This article is reproduced from our book, Past Present Future. We asked supported riders to share their experiences. Tao Geoghegan Hart wrote a piece for the book, entitled the Foreigner in 2013.
This is it, 50 kilometres to go and a break of three has been established. I am racing in Krombeke, West Flanders, and have tasted success in this town once before this season. I want it again. There are three of us here, two Belgians and me, the East Londoner, the foreigner.
My time in Belgium has made me some friends, it seems, I am spared today. Now I must make them regret it.
The favourite, a rider supported by the town's bar, hasn't made the break but his teammate has so I am confident we can stay away. The wind is blowing hard, very hard. Our gap grows to a minute but still we push. There is no variation of speed in this headwind, it's either full gas or start going backwards. From experience I would expect to get worked over in this situation, the rider who the locals try to keep on the front for the longest, who gets rolled for every prime, who is attacked after his turn and is then expected to chase. Today however is different. My time in Belgium has made me some friends, it seems, I am spared today. Now I must make them regret it.
It's Sunday now, I won yesterday. I wanted to finish alone, the only rider in the photo. In my book that's the ultimate victory. But it wasn't to be, so I settled for the sprint and it worked out in my favour. Crossing the line I shouted and punched the sky. An hour's tension was released. Finally after what felt like an age, my legs and lungs caught up. I felt tired and flicked my gears into the small ring. Back to the line to collect my flowers and stammer in broken Flemish and English to the commentator. Lungs pumping, I couldn't help but smile.
Now it's pouring with rain here in Poeke, East Flanders. The stage is set for another dramatic day of racing. Today’s course winds through the fields with many treacherous wet corners and a brilliant stretch of cobbles short but exhilarating nonetheless.
I am in the village hall sitting on a white plastic chair with a towel on the floor for my feet. This is my luxury changing room. I fold my number as small as possible, without covering the sponsors writing, I double pin it, so as not to flap. Oversocks on, my shiny new shoes protected. Embrocation for the legs and a merino base layer. I am ready for battle.
First lap and there is standing water on the road. We run slightly lower pressures to try to gain any grip possible, but four or five guys have already slid off on corners. The rain is so intense it stings my face. Another hour of this and we will be swimming. I ride aggressively, a break will be safer, but this field doesn’t want to split. I try and try but to no avail. A rider fires up the road, everyone looks to me, I am the foreigner. Today they gang up, I play poker and wait. Eventually someone panics and starts the chase. It might be their home ground but these Belgians don't scare me. I feel like I am taking them on in their own game. I love this weather.
Now I am back in London. I came in second yesterday, just beaten in a sprint, close but no flowers. I learnt from every revolution of the cranks, 6.93 meters further forward, each stroke a new experience. I'll be back to race in Flanders again soon, and the Belgians know it too.