“You‘re only as fast as the wheel in front of you.” A lesson I have learned repeatedly over the last few weeks. The calendar has been packed with Criteriums and Pro-Kermis races and I have had many opportunities to embrace the steep learning curve here in Belgium.

The goal in my first 3 months has been progress across the board in the departments of corning, sprinting, positioning, and surviving the distance.  I have made pretty good progress in most areas and I have had decent legs in most races, but bunch positioning has definitely been my stumbling block.  With bunch of 180+ crammed onto narrow, forever winding roads (Belgium at its best!), I have found it difficult and, frankly, an unnerving task to stay towards the front.

At the back of the bunch, there is a whole other skill set involved, most prominently, chasing back after getting dead wheels.  Getting dead wheels is part of the deal but it can be hugely frustrating.  I now think the term “dead wheel” doesn’t come from the fact that the guy in front of you has “died” and can no longer hold the wheel in front of you; rather, I think the term relates to the feeling you get when you are dead wheeled because you want to “kill” the person in front of you for making you close the gap on an already rapid bunch.  Sometimes there is just no coming back…

Gullegem Pro-Kermis (photo courtesy: Lydia Van de Meerssche)

Staying at the front isn’t just about skill though, confidence also plays a big role.   Knowing you deserve to be up at the front, in the mix, and really make it at the sharp end of the race is a real confidence game, especially in Pro-Kermis races.  Pro-Kermis races are the same as an amateur Kermis except the field is fully comprised of continental, pro-continental, and a few pro-tour teams with distances around 180km.  Lining up with Tour, Giro, and Vuelta riders can boost your confidence in one way and challenge it in another.

With half a season under my belt, I have recently been moving up towards the front of the bunch and it has made life so much easier.  Taking a corner without having to track stand before makes a big difference.   The last few races have been Hill Crits which are Crits are very hard short circuit races (1.5km) with only quick deep efforts on hills around 500m long.  Even a small taste of my natural terrain of climbing has made it easier to position myself because when you’re in it to win it, suddenly all the risks are worthwhile.

Gullegem Pro-Kermis (photo courtesy: Dirk Bruylant)

As I end off the first half of my season and take a mid-season break I am happy with how things have gone overall. The confidence, desire to race, as well as the strength and fitness are right up where I would want them to be.

“I don’t like risk but I like the challenge of controlling all the uncertainty and variables”-Boardman

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