What better a way to end the year than with a GIF from my best race of the year passing one of the biggest names in the business. (the circumstances aren’t important, just what is captured in the GIF)
Tomorrow, we take Baal!!
What better a way to end the year than with a GIF from my best race of the year passing one of the biggest names in the business. (the circumstances aren’t important, just what is captured in the GIF)
Tomorrow, we take Baal!!
I warmed upon Bredene for just 1 1/2 laps, that was enough. The course wasn’t particularly exciting and I needed to conserve what little energy I had. Afterwards I sat in the car for more than an hour wondering if racing was even a very good idea. We were there, everything was in place, all I had to do was roll up to the start line. It couldn’t hurt now, could it? But even warming up on the rollers was taxing. I got to experience the circus of people that flock to see Alex though, that was entertaining.
The course was a blend of grass, gravel, asphalt and some quite wet mud, a bit of everything you could say. There was a sand pit but it was so small it isn’t worth mentioning. I discovered on the start line that I had managed to wear through the braking service on my rear wheel and it now had some rather large holes in it. I would be hitting the pits as soon as I could. I got off to an ok start, I can see from the photos that a bunch of the people that finished in front of me started behind. This changed when I pitted though, that put me in 2nd to last place. I just tried to focus on finding a pace that suited my energy levels and not make any mistakes. In the end I really enjoyed the race. The rider in front of me had more power in the straight stretches but I could see his mud riding wasn’t so good, so I quickly passed him on a turn and proceeded to slowly put a few more meters between me and him each lap. The whole time trying to find the best lines through all the turns and mud pits without the pressure of feeling like I needed to perform.
I was glad I raced in the end, I left with a positive feeling from it and was proud of my technique in the face of adversity. Today I am definitely feeling the worse for wear and am forced to take a day off. On the positive side Bender and I are staying in Brugge in the most amazing little B&B right now so I am suffering in luxury. My first instinct when I came in the door here was to start taking photos but I realized I could never do the place justice so check out their website instead if you are curious – Bread & Butter (they love cyclists) We are off out now to see the sights of Brugge…
Cold, windy, a bit of rain, great cross weather! My sore throat that started a couple of nights ago is slowly getting worse and warranted a stop by a pharmacy on the way to the race course. Enthusiasm for the days activities was also appropriately low. I was thinking as we sped along the motorway out there, if I didn’t race today I am not really sure what I would do. If I was back in Copenhagen the choice would have been simple, nice cozy day at home 🙂
This is a picture of a completely random guy coming past and giving Bender a hand with holding the bike while he cleaned the chain. #belgianloveforcross
The course reminded me a lot of Hamme-Zogge, pretty flat with mud and a bunch of artificial obstacles, this time including a rhythm section that looked like it belonged on a bmx track.
Well my energy wasn’t great and it was going to be a demanding race. I held on ok for the first half of the first lap, though Bender said as I came past the pits I already wasn’t looking too hot. I slowly lost Christoph the rider in front of me who slowly lost Alex that was on front of him. Thankfully there were two riders even slower than me and they disappeared too so I was left to slog it out on my own. I just tried working on my technique and not suffering too much. I did learn a couple of things here though. People get the most behind you when you either go down and they are screaming at you to get up, or when you are stupid enough to try riding a really muddy section where most people are running. People really love someone that just won’t give up, especially in the face of adversity. The other phenomenon is the automatic sensor guys. At this race it was most noticeable going past the VIP/Beer tent. Cheering going past the beer tent is always a little special, but here the left hand side of the course had turned their backs to watch one of the many big screens they have at these races so specters can follow the action at the front. So, you come into the straight past the tent, a really sticky mud section that was hard to tell whether you should ride or run it. It is fairly quiet until one of the guys with his back turned catches a glimpse of you out of the corner of his eye and immediately turns and starts screaming ‘Come on!!!’ at the top of his lungs. This turns all the other guys in the area ‘on’ as well so as you ride through it is like a series of automatic sensor lights going off as you approach.
