A perfect plan
The previous day, we’d raced Het Volk in minus five. This was back when Het Volk was still Het Volk of course, and when minus five felt much colder than it does these days. So, when we arrived at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the next morning, under darkening skies, I already knew I was in for a hard day. Then, on the start line, one of my teammates quietly said to me, “If we’re going to get off at the feed, we’d better be the first to do it.”
Guilio was a solidly built gregario from Rome, with a chiselled face like a statue, or a prisoner. Usually, he hardly spoke. I tried my best to look surprised at his assumption that I would be getting off at the feed. There was little use acting though; riders can sniff out another rider’s motivation a mile off. Those with low moral are drawn to one another like mating dogs.
“Why is that Guilio?”
“Think about it. It is 100 km to Brussels in an almost straight line; then, we turn around and come back to Kuurne.” He spoke slowly and quietly, as if he had to speak but didn’t want to get heard.
“No shit — that’s why it is called Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.”
“The feed is in Brussels, and there are only two seats in the soigneur’s car. There are eight of us in the team, so if you aren’t in quick then you’ll have to go all the way back in the broom wagon,” he said despondently – as if he’d already been beaten in the race to abandon, by his own team.
Christ, this is sad, I thought.
“How do you know that everyone will want to get off though?”
I looked around at the tired faces of our teammates and knew he was right. If you were dropped before the feed, there would be no space in the soigneur’s car, and if you weren’t dropped before the feed, you’d either have to fight your own teammates for a seat or get a blasting from the DS for getting off while still in the race. Possibly both. Either way led me directly to the broom wagon, where I’d end up sitting for hours in my wet kit, sulking in an old blanket with nothing to eat, while we ambled along at the speed of the slowest rider in the race.
Shit, I thought.
“It’s snowing at the feed,” Guilio added.
Fuck, I thought.
Sometimes it takes a long time to hatch a plan. Sometimes the perfect idea just arrives out of nowhere. There was no time to think about making a plan, as seconds later the gun was fired for the off, and we started rolling along the streets of Kuurne. We sped past the brothels with their inviting lights — Paradise Club, Club Exotica, The Safari Bar — and I started hoping for a miracle to arrive. As the speed increased and we headed toward the end of the neutral and into the wind-swept fields of West Flanders, I saw it.
On the right side of the roundabout ahead was a hedgerow with a track running by it. It was a great looking hedge, probably the best; it was thick and dense and out of the line of sight for the team cars. I looked around. The cars were still catching up with the race. Ours was way out of sight.
> Read this related story by Frank Heinen, about his love for the underdog: the E3 <
I knew it was my chance. I hit the roundabout in last wheel and turned hard to the right, then took a quick left and found myself behind the hedge — the best hedge in all of Belgium. I kept my head down as the team cars shot past and listened to the sounds of the convoy speeding along, before catching sight of the lumbering old broom wagon, trundling along at the rear. Not today, my friends. I gave it another minute before popping out from behind the hedge and starting to ride back to the team bus.
Hours later, my exhausted teammates clambered onto the bus, where I’d been dozing all afternoon. No one batted an eyelid. They were all too tired and cold to notice me; they had been sat in the broom wagon for hours.
As we readied to leave, my director, stressed and tired, climbed onto the bus.
“Cardoso, where were you?”
“Ah, I was in that group… when it split… and then there was a crash and I was held up and, I guess I couldn’t make it back from there.” I said, guessing a few likely scenarios and sounding as disappointed as I could without overdoing it. I waited for the reaction.
“Ach, shit. I didn’t see you. I must have missed you in all the snow when we came past. Hell out there today…”
“It was hell alright,” I said.
As we rolled out of town in the team bus I pointed out the window at my hedge and nodded, and said to no one in particular, “Nice hedge that one.”
And it’s almost all true that story.
Henessee Cardoso is a former professional cyclist, part time team manager and long-term freewheeling adventurer.
If you liked this story consider purchasing Soigneur Cycling Journal 16 where it was first printed.