Pt3 The SSEC

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This is the view that greeted us in N.Ireland

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A stark contrast to the weather that we had experienced the last few days. What awaited us was 3 days of beautifully organized championships, good times with lovely people and the best Guinness I have ever tasted (and we double checked that a few times)

There was a music festival type atmosphere in the camping ground

There was a music festival type atmosphere in the camping ground

Just one year ago there were no established trails in Castlewellan. But thanks to a bunch of funding and some inspiration from the very paths we had been riding the last few days we were now greeted by some exquisite riding. This was added to by the addition of some ‘natural’ trails, made just for race day, giving a taste of not so ‘established’ single track.

Trying to make the best culinary choice down at the local grill shop

Trying to make the best culinary choice down at the local grill shop (Photo Pieter)

Single speed championships are filled with fun events, both for anyone who wants to try their hand at it, like the bike toss

Alexander Dunlop going for a more traditional style of throw

Alexander Dunlop going for a more traditional style of throw

And also events for the countries competing for the next championships. In this case Slovenia and Italy (Sicily). This started with pickled egg eating…

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Here you can see that Sebastiano is clearly enjoying the experience more than Ursula, bringing home an easy victory for Sicily.

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Photos Pieter d’Haens

At the pub in the evening we were treated to Irish hospitality

'Would you like a beer?'

‘Would you like a beer?’

Race day was 4 laps of an 8km course, no beer was drunken during the race, but I can assure you that loads was drunken after.

Avoiding pre-race nerves with James

Avoiding pre-race nerves with James (Photo Alexandre: Malteni)

The start says it all, the first two people off the front were the first two over the line...

The start says it all, the first two people off the front were the first two over the line… (Photo Alexander Dunlop)

I loved the race track! It has set a new standard for me for what I expect from championship courses!

I loved the race track! It has set a new standard for me for what I expect from championship courses! (Photo Bruno)

The first Guinness of the day...

The first Guinness of the day… (Photo Pascal Cazaux)

After dueling a bit for Corti Umberto (The new European Champion) for the first 1.5 laps he slowly pulled away from me. At one point in time I noticed that he was sitting down peddling while I stood up. This led me to the conclusion that he had chosen a lighter gear than me. This would result in just a little less top speed but fresher legs at the top of the climbs. Fuck. Once he disappeared from sight I just settled down to having as much fun as I could while still keeping my 2nd place. Once the race was finished and I was handed a Guinness, I asked him what gear he had chosen, 34×17. Fuck fuck. I had 32×18, oh well, I really was out-done, no shame there. Now where is the next beer?

The Slovenian team plus a couple of gypsies...

Some of the Slovenian team plus a couple of gypsies…

More competitions between the SSEC '15 hosts to be

More competitions between the SSEC ’15 hosts to be (Photo Pieter)

I was just trying to help!

I was just trying to help! (Photo Pieter)

After an evening of eating, drinking…

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…prizes, more drinking and a lot of dancing, Pieter and I got up for our usual fat filled breakfast fry up and then headed into town for coffee and internet access while the others did the group ride. We had chosen to save our energy for a trip to Rostrevor, the Irish bike-park flagship, in the afternoon. After a short 35min drive over there we piled out of the car and I lay on the grass for a while just trying to get my shit together for what was to be the most epic ride of our trip. After a very long, and often rather steep climb, we were greeted by this…

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Words failed us. We could not have wished for a better end to our journey than the stunning 30km long single track loop that we found in Rostrevor.

Stunning exposed trails

Stunning exposed trails

Finishing in beautiful technical trails through the forest

Finishing in beautiful technical trails through the forest

Our road trip through Wales, Scotland and finishing in N.Ireland was one of the best I have ever been on, the riding was breathtaking, the facilities amazing, and the companionship without compare. Thanks to the Irish crew that put such a wonderful and well organized event on, and thanks of course to the companies that have helped me in just getting there, Malteni, 29er Bike Shop, GripGrab, and especially Travers Bikes for providing me with such an amazing ride!

