The Koln-Schuld-Frechen classic is a race with 90 years of history, and my experience was definitely one for the history books!
I lined up in Frechen, Germany for my 2nd European race ever. The race was by no means easy, 190km with some decent sized climbs after 60km.
The first hour of racing was fast, we covered 52km in the first hour. The bunch was jittery from the start line and coupled with the endless amount of traffic furniture in each small town meant that there was a lot of wheel touching but miraculously no major pile-ups. I sat in the bunch rather comfortably, compared to the last race, and managed to stay out of trouble.
We hit the first climbs of the day and I found myself moving up easily through the bunch, but then came the descents. As we plummeted down each narrow road I found myself taking tight corners sitting 3 and 4 abreast. This was one of the more hair-raising experiences of my life! A check of the max speed after the race read 95km/hr, so the shock was justified! Happily, after repeating the process a couple times I got over the initial shock.
The final big climb of the day came at around 130km. The bunch split into a few groups and I managed to hang onto the 2nd group with a set of legs that were already tightening and complaining about distance. I soldiered on and managed to sit in the group as we battled through the crosswinds. 30km later, however, my legs decided that 160km was more than enough torture and they were done. I admitted to myself my race was over at this point, but oh how wrong I was!
My race got interesting again as I found myself sitting between bunches as the 3rd group was some 15min behind. I kept going and I noticed the route marshals had already packed up and left. Before I knew it I was lost. There are arrows up on the course but I must have missed one and I ended up on the highway! I looked around and realized I was well and truly in the middle of nowhere, in Germany! I began looking for people to ask directions, but after a few attempts my English wasn’t getting me anywhere with people who only spoke German. Not good.
With a 180km in the legs I knew I was in trouble. I had no cellphone and I wasn’t entirely sure which town we had started from or where it was… I started to think I would never make it home! Desperate, I managed to flag down a car and miraculously the woman spoke some English. She allowed me to use her phone to Google the race and I begged her for a lift, luckily she obliged. We began chatting, sort of anyways, and I found out she was a German soldier on her way back to the military base and the only reason she spoke English was that she had learned a little when she was posted in Afghanistan. Angel or soldier, I was just glad to have the hand of karma on my side, and glad that karma had a car!
I arrived back at the starts with a DNF to my name but a pretty decent story to make up for it! Other than getting lost and stranded, I was pretty happy with the overall result of the day. I really do believe that for me the most difficult part of racing in Europe has not been the speed or the power but the distance. To be honest I also believe that is probably the easiest thing to adjust to, all it takes is time and patience.
Our next race is the GP Cerami, a UCI 1.1 over 205km. I am hoping desperately to make the team selection to ride a race of this calibre. Stay tuned!