lined guys. Looking almost like a weird soccer team wearing matching clothes they carry with them funny shaped bags and box's... And WTH are those overly tight and disgustingly high socks- do they really think that looks good?

On reflection a confused stare is understandable.

Singapore City (unrelated I know, but its a cool picture!)

Once we collected our bikes at oversized baggage (or oddsize as they prefer to call it), we made our way outside and to a bus already waiting to take us to the accommodation. It might have been humid out side in Singapore, but it is an entirely different story once you enter any building, car or train. They love their airconditioning over there. I mean really love it. I constantly found my self sweating uncontrollably outside or shivering in the cold air once I went indoors. This lead to a 'strategic clothing wearing procedure', that was dependant on the location of where we were eating. Breakfast was outside by the pool so shorts and shirt would suffice, whereas lunch and dinner where inside. This meant the tracksuit pants and jumper were essential. But apart from the eating (and the clothing needed at the certain meal times) we were in Singapore for a slightly more important thing. Racing!

The 2011 OCBC Cycle Pro Crit was upon us and the following night at 8pm we were to race under the lights on a fairly hard and winding course that included a figure 8, were you ride through a short tunnel underneath the earlier bits of the course.

There was four of us Drapac riders. Myself and three others.


The afternoon before the race it rained.

This made it more humid. I did not like this.

Waiting on the start line the race official called out the names to be lined up; I was already drenched with sweat. I took a large, prolonged sip from my bottle; the Shotz Electrolyte Tablets fizzing in the water. Hydration is going to be half the battle. I managed to sneak up into the second row of riders on the start line and before I knew it Phil Ligget had counted down and the painfully loud siren blasted in my hear signalling the start.

The race started fast. It was sketchy. Sprinting off the line, the first left hand corner came quick. Some riders flung out to the right, then back into the left- seemingly not having a clue of how the corner went. Apparently a significant number riders had not actually seen any part of the course. This would make for a interesting first lap.

Coming through to the the start line to complete the first lap, I had managed to squeeze through the swamp of riders to move up into the top 5 or 6 riders. It's a constant mental and physical effort to stay near the front. Every corner three of four riders push up on the either side of you.  Corners that of course don't fit 3 or 4 riders. You bump, you brake and your either stay ahead or are pushed further back where more and more riders coming 'chopping' by. I was to go with the early attacks and breakaway attempts. Easy enough surely. Or so I thought. 15 minutes in I was hurting. This is going to be hard crit.

Attack after attack was launched, and it wasn't until about half way did a breakaway properly form. Floris made the break which consisted of Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Cervelo), Dean Windsor (Rapha Condor), Ben King (Team Type 1) and Cameron Peterson among a few other riders to make 9 men out in front. I saw the red ahead. Thankfully we didn't miss the move.

The bunch still pressed hard, with teams like Kelly Benefits (USA) who missed the move, desperate to bring the break back. The bunch began to shatter. Nearing the end, only 30 or so riders were left. Head down, legs burning.

One of the corners on the course (riding around the day before the race)

Back up front it was 5 laps to go and Floris attacked the group. He kicked hard, gaping the others, he soloed of the front. He just needed to hang on for 5 more laps. If anyone could do it, Floris was the man.

Unfortunately coming into the final lap the breakaway group reeled in Floris in after very hard chase. The Dutchman's effort would see him win Most Aggressive Rider for the crit.

The bell rang, Meyer attacked hard. He was hungry for a solo win.

330 meteres to go however his chance evaporated as he got caught; around the same time Italian Omar Bertazzo had some how managed to bridge from the peloton to the break. Dean Windsor opened up the sprint, he looked to win, until in the final moments when the fast Omar snuck past to take the victory, his arms raised punching through thick humid Singaporean air.