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Exhausted and hungover selfie

Exhausted and hungover selfie

 

The road to the SSEC pt2, Scotland

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I have wanted to travel to Scotland for many years, a return to some distant roots for me, and now here I was. The weather on our day of arrival was not exactly inspiring for a late afternoon ride so we opted for checking out the offerings from some of the local pubs instead. The first place we visited I asked what beer they had on cask (we had been enjoying lovely cask beers since landing on the island). The response was that they only served it during the summer, ‘and as you can see it isn’t summer yet’. We had been lucky so far with the weather in Wales and it seems like we were about to pay for it in Scotland.

Any break in weather was a cause to start taking photos

Any break in weather was a cause to start taking photos

The riding however would make it all worthwhile. There is a series of mountain biking areas in Scotland called the 7 Stanes and they would provide some of the nicest single track any of us had ever ridden.

A typical trail map from one of the 'Stanes'

A typical trail map from one of the ‘Stanes’

If anything the 7 Stanes are very well organized

If anything the 7 Stanes are very well organized

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When our road trip first began the short breaks that we held were often filled with enthusiastic renditions of the last section of trail and the various experiences we had on it. This morning as we took our last ride we were strangely quiet, not because the trails were any less amazing than our very first day, but I think we had simply run out of descriptives for what we were feeling. In the two days of riding we had here we rode 3 of the 7 Stanes, Mabie, Ae, and Kirroughtree. Each with it’s own charm and style.

One of the actual 'Stanes'

One of the actual ‘Stanes’

I cannot recommend the riding in Scotland and Wales highly enough. The 7 Stanes especially, with long single track loops, amazing facilities (varies a bit from place to place) and even skills areas where you can test yourself before you hit the trails to figure out which level of difficulty you should choose before you head out. The best thing of all of course is that they are all very single speed friendly :)

Riding in Wales :)

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Wales was amazing, the riding in Wales equally so. It isn’t often I am in a place in Europe that reminds me as much of home as Coed y Brenin, or Wales in general that is. It was a great start to our trip and provided some interesting lessons into getting to know my new bike. Generally I love my new ride, and am very much looking forward to many adventures together. If you are going to ride a rigid bike, especially a single speed then I can WARMLY recommend going for a 29+. The large volume tyres (running at deliciously low pressures) just eat up the rocks, and in Wales there are a LOT of rocks. My only problem/learning point has been getting to know my tyres and running them tubeless. Day one went trouble free and we had a great deal of fun. Day two I started to encounter problems. A hole in the tyre put me back on tubes and sent me from running 0.5 bar to 0.8, just not quite the same. Day three, back tubeless again (not an easy task when you have no air compressor), another hole in the tyre and back to tubes for the remainder of the ride.

We are now in Scotland, have restocked on tubes and I am still trying to figure out the best way to do it all. It is running the low pressure that makes the 29+ setup sooooo much fun, but I need to figure out the best compromise where I can ride without incident and still stay in front of James with his 26″ bike, front suspension and mad skills…

Welcome to England! A motorway supermarket, 12 different types of fruit salad alone...

Welcome to England! A motorway supermarket, 12 different types of fruit salad alone…

Wales!!

Wales!!

More of Wales (I like Wales)

More of Wales (I like Wales)

Riding in Coed y Brenin, Wales.

Riding in Coed y Brenin, Wales.

More...

More…

Day one wasn't entirely trouble free

Day one wasn’t entirely trouble free

Someone has been 'burping' latex…

Someone has been ‘burping’ latex…

End of day one...

End of day one…

Trip to the pub :D

Trip to the pub :D

Ahhhhh….

Ahhhhh….

Welsh hygge (coziness)

Welsh hygge (coziness)

Mmmmmm… Local beer :)

Mmmmmm… Local beer :)

#yourbikehatesyou

#yourbikehatesyou

The trails!!

The trails!!

