Monday, December 6, 2021
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Think Long and Hard Before Driving to Antwerp!

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Now, if anyone was thinking of doing so, think long and hard before driving to Antwerp and back in a day, because the job in hand is just that — long and hard!

Saturday gone was the date of my team presentation, or Ploegvoorstelling, so with the company of my girlfriend we took on the 500 mile round trip to meet and greet with team mates, sponsors, press, and the obligatory random Belgian cycling fanatics at the team café, St Barts, in Merksem, Antwerp.

4am was not pleasant, the P+O ferry breakfast even less so, but we made it across the channel, for first on the agenda which was to go and visit the new digs in Zottegem.

Conor had arrived the day before, so was on hand to give the grand tour, and help us in with the five gargantuan boxes of food I had lugged over.

The house could not look more Belgian if it tried, with wooden panelled everything and dated furniture, but clean, warm and dry; it looks like a perfect base for five cyclists, and I can’t wait to get settled in.

Antwerp
Our flat – I can’t wait.
Antwerp
It’s a little ‘old school’, but it’s comfortable and a great base.

We didn’t even have time for a coffee though, as it was steadily on up the E17 through Gent and onto Antwerp, where we eventually arrived at the hall with an hour to spare.

I made a fair share of brave attempts of conversation in broken Dutch with attendees, but more often than not reverted back to broken English – easier for all those concerned!

The time soon came though, for the troops to file backstage to open party bags and don the new kit for the first time; black for training, white for racing, before being called up on stage.

Antwerp
Black for training.
Antwerp
White for racing.

I proceeded to fumble my way through an on stage grilling about the forthcoming season (mercifully in English), where the interviewer didn’t think twice about remarking “how uncomfortable I look being interviewed in front of a lot of people”. As if I needed reminding!

Antwerp
The whole team takes the stage.

I got there in the end though, and after a few pictures it was all over. These pics are via my girlfriend’s phone, so sorry about quality.

It was then a case of racing back to Calais, picking up a pizza, and listening in on a conversation being had behind us by a small gathering of blokes who had been at the Superprestige CX, trying to explain cross racing to a couple who had spent the day buying alcohol and eating gammon and chips at Cite’ Europe…

19 hours later and we eventually arrived home, after what had been a very long, but excellent day, beginning life with the Royal Antwerp Bicycle Club, and re-acquainting myself with the concrete roads, overcast skies and beer-before-noon cycling nuts of Belgium.

The season is nigh.

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