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I have a mixed relationship to cross. Some days I wonder why I do it and others I wonder how I could live without it. Since coming home from the Single Speed Worlds in Japan I have been tired, really tired. I have trained very little and rides for fun have been few and far between. There has been a load of personal issues thrown in on top too so that when I left for the Christmas racing period in Belgium I was a little stressed, in bad shape and not reeeeeaally in the mood. After a nice race in Namur though I became sick and had to skip Zolder and Diegem. This resulted in three days sitting on Pieter’s sofa, feeling sorry for myself and trying to figure out how I could host a Minecraft server on my mac so that my son Loke and I could play together across the continent.

This was the side of cross that sucks. I have moved heaven and earth to be here, made all kinds of sacrifices, my friends are putting me up (and putting up with me), helping out as much as they can, and it all results in me sitting fatly on the sofa wondering what I am doing with my life. I was falling into a dark place.

As could be expected I start to get better. A morning riding in the forest proves that I can once again both go outside AND ride a bike. So we head off to Loenhout for the Azencross. The whole time I am still kind of sceptical. If we get treated badly, sent to a shitty parking spot, it will all prove that cross sucks and I need to move on asap. But then after getting a nice carpark (we tried stealing Sven’s without luck), checking out the course during the Juniors and U23’s I head off for a warm up lap.

I head out of the start straight in a group of riders, among them former and current world champions, national champions, all wearing kits that I normally associate with the front of the race, and I am blown away by how magic it all feels. The course isn’t too muddy and I manage to stick with them for the first lap but the magic feeling doesn’t leave me, even though they are long gone. Perhaps cross isn’t so bad.

While we sit at the car waiting for the race to start a large group of 15 or so people come out of the property we are parked next to and become curious as to who we are. They ask many questions, are amazed that I am from New Zealand, ask for my race number, wish me good luck and tell me they will cheer for me. Ah, that was nice.

I am called up to the grid. The next name on the list is Lars Boom. I am standing on the grid next to a guy in Astana kit that rode ‘the Tour’, that doesn’t happen every day. I am warming up to this cross thing.

I have what I call a ‘lazy start’. This means I don’t kill myself in the sprint and count on taking people in the first few turns when they start making mistakes. This goes reasonably well, and through some solid riding, no mistakes, and a couple of nice bunny hops I collect some places. Feeling good.

The crowd is warming up, I have spotted the 15 people from the parking place and they are cheering as promised.

The course is fast and has more opportunities for jumping than any other I know, this brings a smile.

I can see from my lap times which are between 45 seconds to 1 minute off the leaders each lap that I only have a round or two more to race. Time to jump a little higher and maybe give some high 5’s. There is one group of guys, they were extremely vocal from the start, they have sooo made my day (plus they actually know my name) that I try to shout to them that they should come by the car for a beer after the race. They are shouting too loud to hear me. This creates a funny scene and the screaming increases in volume.

I finish pretty tired, but not too tired, closer to the back than the middle, but all things considered not too bad. Everything went as planned, there were no mistakes, I had lots of fun. Maybe I will stick with it for just a couple more races, to see if there really is something in this cross thing…