Gotta love the handiwork :)

Gotta love the handiwork :)

The views!

The views!

One of the more technical climbs…

One of the more technical climbs…

James, James...

James, James…

Kiwi ingenuity :)

Kiwi ingenuity :)

No gluten free today...

No gluten free today…

The Travers Build

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The frame came in the post yesterday. Casper down at the shop tried to keep it’s existence hidden from me, barstard. But eventually it was found, built up, and here it is…

 

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One of a kind…

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Looking forward to trying out the latest offerings from Look

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Thanks to Jule @Snique for the beautiful job on recovering my beloved Flite

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I am not sure if the Esi Grips are a bit thick for my tastes, but until further notice I will be flying the Belgian flag

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No build could be complete without a few borrowed parts, thanks to Milton @29er Bike Shop for the nice cranks

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It’s all about the details

Next stop, Brussels, Lille (gotta pick up some beers), London (gotta pick up James), Wales, Scotland and then Castlewellan Ireland for the European Single Speed Championships.

A little different race update

I think about a year ago I signed up for the World Championships in Half Marathon. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and given the time that I had to prepare I even felt that it was realistic for me to expect to be able to run under 1:30. About 4 months after that I dropped running and promptly forgot about ever signing up for the race. I remembered about it just 9 days before the race. I could see that there was a ton of people getting rid of their race numbers online and that the only real option was to just race. Although I did swing back and forth an awful lot on that decision (the fact that I wrote it on Facebook that I was racing meant that there was no chickening out) I am really glad I did end up running. Even though I haven’t been able to walk properly for a couple of days now I am pleased I stuck to my decision. Why? Well for a couple of reasons but I will get to that later.

I won’t bore you with too many details about what happened before we actually started. Suffice it to say that 30,000 people squeezed into a street makes for some interesting logistics when it comes to things like warming up, toilets (some used them, some didn’t), hydration etc. The fast guys, the ones that run 21 km at a pace faster than I can run 2 km at, started 12 minutes before me. It took 4 minutes before we even started walking towards the start, so I can’t imagine what it was like for the 20-25,000 people behind me.

I was fixed on a plan. Pacing is extremely important in running, get it wrong and you may end up walking or worst case scenario not even finishing. I figured five minutes per kilometer would be an attainable goal and not leave me injured. So accordingly my starting group was also the 1:45 finish time group. Although straight off the start everyone else in the group ran just a little faster than me. But I kept telling myself to stick to the plan. I had been told (many years ago) to run these kinds of races like a horse with blinders on. Shut everyone else out and focus on what is ‘your’ race. So for the first 5 km’s or so I ran beautiful 5min km’s, the whole time slowly being passed by people, but still confident in my pacing and my plan. It was at the 5 km mark that I noticed that my gps watch and the km markers were exactly agreeing and that I was actually about 30seconds off my mark. So I started to pick it up a bit and get back on schedule. As I hit the 9km mark, had gotten the lost time back and hadn’t started to notice any serious pain anywhere I decided to change the plan. Something Kenneth Carlsen had written me, about the motor (mine) being good, had gotten me to thinking about the fact that regardless of whether I ran fast or slow my legs were going to suffer the next couple of days, but physically, aerobically, I could run faster than I was. So I changed the plan and started to pick up the pace. Now, we aren’t talking anything crazy here, just around 15 seconds faster per km, but it certainly felt like it. My ego was in heaven, now it was me doing the passing. I often have some kind of sprint left in my legs at the end of any race, regardless of how hard I feel like I have pushed myself. But with this many people on the road your top speed was limited so I decided that I would put my ‘kick’ in at the 19km mark with just over 2km to go. Again I felt godlike as more people fell behind me. Well at least I did until, looking down Frederiksberg Allé, I did a quick mental calculation as to how far I thought it was to the finish line and figured that under 2km was a bit unrealistic so I check my watch. The ’19km kick’ came at the 18km sign and I was going to have to stretch it another kilometer longer than I had thought (there was going to be no talk of slowing down again). My legs held out, I didn’t cramp (close, but no cigar) and I crossed with a time of 1:42:04.

