I saw on cyclingnews a couple days ago the Nokere Koerse results for this year. I have very few regrets in my years in the sport of cycling. There are too many moments that come and go during each race to be second guessing yourself. I hate the should of, could of, would of stuff. Obviously, hind site, after the race, analyzing your tactics, etc. is easy.
But, my Kokere experience is different. I’m guessing the year was 1991. I was over in Belguim training for MTB races by mainly riding PRO road races. Trudi was working for Motorola, so Ghent was home base. I’d been doing a bunch of kermises. I think the true definition of a kermis is a festival or carnival held in the summer in Belgium or Holland. But, they often hold bicycle races concurrent with these small town fairs. These races can have anywhere from 30 riders to 300. There are special PRO teams in Belgium that concentrate only on these events. These races are usually on weekdays and start mid afternoon to finish in the early evening.
I had been riding these races a couple times a week. The first one had maybe 35 guys. Normally there are around 100 riders. The kermis teams plus the other pros that lived in Belgium from PRO Tour teams that weren’t racing with their team, make up the field. I rode down to Hulste where the Motorola team was based. I was there early, but when I got there a bunch of the Motorola riders wanted to race. But, they weren’t getting ready fast enough. Anyway, I was with this guy from Belgium, Luc Eysermann, a whole story in himself. He knew how to get there. So, Nathan Dalberg, New Zealand guy, Luc and myself ditched the rest of the Motorola guys and went. Trudi and Jody(another sougneir from Motorola) waited for their team.
Entry into these races is crazy. Typically, you go into a dark bar, completely filled with smoke. Not just any smoke, but smoke from the foulest smelling cigar type things in the world. There are a bunch of old, ex pro bike races sitting around drinking and smoking. You show a guy your license, he types you name onto a start sheet and they hand you a number. No $ exchanges hands. They take the start sheet and print up a million copies and hand them out to the crowds. And, there are crowds. As soon as the start sheet is distributed, I normally got swarmed by people wanting to take a photo of me. Only a head shot for their “pro bike racers head shot collection”. Or, better yet, if I had trading cards with me, it would turn into a feeding frenzy. They all wanted the never heard of PRO American’s trading card. A real treasure!!
Anyway, Nathan and I got entered and swarmed. Trudi and the rest of the Motorola guys got lost riding there. They barely made it to the start. I was suprised about how many real teams and riders were at the race. I thought it was just a normal kremis. But, all the real teams were there with full squads. I’d ridden 30 miles, maybe more, to get to the race. It started crazy fast. Normally these races cruised for the first lap, 10km or so, and then started racing right at the end of the warmup lap. But, this went from the gun. Kremises were never controlled. That is dope controlled. So, a lot of the guys were crazy out of their minds on amphetamines. Kermises, could and sometimes, were the fastest races on the planet.
The Nokere course, as now I know, is famous. It finishes on a cobble/brick climb. It is pretty hilly for a Belgium race. This day was weird. It was sunny and nice in Nokere. And raining and sleeting on the backside on the course. Pretty miserable.
I never saw a Motorola guy from the get go. I don’t think any of them stayed on the first lap. I was lucky enough to be at the front when they blew off the gun. It immediately went into echelons. And it stayed that way for the remainder of the day. Finally, after 3-4 hours, I found myself in a group or 6-7. All the good teams, plus Steve. I didn’t know any of the other riders of course. I was riding good. But, the conditions were brutal on half the course. It was so strange. Going through Nokere, where the festival was, it was sunny and warm. On the back side, it was raining and freezing. This was a total distance of less than 5 km away. Only one valley over. Trudi told me after the race she was wondering why we were covered with road spray looking beat.
Anyway, after 100 miles or so, I’d been in this break for a couple hours. I was feeling great, but was riding well within myself. These guys had no idea who I was and didn’t expect me to do much of anything. Everytime I went through Nokere, I was looking for Trudi for my rain jacket. She and Jody were always in the same place drinking beer. But, I didn’t have much luck communicating my wishes.
With about an hour to go, Trudi was after the finish line and I thought she told me that she was taking the Motorola riders that quit back to Hulste. I thought, shit, I need to get my stuff from the car because I had to ride 30 miles back to Ghent. I’d already ridden something like 130 miles and figured that was enough for the day. I rode just another mile up the road and turned around and went to the car.
The car was there, but Trudi wasn’t. I went and found them in the crowd. It turns out she said that the Motorola guys were leaving. Riding back. But, she and Jody were staying. At the time, I didn’t really care about stopping. It was just a kermis. So, Luc and I rode back to Ghent. He took us out of the way to ride a bunch of the famous climbs from all the classics in Belgium. I was feeling great. It was a super fun day! I was stoked to have nearly a 100 miles of racing plus the 60 miles there and back.
The next day, I rode to Hulste to visit Trudi. Noel Dejonckheere, director for the Motorola Team, asked me about the race from the day before. He said “what happened to you in the break?” I said how did he know I was in the break. He said he was watching it on TV. He said one minute I was there and one minute gone. I told him the turn around, training story.
Then he proceeded to tell me what an important race this was. How the town had passed a law about leaving the main street cobble for the race. That Gerrie Knetemann and Freddy Maertens (past World Road Champions) had won the race previously. It was the most famous kermis in Belgium. Plus, it was something like 5K to win.
I had no idea. I’d raced a bunch of different kermises in Belgium. I’d finished in the top ten. I’d never received a penny. A lot of the time they left my name out of the results in the news paper the next day. It was a super cool race. I was having one of those days that don’t come along that often. But, I was there to MTB race. And use road races for fitness. But, on a yearly basis, when cyclingnews prints the results, I do have to reminisce about what could of, should of , would of happened if…..