Utah cyclist learns what it takes to be a Euro bicycle racer

Dear Friends, Family, and Fellow Racers

I'm living the dream! I arrived in Belgium last Saturday (March 28) and will be racing here until June 25 when I will return to the United States for the National Championships and then back to Utah to start a new chapter in my life. I will be posting this weekly update for all those interested. Feel free to email me at anytime.

Before I tell you about the first week I would like to thank several people who helped make my dream come true: Mom and Buz, I will forever be in your debt, thanks for understanding what it takes to live a powerful life; and Thomas Cooke, my brother from another mother and fellow free rider, thanks for all the goodies and your friendship; Mike Hanseen; owner of the best bike shop in Utah, Canyon Bicycles; Tom Noaker for the endless supply of Power Gels; John and Nancy Murphy, friends for life, thanks for taking care of my personal affairs while I'm gone; Dave Erickson, for smoothing out the cobbles with the new Wound Up fork; Steve Johnson, for teaching me how to be a cyclist; Dad, for your support. This is starting to sound like an Oscar speech so thanks to everyone that helped out, you know who you are.

Sat., March 28: I arrived in Belgium and was met by my host Berhnard Moerman. We drove 1 hour from Brussels to the house in Oostende on the coast. Bernard and his wife Ann have been housing cyclist for the last 5 years, they are about 40 years old, very cool and they love America. The house is two story, the cyclists live downstairs. We have our own kitchen, bath, tv and bedrooms. It's a little bit dorm-style but very comfortable. There is a bike shop and grocery store just around the corner.

I spent the first day unpacking, putting the bike together and sleeping. There are other cyclists already here: Inyaki, a pro from Spain; Randy from Santa Barbara and Tony from Australia. Jeff Louder will arrive from SLC on Wednesday and others will follow. We will have up to eight racers here at one time.

Sun., March 29: My first race in Europe just 15 hours off the plane. The name of the race is Kruiskerke. 120 K long, flat. The races here are totally awesome. It only costs 50 cents to race and all races pay 20-30 deep. Each race has at least 100 racers and 1,000 spectators. All roads are closed, barricades everywhere, lead cars, team cars, loud speakers in all the towns. It's a huge deal here.

The races start in town then go out on narrow farm roads and wind all over the countryside, going through several small towns along the way. The races are all at least 120 K and most are 6-10 K circuits with several laps. Right from the gun we were up to full speed and it never ever let up. 53 X 11-14 the whole race. No kidding!

Theses guys are big and fast, attack after attack, I was so excited to be here that I raced a little aggressively too early in the race and faded in the last 20 K finishing in the second group for 30th place; I am not used to going full speed for 3 hours and am at this point very concerned that my preparation has not been enough. Bernard reassured me saying I did great just to finish since no other rider he had hosted ever finished their first race.

Mon., March 30: The weather has been beautiful so far. Today I rode into Oostende and immediately got lost. It is so flat that you have no landmarks to follow and the streets have no logic to them. Now I never leave home without my maps.

Tues., March 31: Trained 100 K on the canals. There are canals going in all directions each with totally smooth bike paths and you could ride all over the country on them. It's awesome. Still great weather.

Wed., April 1: Race number 2. We took the train from Oostende to Kortjick (home of Greg LeMond), about a one-hour ride, then we rode 20 K to the start in Orrior, a 125 K lap race with a very steep 4 min. climb. The weather turned bad during the race with lots of wind and rain. I was in the lead group of 20 with 3 laps to go. On the climb with 2 laps to go I was dropped with 9 others. With 1 lap to go I pulled over to the side of the road on the climb and wondered what the hell I was doing here. I then rode back 20 K to catch the train home - my longest ride of the year.

Thurs., April 2: Rest day

Fri., April 3: 110 K ride with lots of wind.

Sat., April 4: Race 3, Harris finds his legs and does the U.S. proud. 120 K / 19 laps pouring rain, 20-40 mph winds, hail, real Belgian racing. I took the second lap prime and kept the pedal to the metal. Soon I was joined by two Belgians and three members of the Lithuanian National team. Full tilt boogie for the next 3 hours while we established as much as a 3 minute lead.

I only worked in the crosswind sections so that I would not get squeezed out of the echelon. The rest of the lap the Lithos took charge and it was all I could do just to hang on. We were going 60 kph on the tail wind sections and only 15-20 kph into the head winds. With 8 laps to go I really started to suffer. I have never had to race so hard in my life. These guys are so fast and powerful.

With 4 laps to go I'm getting dizzy and playing every mind game I can think of not to quit. With 2 laps to go the Lithos attack, I answer and we drop one Belgian. With 1 lap to go the Lithos go again and this time I have nothing left. With a chase group 1 minute behind me I TT to the finish and hold on for 5th place.

Now I know why I'm here.