Why was I glad I ran though? To begin with, the experience of partaking in such a huge event. Streets lined with people cheering at the mad mass of runners jogging by. It was amazing, and I was kicking myself that I didn’t have a camera to record any of it. We were handed out emergency blankets at the end of the race as the thousands of runners that had just streamed across the line moved onwards towards hydration, snacks and clean clothes. The sight and sound of those people, covered in plastic foil, for as far as I could see was not something I will forget in a hurry.

After we had gotten blankets, water, and an apple, a woman came up to me and asked ‘would you like a beer?’ I couldn’t believe my ears! I thought this was just something that happened at Single Speed events (and Cyclocross World Championships). Handing out free beers after such a grueling ordeal. Well that was until I got a closer look at it…

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SSCXEC

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I had a lovely days riding in the forests north of Copenhagen yesterday. I have started to feel connected to my bike again and this makes for a nice flow on the trails and puts a smile on my face most of the time. You need to spend a certain amount of time on a bike before you begin to understand how it moves and your own movements start to become more intuitive.

Just a week ago I went to Holland to race the Single Speed Cyclocross European Championships.

Another fantastic drive down...

Another fantastic drive down…

With a quick overnight in Berlin

Food delivery on bikes in Berlin. The Germans are always just one step ahead...

Food delivery on bikes in Berlin. The Germans are always just one step ahead…

And a small detour past Hamburg

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I finally made it to Holland and a night spent with Pieter and Renske

Hospitality at it's best!

Hospitality at it’s best!

Locked and loaded...

Locked and loaded…

It was the first time that the race was held, but it promised to be a great day. The organizers made use of a small mountain bike trail run by a local club. It wasn’t very cyclocross specific (aside from having an insane set of stairs) but boy was it fun! (aside from the stairs)

The stairs

The stairs

They had really built a great course in the space available. Those of us staying in the near by campground were confident, while discussing race tactics at the Belgian Bar on Saturday night, that the title would surely be won by a representative from the campground. Had we gone to bed a little earlier that might have been true. Though as Pieter pointed out the winner is rarely closing down the bar the night before the race, he is usually at home getting a massage or counting sheep.

The infamous 2" tent...

The infamous 2″ tent…

Regardless, the atmosphere on race day was good, the organizers were as they should be, organized, and even had a DJ keeping everybody happy. In the two qualifying rounds  the racing was most intense in the middle of the heats. It wasn’t the guys at the front that looked like death warmed up, it was the 4-5 guys sitting in 17th – 22nd that were fighting for the last couple of slots that had the hardest battle. There were numerous excuses from riders that had gone so hard that they now no longer had anything left for the final round.

I got a good start,

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was 2nd up the stairs and there after quickly took 1st place, but I soon had company for a lap or two…

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until I lost both of my hangers-on to crashes

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After a couple of laps alone, I was then caught and passed. This was the result…

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Thanks to Jelle, Bart, Christiaan, Rene and Mark for a fantastically organized weekend! Next time I won’t go on holiday for a month before the race so Yannick and Al will have to work a bit harder if they want to retain their places in front of me…

Thanks to Willem, Bruno, Ochikiro and Tim for the extra photo’s too ;)

The Worlds the end

The day of the race was clear and sunny, we couldn’t have wished for it to be any better. I was well rested, had eaten all the right things, there were no excuses to be had. Bender and I headed off early to catch the first practice session of the day, Dave would come later with Emma and the kids. The practice was more to see how the course had dried out over night and see if there was anything to be aware of. After half a lap and almost putting myself in to the barriers twice I decided that I should probably start by taking it a little easier. There were no big surprises, some of the stuff that was unrideable yesterday had gotten better and with the right line and some good legs should be fine. It was time now to take it easy and watch the U23 riders.

Some good practice sessions with my faithful pit crew made for a super smooth bike change.

