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!