I like Namur. It is a crazy course, pushes you to the technical limits of your riding, and always makes for some jaw dropping close calls. I thought too that I could get an ok placing (relatively) because I like the technical scary stuff.
Leading into the race I was without a mechanic 😦 but I did have the worlds best soigneur. My friend Rie made sure that there was order, that things were in place, and that sore muscles and stiff joints were quickly dealt with. Regardless of how I saw the actual race unfolding my body has never felt more ready. Our team car had shrunken a little too.
The race itself was unlike any other I have ever done. I have ridden the course and raced it before but what actually happened was, well, quite unique. To begin with there were almost 70 of us on the start list, which (maybe) I don’t think the UCI had accounted for when we were called up to the grid. I think those last 10 extra riders or so drew the process out a little. By the time we were on the grid, I had taken my zip-off pants off, we were still chatting and joking when suddenly the air was filled with the sound of shoes clipping in and I was filled with a sinking feeling. The start had gone. I just rode, Rie never got to finish her sentence, and I crossed the start/finish line riding without hands as I peeled off my jacket. The neck warmer and hat under my helmet would have to stay on for the rest of the race. But it was ok I caught the rest heading up the hill as you can see here
At the bottom of the next hill though I lost my chain, and badly, so I had to jump off and fix it. By this stage even the very back of the field was starting to disappear. Luckily after a couple more laps I started to haul in some of the riders in front of me and had gained a couple of places. Then my front tyre blew out. It didn’t just go ‘pffffffffff’ like they usually do, it went ‘BANG!!’. Again it could have been worse, it wasn’t super long from the pits so I just had to run for a bit ant then ride the last 100m on the flat before I got a new bike. Again time to start working on those places again. I had two guys with beards and an Australian in front of me so something had to be done.
Here is when things were under control
And here is when they weren’t
I had a discussion with Rie on the way down from Denmark about how I quite often finish races with ‘a little bit left in the tank’. That is to say, not completely dead. I find in cross it is important to keep your shit together as mistakes often cost you more than that little bit of extra speed ever gained you. So as I started to reel Garry, my Australian counterpart, in I decided that today was the day to empty the tank. I caught him on what would be our last run up the steepest hill, and I was confident that I had closed that door soundly until I could hear him gaining on, and actually passing me, on the last climb leading to the pits and what would be our ‘finishing line’, the 80% zone. Somehow I managed to catch and pass him once more before we hit the flat and proceeded to try and put as much space between us before the ‘line’. With about 30m to go my bike made a crunching sound and the rear wheel locked up, my derailleur now snugly wedged in my spokes. I threw the bike on my shoulder and gave it everything I had left for the last few meters. The UCI commissars looking at me funny and telling me to take it easy, the race was over. I don’t think that they understood the epic battle that had just taken place. I was left drooped over one of the barriers, gasping for air, as they removed the chip from my race number. As I turned around I saw Garry lying on his bars, spit hanging from his lips, I decided that we could discuss events later.
Without the problems I encountered then a top 50 place should have been achievable, but then again that is the nature of the game. I was just glad that I got to finish, albeit with no working bikes left. It was a great race and a good fight at the back of the field. It is really nice to have a few more new faces there, like Mark, Robert, Garry, and the Spanish riders, Augstin and Ramon. Now the preparations for the big one begin, Zolder, if I am going to get to finish a race in Belgium then it will be that one!
We ran in to some logistical difficulties over the Christmas period regarding cars and getting to the last races. There was just a few days where we fell short and couldn’t seem to find a solution. Pieter jumped into action and went as far as sending mails to the likes of Skoda (hey, they like cycling) to see if they had a car we could borrow for a few days. We ran into a bunch of dead ends until finally, after a little Facebooking and mailing Pieter got a reply back from Seb from Niner Benelux asking if this would do?