I was glad that I rode in spite of the crappy result. It is always an experience trying new courses. Today I am feeling a little worse than yesterday and my voice sounds like I smoked a pack of cigarettes last night, but I don’t want to miss out on trying a new track. So we have packed the car once more and are heading off to Bredene for more of the Belgian experience…
Today was the first race in four days straight of cross. In many senses it isn’t really any different from any other race this season. A fast course, sandy, a couple of nasty descents, no pits or barriers. What makes Zolder different is that it is based at Circuit Zolder a large international motorsport race track, formerly home to Formula 1, but this time it was us standing on the finishing straight. The other thing that makes it stand out is the fact that I was about 30 seconds away from being allowed to start the last lap and therefore finish the race. Not only completing my goal of finishing in Belgium but doing it in style, at a World Cup!
The race started with a 300m sprint down the asphalt, followed by a really nice bottleneck on the first 180 degree turn. This resulted in Niels Albert going down and slumming it at the back with us for a bit. The plan here was to pit already after 400m trying to use the pit lane to get past the cluster fuck at the start. This didn’t work as well as hoped as lots of people had the same idea so we got stuck in a mess in the pits. I even managed to slam my knee into another riders brakes disconnecting them, you can see it in the tv footage as he stops completely to fix them 😉
After this we started to settle down into some pretty fast racing. Two pretty cool things happened here. One was I was mixing it with Joachim Parbo, former Danish Champion, who the last few times we raced together placed at least 8-10 better than me and a lap or two more. The other thing was on the start of our 2nd lap I noticed as I rode under the timing bridge that I was only 1:06 behind the leaders. Normally I would be that far behind after just one lap! Things were looking good. For the next few laps a small group was formed with me (mostly at the front) Joachim, couple of german riders that I have battled with before and one or two others that came and went. We continued to only lose about 30-40 seconds a lap and without being in a position to really do much math I was guessing that the chances of finishing were looking good. The only problem was that we were occupying the positions 47-52 which meant there was a fair bit of pressure regarding who was in the prize money and who wasn’t. The end result of this was me taking a corner a little too fast, crashing and losing the group. This was the beginning of the end. I started to bleed time after this and drop further and further back. I was dying by the second to last lap, my legs were cramping and I had little left. When the inevitable UCI guy stopped me in the 80% zone I was gutted. 200m from the finish line. If I had been about 30 seconds faster, or stayed with the group I would have gotten to finish and been able to take as long as I liked for the last lap 😦
The photo’s below are all taken by Pieter, the current National Coach for the New Zealand Cyclocross Team (he has the badge to prove it if you don’t believe me), supplier of excellent accommodation, AMAZING food and very very nice beers
Again a weekend of racing without Bender lending his skills to the operation. I flew into Brussels and was picked up by Anneke who took me back to hers and Dirk’s place (Dirk would be subbing in for Bender this weekend) for Vol au Vent, a local Belgian dish and beers. Dirk had also been kind enough to store all my bikes over the last couple of weeks and make sure that they were race ready for my return.
For the first time I decided to do a little race prep and watched videos from last years race. It looked like it was going to be a Hamme-Zogge style mud fest. Nice, I like the muddy ones. Once again when we arrived at the race we were subject to cyclocross elitism and not allowed to park with the teams large enough to but their riders pictures on the side of their motorhomes and forced to fend for ourselves. We ended up next to Margriet and James from the BMC team, so it could heave been worse. I don’t want to go on about the car parking thing too much, but for me the ONLY thing that really causes me any kind of stress at these races (aside from forgetting shoes and skin suit etc.) is where we will end up parking. It affects how well we can set up, what sort of surface we will be standing on for the next 5-6 hours, and in the end gives you a feeling of how welcome you are.
There hadn’t been much rain and so the course was mostly dry with the exception of two mud-pits. The irony here was that if it had rained then these pits would have been more rideable but the mud was incredibly tacky and we were forced to run them. It engulfed your feet with every stride and made it hard to be enthusiastic about it all. When you race at the back it becomes more about how you place against the other guys at the back and not so much the guys at the front. Now that Alex is back in town and doing all the races, staying in front of him (or trying to) is pretty much the main goal at the moment. He seemed to suit Essen more than I did and though I did enjoy a bit of time at the front of the back, he soon asserted himself and quietly put distance between the two of us. This combined with my last place (there were more behind me but they did not officially finish the race) on the results list did not make this race the highpoint of my season so far. What did go well was my pit crew of Dirk and Dave, they worked like a well oiled machine and truly earned the post (and pre) race Maltenis.