In the final laps the bunch was splitting everywhere. Gaps suddenly appeared as riders legs gave way. Around the time Floris attacked, Tom had punctured so I moved back through to bunch to help him come up to the front for the minor places, or victory if the break was to come back. The final lap approached and I shot up the left of the bunch moving towards the front with Pelly and Tom on my wheel. Pelly, who had been in one of the early breaks and strong all race then drove the front of the bunch heading into the tunnel, that ducked under the road to complete the figure 8. Miscommunication and bit of confusion however would lead to Tommy not having perfect position for the sprint for the lower positions, however he still ended up 23rd (his transponder had other ideas deciding not to work, resulting in Tom being recorded as last on the computer system).

Floris ended up 10th after his powerful attempt at the win, and also came 4th in the sprint comp. I finished just at the back of the main bunch, tired and VERY sweaty.  

All in all a fun and successful trip, where I learnt of the Singaporeans love of airconditioning and some lessons for racing too. I was happy to get my first Asian race under my belt for the year, as I head to Taiwan this week for long, hilly 10 stage race.

Watch the video below to see some photo's and video from the trip, including the worlds largest infinity pool on top of a skyscaper! Which we got to check out as tourists on the Sunday.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Riding Around the World

Photo taken at Corin Dam, one of my favourite rides in the A.C.T

For a fairly small city Canberra has a serious knack of producing some great cycling talent, with the past, the present and the future of the sport looking incredibly bright within the Capital. Canberra has a rich and dense cycling culture and community, with the morning bunches including everyone from a club rider (getting a ride in early before their full time work) to ProTour riders. For me, its this social aspect that makes Canberra so great; most of the people I ride with are my close friends, so going for ride is just like hanging out with mates. But I'm not writing here to tell you how great Canberra is, instead I thought it would be cool to review what some of the Canberra riders are doing this year, with a significant amount travelling overseas to race, to see where they are going, who they are racing for and what their goals are for the year. Hopefully later in the year I'll come back and re-do it, to see everything they have achieved and the ups and downs of the year.

So here is just some of the Canberra riders making their stance on the world stage.

Note: This list is in alphabetical order and obviously missing some riders, if I did all the good riders in Canberra, the post will never end!

Alastair Loutit

Age: 21

Team 2011: Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b Kenda
           -Location (Team Base): United States of America
           -Residence: San Diego, USA.

Goals for 2011:
-To be selected as one of the Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b Kenda members to compete at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California
-To integrate into and become a valued member of Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b Kenda
-To win a UCI race

Favourite Ride in Canberra:

The Saturday Bunch Ride with a bakery stop and Cotter Uriarra loop to follow
Special Question: How many Jelly Belly beans do aim to consume this year? 
I currently have about 70kg with plenty more to come, so let's start with aiming to consume my body weight in Jelly Belly jelly beans and Sports Beans and go from there!

Keep up to date with Alastair on Twitter: www.twitter.com/al_loutit

Chloe Hosking

Photo Credit: HTC- Highroad website, Chloe Hosking Profile

Age: 20

Team 2011: HTC-High Road

           -Location (Team Base): United States of America
           -Residence: Girona, Spain
                  "It's a real cycling hub in Europe for English speakers and great training so it was a bit of a no-brainer [to live there]." Chloe Hosking

Goals for 2011:
I think as everyone, one of my major goals is simply to do well in Europe - I'm still chasing that one big European win so here's hoping...But also the World Championships in September. I'd love to also see our team (HTC-Highroad women) creep back up into the number one ranked women's team in the world

Favourite Ride in Canberra:
Most of them have been sullied by cold weather, something which I have become allergic to. But an easy ride around the lake on a still morning or evening with the sun reflecting off the water never ends badly. 

Special Question: What's your normal coffee stop to ride ratio?
My ratio is definitely not as bad as the boys, no one coffee to every kilometre or anything. Probably more like one to every thirty. Unless it's a recovery day....

 Joe Lewis

Photo by: Stephen Harman

Age: 22

Team 2011: Trek-Livestrong

           -Location (Team Base): United States of America
           -Residence: Boulder, U.S.A

Goals for 2011:
- Win races in USA and Europe
- Try and step up to the next level

Favourite Ride in Canberra: 
My house, to Velo Republic Cafe, Home.

