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.
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.
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.
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.
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…