Sun., April 5: Tour of Flanders (pro World Cup race). Went to the start of Flanders along with the rest of the Belgium, thousands of people went to see the start. I saw all the racers and had a few minutes to talk with Marty Jemison from SLC who races for the U.S. Postal Service. We then went home and had a party and watched the race live on Eurosport. Johan Museeuw is King! He lives just down the street and I will get a chance to ride with him this week.

Week 2

I have now been in Belgium for 15 days and all is still going great. Thanks to everybody for your responses to the last email, I'm happy to be able to share this experience with everybody, keep the emails coming, we're having a competition in the house to see who gets the most emails each day. So far I'm in the leaders jersey.

The week was filled with lots of training and two big races. The weather so far has been beautiful by Belgian standards. It's alot like a cool spring day in Utah. We live one mile away from the North Sea, so the wind kicks up a bit. But that's ok, it makes you tough. The only rain we have had has occured during the races in the first week. I have not had to go training in the rain yet, but I'm sure the day will come soon. Jeff Louder from SLC came in on Wed, April 8th. It's nice to have a familiar face in the house.

So far there are five racers in the house, soon we will have eight. I'm a little concerned that there will be too many Indians in the tee-pee but we will deal with it. Each day I get up and walk to the stores to buy my food for the day. First I go to the bakery for fresh bread and maybe a pastry, then I go to the butcher and buy some hamburger meat, then to the general store for spagetti noodles and sauce. I eat a lot of spagetti here. Jeff brought a cookbook so I hope to make some other dishes soon. I feel real out of place without La Salsa and Taco Bell. I realy crave some fresh Mexican right now. In fact, there really is no fast food anywhere. And no ice for your Cokes. And I have to drive to a big store way out of town to get Dr. Pepper. Just some minor inconveniences.

The weeks races:

Wed, April 8th. Saint Kruisse/Brugge, 19laps, 144K, 176 racers. With one lap to go, only 60 remained. I was one of them. Early in the race there were several crashes that split the field and sent many to the hospital. It was obvious that this race was going to come down to a 60-man field sprint. Four kilometers to go and the battle to get to the front was fierce, lots of elbows and lots of yelling, I held my ground. Three K to go and guys are now riding on the sidewalk to try and move forward, spectators are running for their lives, it's total insanity. With two K and one more turn before the finishing stretch I'm hanging tough about 20 back as we head at full steam single file towards the last turn. I want to move forward but we're going too fast, hopefully it will slow into the turn and I can move up on the outside. The last turn, it slows a little, but instead of going forward I lose about 10 places as I get knocked all to hell by a bunch of kamakazi Belgians.

This is the most physical race I have ever been in and with one K to go I'm pissed and need to get to the front 10 ASAP. Everybody behind me must have the same idea. At least three times I hear the sounds of twisting metal and flesh smacking the pavement. I need to move forward but I'm boxed in the middle and fighting just to hold this position. We are now gutter to gutter with 800 meters to go. I need a hole to move forward. 500 to go and some poor bloke just in front and to my left hits the tarmak, just my luck. 300 to go we are at full speed, 55X11, I'm still 20 guys back as the sprint unleashes. I stand up, mash on my pedals and wiz by seven slow pokes and cruise in for 13th place, 50 bucks and my name in the paper.

Sat., April 11. A bad day for everbody. Today I enterd the 120k Wevelghem race. Half way through the race I was just about to catch the lead breakaway of 10 guys when I took a turn a little too fast. My rear wheel hit the curb damn hard. I didn't go down and thought all was ok. But a few seconds later, BAM!!!, the rear tire explodes and my day is over. Too bad because I was going to put the hurt on these Belgian sissys. Jeff Louder entered his first race in another town.

Sometimes there are two races on the same day, one for those under-24 and one for those over-24, somedays we all race together. Anyway, only three K into the race and Jeff lost it into a trench. He was taken to the hospital to clean up several cuts to the face but he is OK, just a little blood loss and a broken spirit. Unfortunatly his bike did not come out alive. We will be shopping for a new frame for him this week. Inyaki, the pro in our house had to go to the doctor to check on an inflammed knee. Tony from Australia was not allowed to enter the same race as Jeff because they said he was too old, so he rode home about 60 K, got 2 flats and rode 25 K on the rim. We'll just forget this day happened.

Sun., April 12. The Hell of the North (Paris-Roubaix).

For those of you who don't know. Paris-Roubaix is the hardest race on the professional World Cup circuit, its 266 K long, with 60 K of some of the worst cobblestone roads in all of France. After a three-hour training ride, I settled into the couch with a frozen pizza and watched four hours of live coverage. Franco Balerini of Italy was the winner with an awsome display of power.

Next Week: 25 hrs of training, 2 races and lots of MTV

Talk to you soon Belgian Billy Bill Harris