Some good practice sessions with my faithful pit crew made for a super smooth bike change (Definitely better than Van der Har was doing).

Once Alex arrived a bit later we finally had Team New Zealand collected and we got the last remaining accreditations for my friend Pieter, my ‘coach’ for the day, and the entourage that Alex bought with him. Needless to say the lady behind the desk looked at us a little funny. Alex headed off to practice and I just tried to focus on relaxing and enjoying the time we had left before the race.

There was one thing that happened just up to the start of the race that made for quite a unique experience. I was running a little later than I had hoped due to kit and number problems, so by the time I headed over to the race I was in a bit of a hurry. Now I had never ridden straight to the start line in the 3 days that we had been there so I was a little unsure where to go. Luckily that had been thought through and taken care of. As soon as I hit the course I was directed through the crowd to a corridor of volunteers lined up to guide riders through the throng of spectators. I can tell you now, boy did I feel special! The other cool thing that happened was at the back of the grid I met David Qvist, one of the riders from Norway, and the reason that I was standing there in the first place. About 1.5 years ago I beat David in a race in Denmark and this fact was pointed out to me by my friend Bruce who also mentioned that David had ridden in the Worlds for Norway before. Now if David could ride for Norway then why couldn’t I ride for NZ? So here we were, come full circle, standing next to each other at the start of the 2014 Cyclocross World Championships.

I had my best start ever, no clipping in problems, stuck well to the pack, but it all got pretty ugly after that any way. If you put that many riders together at such a prestigious event things are bound to get messy. It was just a question of not getting stuck in something bad. Even at the flyover half way through the first lap we were still forced to run due to bunching up and falls. I was happy as long as I ended up with the riders behind me that I felt should be there (basically anyone that I hadn’t seen that season already and hopefully Alex too). It took a lap before I had achieved that and got down to the task at hand. To be honest I usually race at about 90-95%. I don’t see the point in finishing towards the back of the pack and having a miserable race as well. So I try to find a place where the hurt is tolerable and I fell like I am in control in the technical sections and often having fun in the descents. It has also meant that I have finished every race this season with no serious mechanicals nor injuries. Today wasn’t one of those races, nothing less than 100% would do. This meant that the descents and fast turns were scary, barely in control and that by the time I got pulled I didn’t have much left in me at all.

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I can’t remember exactly but I think I kept Alex behind me for about three laps. I pitted to get a slightly lighter, mud free bike, he snuck on by and slowly started to get away. I often feel like I am technically better than Alex, and I certainly go downhill faster, but Alex can just dig in and keep going in a way that I can’t, and after those magical first three-four laps he gets past me and slowly disappears, there is no catching him. Damn it, he is the faster of us two.

Alex right where I would have liked him to have stayed

Alex right where I would have liked him to have stayed

The surprise for me was Aaron Schooler. As far as I understood it he is the faster of the two Canadian riders, but a tangle with a French rider in the first lap put him right towards the back. Even though Alex had gotten by I managed for a long time to hold Aaron at bay, he was always 10-15m behind me. But I really started to hurt on my last lap and I wasn’t sure if I could keep him there forever. The end of the course was a straight stretch on some asphalt, followed by a left, then right past the biggest group of Kiwi supporters on the whole course, up the steep run, remount, super steep descent and then climb up to the 80% zone (where they remove riders like me) and the finishing straight. Aaron caught me running up the hill.

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My legs were cramping and I had little or nothing left to fight with, but I managed to mount first and keep him behind me. By this stage I was hoping we were going to get pulled, another lap from me would have been very unspectacular, and all I had to do was keep Aaron behind me for another 30-40m and I could secure my place. I managed  in the end to hold him and was greeted by two UCI officials at the top, much to my relief. Much more to my relief I was offered a beer by a guy going past just after I exited and before finishing that one was promptly offered a second beer by another random dude walking past with a whole tray of them. Belgians might not be the best at supporting the riders not being shown on the big screen but they certainly know how to look after a man that has just had a very hard day…

 

The Worlds day one

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We race tomorrow. Today was a chance to try the course again, test gear, try some bike changes. But first we had to check out the accreditations. Getting passes for riders and crew is much more complex at a World Championships than a World Cup, don’t ask me why. Photos were taken and passes hesitantly handed out to our dubious crew. The UCI doesn’t want riders ‘sneaking’ in their friends to these events, god forbid.