Spiecal Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how jealous are you that your (much) younger brother is double your size? 
15, he has picked up more chicks in the last week than I will in my whole life! 

Keep up to date with Joe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoeLewis1989

Josh Atkins 

Photo by: Emma Sutherland 

NOTE: Yes, you may be confused right now. Yes, technically he is a kiwi, but recently Josh has moved to Canberra and being the kind folk we are here, we have accepted him as one of our own and therefore included in this blog. And don't you worry, we have been constantly paying out his accent and reminding him that 6 is not meant to be pronounced like 'sex'. 

Age: 18

Team 2011: Trek-LiveStrong

           -Location (Team Base): United States of America
           -Residence: Boulder, U.S.A

Goals for 2011:
Achieve solid results, chasing wins and gaining experience in races in Europe and USA
Help my Trek-Livestrong teammates win races
Represent NZ at Tour de l'Avenir and the World U23 Road Championships
Favourite Ride in Canberra: 
Cotter-Condor [hilly ride on the outskirts of Canberra- often used as a course for Canberra Tour] Then finishing at VeloRepublic Cafe

Special Question: Who is your favourite rider? 
Phillip Gilbert, domination. Exciting to read about the way he races with explosive power from the peloton. Not necessarily the style of rider I am but he's a favourite of mine.    

Keep up to date with Josh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoshAtkinsNZ

Matt Hayman

Photo by: jxpphotography

Age: 32

Team 2011: Sky Pro Cycling

           -Location (Team Base): U.K
           -Residence: Belgium, in a small town near Maastricht (which is in Holland). Nice place when the
           sun is out, lots of guys to train with, and a few hills.   

Goals for 2011:
Have a great race in one of the big Classics, had a few top tens, would nice to be on the podium for one of the classics even if it is not a big one.

Favourite Ride in Canberra: 
Cotter... Wherever, as long as it is in the hills, no cars. 

Special Question: Have you mistaken a Garmin rider as one of your Sky teammates yet this year?
Too many times, and I have only raced one race this year! 

Michael Matthews (aka Bling)

Photo by: jxpphotography

Age: 20

Team 2011: Rabobank 

           -Location (Team Base): Holland
           -Residence: Belgium 

Goals for 2011:
To get to ride in some of the 'big classics' this season.

Favourite Ride in Canberra:
Coffee ride. From home to Velo Republic.

Special Question: Are you going to make dancing a pre-race ritual, such as we saw at the TDU?
[Laughs] No. That was a one off. 

More about Michael (via Giant Australia)

Keep up to date with Bling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/blingmatthews

Michael Rogers

Photo by: jxpphotography

Learn more about what Michael Rodgers is doing this year at:
Team Sky Rider Profile: Michael Rodgers

Tom Palmer

Age: 20

Team 2011: Drapac Professional Cycling
           -Location (Team Base): Australia
           -Residence: Canberra, AUS/Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Goals for 2011:
To win races

Favourite Ride in Canberra:
Finding a new ride I haven't done before.
Special Question: What do you most miss about racing on the Track?
The Wheelraces. 

So there is just a snapshot of some places Canberra riders will be this year. Obviously they are many more travelling abroad racing (including the likes of Fabio Calabria, Viki Whitelaw, Edward Bissaker, Mitch Lovelock-Fay, Alex Carle and more) so watch out for several Canberra names high up in the international results sheets for 2011.

As for me, my next race see's me off too the Singapore Criterium and then too the Tour of Taiwan, all of which is happening in March. Later in the year I'll hopefully be having a couple month stint in Europe racing, based out of Belgium. Which will be very exciting and hopefully i'll be able to catch up with some fellow Canberra riders over there! 

I'll also try and do some kind of video blog, for Singapore or Taiwan so keep checking of updates. 


Follow me on Twitter.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Josh's Aussie Accent

I have an actual blog post coming soon, but am waiting on a few people to finish races to get back to me. So in the mean time, heres a video of kiwi Josh Atkins doing an aussie accent.

Not that entertaining, I was just bored at home because it was raining all day and remembered this video I took out on a ride.

Catch ya.