Definitely feeling the Niner love now! So if you are coming to either Diegem, Loenhout, or Baal then it is the Niner van and the GripGrab tent that you need to keep an eye out for after the race where we will be sipping cold Maltenis 😉
I kind of took last season off racing in Denmark, there just wasn’t the time. This year because I have been slightly less enthusiastic about driving to Belgium every second weekend it has had the lovely side effect that I now have a little more time for racing on ‘home turf’. Two weekends ago I had the rare privilege of doing two races just outside of Copenhagen. One in Holbæk and the other in Ringsted. Both courses showed me just how much racing in Denmark has improved. Better facilities, bike wash, the actual courses are more challenging, muddier and technical. Don’t get me wrong, there is still room for improvement, tracks could be wider, cleared better, more pressure washers etc, but it is all a move in the right direction. The future is bright for cross racing in Denmark. This was highlighted at the Managers meeting tonight for the World Cup in Namur with the Danes putting froward riders in the mens elite, women’s and juniors.But more about Namur later 😉
A nice wee film from the race in Holbæk
And again in Ringsted 🙂
Thanks to Karsten for making those.
That probably comes across as a bit of a hard assertion but in my defense I would say, ‘that is because you haven’t tried riding it’ The venue is great, take an active military airbase near the beach and throw in a few extra truckloads of sand and you have one of the most infamous races on the European circuit. Why infamous? Try riding it and you will get the answer to your question. Given the security surrounding the course and the chances of the general public ever actually getting to ride it then I might need to be a bit more specific…
Cross races are notoriously hard, they certainly look like they are, but if you scrape under the surface you will notice that they have their own kind of ebb and flow.
Technical sections where you push, and flatter easier sections where you catch your breath again. This is easiest to notice when the riders at the front come down the straight for another lap. They are often looking at each other and figuring out what their opponents are looking like and sorting their tactics for the remanding laps. The problem with Koksijde is it is just hard with more hard piled on top. It is basically a series of brutal sand sections, usually going over small hills because that is more fun, with small grass pieces in between that are never quite long enough. To make matters worse, if you are to have any hope of making it up the sand hill then you need to hit it as fast as possible, meaning that after you have caught your breath for a couple of pedal strokes it is time to accelerate and put the power down again. The guys that designed this course were definitely of the sadistic variety.
The practice on Friday assured me that there was nothing to be gained by repeating it the day after, so we skipped it on race day, opting for a more leisurely start at the Selousses. This was welcome after the especially late night that Bender had getting the two bikes ready. Team Beaver this time had two friends, Flemming and Edward taking up positions in the pit and as Soigneur respectably and was rounded out once again by Pieter as Team Manager.
My starts have improved and Koksijde was no exception. I held my place on the grid in the sprint and was looking good into the the first sand section. I knew because of my leg that my form wasn’t the greatest but I decided that I would make a go of it for as long as I could. Also if nothing else then I had to beat Mark Mc Connell (The Canadian guy with the beard). In fact it was interesting watching him. In spite of him starting at the very back of the grid he managed to force his way up in front of me before we hit the pits for the first time. Unfortunately once we hit some of the harder sand sections it started going a bit sideways for him. He crashed a couple of times and was gone from sight. He reminded me a bit of my first experience at Koksijde, two years ago, what a disaster. You get so caught up in the frenzy of the race, you lose perspective in the rush to try and keep up, the result often ending in a crash or two before you calm down and focus. Better to stay within your limits and stay rubber side down 😉 Wout Van Aert lapped me 40m from the 80% zone, that has never happened before, god those kids were mashing up the front. Not a problem though, a cold beer awaited me back at the car and a hot waffle at the best waffle bar on the planet 5 min down the road from where we were staying in Mouscron.
Good recovery food for the single speed race we would be doing later that same evening near Lille, France. Before I end this I would like to add that not only is Mouscron home to the worlds best waffles but the stewed rabbit that Nicolas cooked up paired with a West Vleteren, wow, now that is hard to beat!!