I managed to finish my first race here in Europe: the ZLM Tour in Zeeland, Holland. It was a one-day, 189km affair with 147 starters all racing for their respective national teams. With exception of climbing, ZLM had a taste of all the characteristics that make european racing hard: small roads, cross-winds, aggressive racing, road furniture, cobbles, and Russians. I placed 87th, dead last of what remained of the main peloton. Team USA's top placed rider was my Trek-Livestrong teammate and fellow 19 year old Gavin Mannion who came across in 15th. A notoriously windy race, we were surprised (and elated) to wake up on race day to no discernible wind. On the start line, a DB (that stands for Dutch Bicyclist of course) came up to us and snidely commented, "no wind today...good for you guys!" I hope he crashed. And there were plenty of crashes to go around for sure. I tipped over in the first kilometer of racing after power-sliding to a stop in order to avoid a massive pileup. Team USA had one serious casualty: Iggy Silva caught a lip on the road and hit the deck at 50km/h. If I had a dollar for every crash I narrowly avoided I would double my annual salary.
The winds did eventually pick up though and the last half of racing was strung out single file on small roads. A breakaway of nine rolled out of the feedzone and stayed away until the finish, but since Russia, France, and Belgium all missed it the chase from the field was fast. The latter half of the course included a lot of turns and tiny one lane farm roads, so the field was constantly strung out, making it difficult to move up. When the pace picked up, Team USA had a strong grip on the back of the peloton, so we all missed the first couple splits and had to work hard to regain our position in the race*. All riders made the lead group as we entered the two 10km finishing circuits. The pre-race plan was to get Cole House up in the front for the sprint. We were a bit disorganized and the finale was mostly a free for all. Since the break was still up the road and bridging attempts were flying left and right, I decided to jump in to one of them. At one point there were six of us (including last year's winner Luke Rowe of Britain) with 10km to go but we just attacked each other instead of working together. Despite being sick the two days previous, I felt really strong and look forward to improving on 87th at the coming races. Next race is Affligem UCI 1.2 in Affligem, Belgium on Sunday the 25th.
*We all agree that the most effective way to get to the front is to find the nearest Russian and wait for the inevitable monster effort they will make to get to the front.