The other joy was that I would staying at Dave’s place that night, just a 20min drive from the race course 🙂 Dave in spite of not drinking coffee himself (we tried corrupting him at the SSWC in Italy but it apparently failed) had gone to the trouble of making sure that there would be some in the house for breakfast the next morning 😀
The race in Namur is on the grounds around an old citadel and provides for an amazing backdrop. It is also on top of a pretty big hill, and so like it’s predecessors before it, Valkenburg, Koppenberg, and Overijse, made for some entertaining riding. It was muddy, had long climbs, very steep descents, and the craziest off camber hillside crossing I have ever seen. But with 60 riders at the start line then the chances of #teamangusedmond getting financial reimbursement this race were slim. The start was about a 300m climb straight up hill, before we started to negotiate the more technical sections. Already as we approached the pit for the first time Sven Nys could be seen changing bikes, it was quite a feeling to see the white jersey with rainbow stripes fall behind me even if just for a short time.
There are so many elements in a race like this that just border on ridiculous. Take this for example:
An off camber crossing that involved finding a good sized rut to put your wheels in and ‘scooting’ across the field propelled only by your free foot. Then there was the descents, they were all nail biters (for some more than others)
This one scared the shit out of me every time I did it.
The climbs, well they were as to be expected…
There was a pretty good battle at the back. After Alex’s riding the day before I was a little more uncertain of who would come out on top in this race. I seemed to do a little better in the technical stuff and slowly increased my lead. This was until on the last lap where he put in burst of effort and closed the gap down to just a few meters again. This resulted in him trying to pass on the flats going into the pits, me not knowing he was coming, and squeezing him into the barriers. Had it not been a padded corner it would possibly been the end of the race for him and maybe me too. There were some friendly words exchanged and off we went again. Alex seemed to be feeling bad about what happened and I got the front back again which I maintained till we both got pulled not long after. Then it was back to the showers (advantage of finishing the race early) and talking about the events of the last 40min over a Malteni.
For some amazing photos (sadly not of me) from the days racing check out this fine collection – http://cyclephotos.co.uk/2013/12/world-cup-4-namur/
The format for this weekends racing was a little different. I was missing the all important Bender 😦 Due to commitments in Denmark he was unable to join me. So I exchanged the drive down for a flight and rented a car in Brussels. Luckily we are so organized we had seen this coming and driven home with an empty car the last time we were down, leaving all the important equipment at Pieter’s place in Eindhoven. So Holland, a lovely dinner, followed by night out in a design workshop/store/restaurant was first on the schedule. The next day after a rather nice breakfast (I am going to have to try and replicate that one at home) Pieter and I packed up the car and headed to Antwerp for the first race of the weekend, a Soudal Classic.
There we met up with his friend Ad, who would be Pieter’s helper in the mechanics pit and my host for Saturday night. I remember when I first raced Koksijde last year everyone that knew what the race was like ‘Oooooo, that is a tough one, there is lots of sand!’ This left me thinking that Koksijde was the sandy race and the rest were muddy, boy was I wrong. So far I have experienced that if a race in Belgium doesn’t have any chance of being muddy (and to be muddy it just has to look like it might rain within a week of the race and you will be racing in soup) if the ground is incapable of this, then they make sure that there will be lots of sand. Sand is a great replacement for mud, it is all weather, that is to say really difficult to ride in regardless of if it is the dry or rainy season, and if it isn’t found naturally in the location of the race then they will import it. In fact I have done two races now where we have actively ridden through sandpits in children playgrounds. Find another country in the world where you will get away with that!? Actually I was only joking about that bit, Belgium doesn’t have a dry season.
