Last week we left our caped-crusader feeling his legs a bit atop the end of stage one of the Tour of Oman. Since then he's spent more time than he cares for on planes and in airport lounges. He's also apparently been granted Belgian Citizenship by his team. The ongoing saga and the glamorous lifestyle of a pro bike rider on tour continues ...
Many people who look at cycling from the outside see us racing in all these exotic places and assume that its one big holiday. To be fair, when you're flat-out in a stage race the only places you see are the inside of a hotel room and the transfer route to and from the stage. I'm not complaining, just saying it isn't that glamorous. And then there's the post-race getting home. This time we weren't so lucky as in Qatar where we enjoyed a rare 'chill day on the beach'. No sooner had we finished the Tour of Oman, returned to the hotel and cleaned ourselves up, our bags had to be packed and the staff took everything - from bikes and massage tables - to camping stove and Moka pot, and packed them up into boxes of various shapes and sizes, all to be collected from the hotel basement at 19:00.
It's probably still sounding like a decent enough trip, but after back-to-back stage races you're pretty puffed! All you really want (need) is a good night's kip. But our journey home started with the rather rude awakening of an early morning call at 02:00, followed by a taxi to the airport for a 05:00 flight from Muscat. This got us into doha for 05:30 local time, where we 'enjoyed' a layover until 08:00. The flight was another 6h30, getting us back into Brussels for 13:00.
Like I say, I imagine anyone who's ever flown from Oz will be laughing at my flight-lightweightness, but with only a few hours sleep after a hard week's racing I was on my knees. Once we arrived in Doha I sniffed my way around all the coffee shops before selecting the one with the fanciest coffee machine (an elektra to be precice - its a thing of beauty...). I treated myself to a cappuccino and a croissant (SO Euro I know...) but it did the job and got me feeling human enough to tackle the 20 minute walk to the gate (not even exaggerating-ish). Then once there much like many a proud Brit I queued the living daylights out of it, made my way onto the plane and found my seat next to the window.
It's pretty easy to spot a cyclist on a plane. They're normally quite a calm individual with a set of large noise cancelling headphones and an eyemask (should the eyemask have been forgotten, a pair of team issue shades will suffice to keep the light out whilst snoozing). Three films and a power nap later we arrived in Brussels, to be welcomed by all the publicity for Tour of Flanders in the airport. This is one of the many things I love about Belgium - the fact they totally live their bike racing. Once through security we had to partake in a mass *Generation-Game-like scenario. About six team's worth of bikes and equipment boxes going round and round one luggage belt, and one confused-looking man with a piece of paper trying to work out whether or not his metaphorical cuddly toy (in this metaphor the cuddly toy is 16 race bikes in cardboard boxes that all look the same) has arrived and been accounted for.
After we collected our masses of belongings it was time to be reunited with our nearest and dearest. My girlfriend was a sight for sore eyes with her usual smiley bubbly face to uplift my tired and weary self. She helped me instantly begin the recovery process and build-up to the next race on the programme, which for me is the second half of the famous 'Openings Weekend' in Belgium, which begins with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (in English it would be named 'Lap of the Mail on Saturday') followed by on Sunday, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (contrary to what the name suggests it doesn't actually go that close to Brussels), which is the one I'll be doing. Before then we have equipment and kit testing on the course from the Omloop today (Wednesday). Hopefully we'll iron out any remaining issues around what kit its best to wear and which equipment best suits the conditions - decide on which wheels to use and what tyre pressures to run, etc. All part of the essential preparation we need to do for riding on cobblestones - because coming up quickly now are all those cobbled races that Belgium and northern France is famous for! We will be ready!
Meanwhile my team appear to have accepted me as one of their own - I got a Belgian flag on my new race bike...!
Check back next week to see how Mark gets on in K-B-K this weekend...
Follow Mark's training and racing on Strava.
Follow @MMcNallyCycling on Twitter and check out his website: markmcnallycycling.co.uk
*The Generation Game is a piece of cult UK TV - "cuddly toy" reference below....