The rain had made some differences, corners were muddier, they had even added sand to one mud patch that made it boggier and harder to ride. I have never seen them alter a course after riders had started riding it before. The feeling I was left with wasn’t as positive as yesterday but it was still good. Dave and Bender were great in the pit and the bike changes were smooth (once we had established which side of the pits I was coming to) We had discussed with Paul from the Aussie team tyre choice yesterday, they were favouring the Grifos (an all-round tyre) and us the Super Muds (the ultimate in grip in the mud). We tried them out today. After half a lap of skating around I decided not to listen to the Australians any more.

After the practice I raced home to pick up Emma and the boys, came back, more accreditations and photos as we signed up Emma the soigneur, and then the end of the women’s race

Fun in the mud...
Fun in the mud…

We tried scoring some of the free cowbells that seemed to be floating around but they just were not to be found anywhere, tomorrow maybe. Bender went souvenir shopping at the BKCP tent instead (shaking of head while looking at the ground)

Once home I made dinner while Bender spent his second night in a row outside prepping bikes.

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On closer inspection…

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After we tested the bikes again again and enjoyed a Belgian sunset, complete with nuclear power plant in the background

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It should be dry tonight so we will head to the course early tomorrow to see if it has changed at all at the first practice. After that there will be a bunch of waiting. Dirk, the man who said no to a VIP ticket with Telenet so that he could bring his whole family to the race, will be coming with the last crate of Malteni (unfortunately neither Alex or William from Malteni could make it so there will be no resupply). For anyone reading this, if you would like to join us at the Team New Zealand/Malteni Stevens/Nichelson Bikes tents for a beer after you are more than welcome! We won’t be leaving until after the crate has gone, so hopefully by the time Sven is on his way to the airport with another rainbow jersey under his arm we will still be fending drunk Belgians off while we talk of good times…

The Worlds…

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Another beautiful day in the car. Beautiful but long. Being the only ‘driver’ in the car the  1000 odd kilometers were up to me. We stopped by Dave at Cykelposten on Fyn for a coffee, to pick up some empty Malteni cases, and a couple of beers from the Midtfyn Brewery for the Belgian boys to try. Other than that we tanked once and that was about it between Copenhagen and Opwijk, Belgium. In all the time we have been doing this I don’t think I have seen Bender smoke so few cigarettes. The most impressive thing was Loke and how well he held up to 10 hours in the back seat of a car.20140131-121817.jpg

Dinner, beer, and good company awaited us at Dirk and Anneke’s. For Loke it was playing Skylanders on a big screen tv, he was in heaven.

When we drove down the car was pretty packed with four of us plus all our stuff and the idea of picking up two bikes 3 sets of wheels, a pavilion (thanks Krekels!), tools, spares, and beer was daunting. I was a little unsure of if it was going to be possible to begin with but it all squeezed in in the end…

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So now we are in Berendrecht at Dave Zombikers, just south of the Dutch border, about an 18min drive from Hoogerheide. Before the Team Managers meeting I squeezed in a quick few rounds on the course. I had spoken to Alex about it yesterday and he had warned me of a possible mud fest, not what I had hoped for. I have found through the season that the fast courses seem to suit me more and this being my last chance to complete a race I really wanted the odds tipped in my favour. There were a couple of boggy sections, but in general it was a fast course and thanks to a bit of sand had some nice dry sections. Forecast rain might change that (fingers crossed, fingers crossed…) plus the juniors and women racing tomorrow will mash it up for sure, but I am quietly hopeful…

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