So Scheldecross Antwerpen was to be my 4th sand race of the season and a chance to catch up with Alex ‘De Snor’ Revell, back from NZ for an intense month of racing in BEL. He was his usual self, aside from wearing the snazzy new kit of the national champion. I asked how the whole NC thing had been received back home and he told me that he had to sit and send the press release about it out himself. There has been more press about Alex’s activities in New Zealand in Belgium than in New Zealand. That is a bit sad. But that aside Ad and Pieter helped get the tent and bikes set up and ready for me to warm up. The course proved to be pretty fast with some rather testing sections of sand as the course dipped down to the side of the river Schelde. It was here that the riders provided the most entertainment, even the mighty Sven 😉 By now I have gotten a better perspective on what can be ridden and what needs to be run and after Alex and I had taken a few rounds we had our plan sorted.
The only thing that was changed in my usual ‘race from the back’ strategy was Alex’s presence on the grid in front of me. His experience shone through last year in Koksijde when we raced together there, but now I was certain that with my month’s head start it would leave me with the advantage. But from the word go Alex went out hard and aggressively. Not aggressive in the bad sense, but he certainly wasn’t giving any quarter and I was going to have to work to get in front of him. This left me a little panicked and my usual casual off the line composure a bit shattered. This resulted in a round or two of not very pretty riding from me and a couple of slides. But I could feel that it was just a question of getting my shit together, focussing, and it would soon fall into place. I did and it did. The end result being a little over the bar action, more TV time because of it, and a respectable 30th place, one of my best of the season, just 2 laps short of finishing!
After the race it was back to Ad’s place for a beer, bath, and dinner. Ad and his wife Lot live almost in the middle of Antwerp in a beautiful apartment with a cat that will take any chance it can get to escape out the front door. No one warned me about that one and I take therefore no responsibility for what happened. The other thing no one warned me about was what embrocation feels like if you don’t remove it from your legs before you have a really really hot bath. For the uninitiated embrocation is a warming cream that you rub on your legs before a race, both to help warm your muscles up, and to aid your poor hairless legs withstand the bitterly cold temperatures that you are about to expose them to. Now the cream I have been using from Eurostyle has been working fantastically keeping my legs at that ‘just right’ kind of temperature, but I quickly discovered that if you just leave it on and then take a bath, a hot one, then it is like increasing the burn of the creme five fold. So while I lay and let the hot water soak away my tired muscles I also had to endure a feeling like my legs had been dipped in chili juice. I would like to say that after a couple of glasses of red and the best moussaka I have had in a very long time the feeling in my legs went away, but i can’t. It did with a little time reduce to a mild sunburn kind of feeling, but the embrocation kept doing it’s job well into the night…
After I bid farewell to Ad and Lot, tried to forget a couple of things at their place, it was just a short 40min drive to Overijse also known as the ‘Mother of all cyclocross races’. Now in English (more accurately American) this would mean that it was the ultimate, the hardest cross race on the planet. But here in Belgium, a country with monasteries that have been brewing beer long before anyone knew what American was, it means that it is considered the first, the race that gave birth to cyclocross. Which is actually a much more logical definition of the title and left me wondering quite where the ‘mericans went off down the path to theirs. If anyone is noting a hint of bitterness towards our cousins across the water it is probably because the Belgian bid for the single speed cross worlds (SSCXWC) in 2014 got shot down in Philly this weekend and the US retained the hosting rights to a World Championship that has never been held outside of their country. It was in Overijse that I met up with Dirk and Jo, my team for the race. Dirk taking the roll of mechanic and Jo soigneur, though he was more cameraman than anything.
Overijse has it all, the four elements of cyclocross, cobblestones, mud, sand and a hill. It was technical, steep, and the cobblestones with nice muddy tyres were lethal, as Alex and I soon found out. It reminded me a little of Valkenberg but this time the zigzagging descents were extremely slippery and not to be taken lightly. I had been sick for more than a week coming into this race. Not the serious kind, but that really great kind you get for about 2 weeks where you just don’t feel 100% and if you are lucky like me then a really good cough follows along that keeps you awake at night. Racing on Saturday my lungs hurt more than any other part of my body so I was a little jaded at the start of this race. It went ok, I kept my nerves under control. Alex was a little more fiery, the hilliness of the course suiting him, the only place I really closed in was the descents. I was the first to lay down on the cobbles, got myself a nice little road rash. Alex’s turn came a round later but his resulted in a mechanical and I didn’t see so much of him after that.
The result wasn’t the best, but I had some good cheering from the sidelines. A bunch of messengers from Brussels came out to see the race and came by the car for a beer after, so that kind of made it all ok.
I was pretty shattered after all that and so it was great to get back to Dirk’s place for a lovely home cooked dinner (I think they said it translated to ‘Budgie without a head’) with his family and in-laws. Dirk’s mother-in-law had made Bender and I, Advocaat (egg liquor), which tasted absolutely divine. I felt very privileged, once again…
It hadn’t occurred to me to post a video like this before but now after I have parked myself on the sofa and cracked open a Duvel it seems like a great idea. The #svenness series of videos are produced by CXHairs. About 60 odd minutes of race footage are broken down to about 15 minutes of sharp cyclocross technique analysis. I have used techniques that I have seen in #svenness myself and am always interested to see how the pro’s chose to ride the exact same race that I had been hanging around at the back of. The videos focus mostly on the unrefuted god of cyclocross, Sven Nys, what line he takes (‘the Sven line’) does he ride or run, and even where he chooses to put his hands on the handlebars. If Sven does it then there must be a reason. I can highly recommend watching them as both interesting and entertaining, a good laugh even if cyclocross isn’t what gets you through winter…
I have wanted for a while to be able to show what a World Cup course in Belgium looks like from the riders perspective, so I strapped on a GoPro, filmed my warm up before the race and then quickly threw something together. It is kinda shakey and isn’t the most exciting of footage, but you get the idea 😉
Bender arrives at my place at 830, i get there at 840. We finally leave at 1100. To our defense Bender had to change the bearings in 3 wheels and I had smoothie, rice bars, and other food to make for the drive and next few days of racing. Next up 11 hrs behind the wheel for me as Bender has no drivers license
We land in Lille, France, home to one of my sponsors William from Malteni at around 2200. Salami, cheese, pasta, and beer are awaiting us, along side a meeting with Gianluca from Deda Elementi about some new wheels. Bed around midnight, me swearing never to eat pasta again. (Did you know that 30% of people have some kind of intolerance to gluten?)
Next day a late breakfast and we drive to Koksijde. It has become routine by now. I know the World Cup time frame and have been to Koksijde before. So we arrive and practice in the last hour or so of the officially available time. The course is almost identical to last year which is comforting, but I admit I had forgotten how unforgiving the sand is here. Just one mistake and you stop dead, running being the only option left. Here we meet our host for the night, Bram, and head off to the team managers meeting. A formality that gets us race numbers, parking permits and allows us to choose our pit. Although with New Zealand having the least points in the UCI then there is no choice, we take what is left. We also get given an official start list which gives me an idea of my chances of finishing in the top 50 and therefore receive 300€ in prize money. With 54 starters it is going to be tough.
We head home for beers, wine and a dinner of rice and meat sauce (no pasta)
9am start, bacon, eggs, and avocado (though this sat a little heavy so I think i will go lighter next time) and begin packing the car. We head to the course a little later than planned, this proves to be foolish. When there is a race in town it is hard to get around. There are many closed roads and of course increased traffic. This combined with the fact that I forgot my shoes at the house meant my stress levels started to rise. Luckily we are in two cars and Bram saves the day by going back for them. I still manage to get ready in time for the official practice. My confidence in my improved technique makes me feel like this practice is just a formality. I am quickly proved wrong and reminded of the fact that it is the sand that is still in charge. It catches my front wheel, I am sent off course in the first sand descent, into and over the barriers. This is not the best start and I try not to let it shake me.
The start goes ok and I make an attempt to take a couple of places in the first couple of turns. Usually I don’t bother, I won’t risk a crash and a possible DNF, but has the season has progressed my confidence has grown and I find that if I don’t fight a little then riders slower than me will get in front and that just isn’t on. Already after the first run through the sand the riders at the back start falling into the places that will be their final finishing positions. There is a little battling and I gain a few spots but not more. The crowd here isn’t as supportive as they have been in other parts of the country. It is amazing the difference, both in what the crowd does and how that affects your race. Aside from my friends in the crowd, a few loyal supporters and some kids they are pretty quiet here. Koppenberg was brutal, one of the hardest circuits of the year, not a course where you are looking forward to the climb back up the hill for another lap. Except there is the spectators, they make it worth the effort. The roar from the crowd as you slowly ground up the last part of the hill was deafening, my mechanic could hear me coming 100m away, and it was the only thing that made the idea of doing one more lap appealing. I hope that one day they will realize how much they can mean to the riders and not just cheer the first 5 riders and maybe the last one. Last year when I raced here I managed 3 laps, crashed 2-3 times, and taco’ed a front wheel. When they pulled me I was dead, I didn’t want to do another lap. This year I raced 5 laps and i was pretty crushed at the end. I finished the hardest sandy course of the year in 46th place out of 53 starters. We of course celebrated back at the car with the Malteni Fan Club, a case of the good stuff and some special guests from Soigneur on Strandvejen.
Dinner at Brams and then a 2 hour drive to Eindhoven where we overnight with Pieter and Renske.
8 am start, bacon eggs and avocado again, yes i am a glutton for punishment, and then a two hour drive north to Gieten.
Geiten is a fast sandy course (more sand!) but also quite beautiful. It did not look like it would be a long race for me. The fast courses seem to mean that there is even more that separates the leaders and the back of the pack and results in me getting pulled earlier. After squeezing in a quick practice between races I ended up sitting in the front of the car with the seat heating on trying to fight off the cold outside and warm up my skinsuit by wedging it under my arse. I am tired of putting on cold kit. We sat round late the night before in Eindhoven, although I didn’t drink too much (it is hard with so many amazing beers!) I only got 6 hrs sleep, which is a cardinal sin in terms of proper recovery. So whilst fighting off the cold I was also wrestling with a shadow of a hangover. Bender was diligently standing at the back of the car for about 45min adjusting gears and prepping the bikes. I broke a spoke in one of the wheel sets that we would have liked to use this race, and some of the cassettes just aren’t shifting as crisply as they should. This will mean more wheel maintenance and possibly some new cassettes when we get home. We already changed the bearings in half the wheels last time, all the cables, brake pads, bb’s and pedal bearings too. Next week will be spent contacting more sponsors. No soigneur this race to take my jacket so Bender doubles up in his duties, disappearing off 2 minutes before the start to get to the pits in time. 1:30 after he took off a gust of wind took a third of the barriers on one side of the finishing straight down and we are forced to wait while they fix it up. Then it started to rain. If you are wondering why a soigneur is so useful then wait to you experience a situation like this one and watch everyone else get their jackets back while we wait out the delay in the rain.
Once we actually got underway then the real drama started. Already at the 2nd turn Niels Albert crashed and moved to the very back. Even I, thanks to a few UCI points collected this season, was not all the way at the back! I have never seen so much carnage at a race before this one. Riders leaning up against barriers, running with bikes with mechanicals, not even Sven managed to finish. I had some of my hardest fought battles of the season ending with a respectable 34th out of 49 starters and a desperate need for a sunglasses sponsor. I had so much sand in my eyes all the lights on the road on the way home had little halos around them and I was not able to read the text on my phone till after I had taken a shower back in Eindhoven again.
After an amazing dinner our day ended in a great wee brew pub in town, discussing the hidden side of Belgians with the owner till the small hours.
730 start, 6 hrs sleep again, bacon and eggs, again and then 8 1/2 hours of driving back to Denmark.
Many people have commented on how crazy and hard they think that my season is with all this driving down to Belgium every 2nd weekend, sometimes every weekend. But it isn’t the weekends away that are hard. Racing cross down south is a blast and I can highly recommend it! It is returning to life back at home that is hard. Unpacking the car, ignoring the washing, the untidy apartment and the empty fridge before crawling under the covers for my first 9 hour sleep in a while. Next day, work, picking up my son, shopping, filling up the fridge, cooking, reading stories, putting him to bed, ignoring the washing and the apartment to sit on the sofa and write a new blog post or get in contact with a sponsor about getting some help before trying to get enough sleep and repeating the process until it is time to fill the car up again…