But why?

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Bender and I have just gotten back from a managers meeting in Tabor. There were a record 24 countries represented and I was proud to be one of them. First we were welcomed by the head of the race committee in Czech, which was then translated. After came a short stint in english and then we went on to the main part of the meeting, in French. French is the language of the UCI apparently and is seems that if you don’t speak it then that is your problem. Now I have been to enough of these meetings for this to not be the first time that I have encountered this problem. I would also say that World Cup manager meetings are quite standard and there is seldom anything new. This isn’t the case at the Worlds. They compensate for the unfortunate few that don’t follow by putting the main points in bullet form on a projector. This is how it goes:

On the projector:

  • Maximum tyre width 33mm
  • No spikes or studs allowed

What the dude says:

No frigging idea but he spoke for a whole minute about tyres alone (I think) He even paused a couple of times and scanned the room to see if everyone understood.

For the start of the race they seem to have strict guidelines for who can be on the start grid and what time they have to leave, but again I am a bit of a blank on that one too.

It is just frustrating and leaves you with a ‘you don’t belong here’ feeling…

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Warning!!

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The latest news from Tabor!

http://www.cyklokros.cz/cz/wc-tabor-2015/news/330-no-entry-with-alcoholic-beverages

I am not sure how this is going to affect the hard core Belgian fans that are making the pilgrimage from the motherland, but it looks like those schnapps bottles are going to have to be emptied before entering the race area. I hope that this does not dampen their enjoyment of the race. I can personally vouch however for the incredibly cheap beer that can be found over here. Bender and I were pushed at Tesco’s to find anything that cost more than €1. I can also say that things are warming up nicely in Team New Zealand’s preparations for the Worlds, just a few days from now.

 

The word from the pit…

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Hi there. This is Anders, Angus’ mechanic. If you’ve followed the blog you’ve seen me mentioned as Bender which was my call name when I worked as a messenger here in Copenhagen and that’s where I met Angus.

Pieter2

That might seem as irrelevant information but being new in the elite world of cyclocross actually reminds both of us of what it was like being a rookie messenger. The guys who have been in the game for a long time have seen rookies come and so you have to prove your worth by coming again and again. There are ways to do things that you only learn by doing them wrong and getting looked at funny or stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and finding out the hard way.

Pieter

For an example for my first world cup in Valkenburg last year our pit box, that had been assigned to us at the managers meeting the night before, got completely taken over by the Dutch mechanics. And when I tried to squish in between them, they just looked at me like I was the one that wasn’t supposed to be there. That taught me three things, one: English is not the Dutch mechanics strong side. Two: why nobody chooses the pit box next to the Dutch  (really, its the last one to go at every WC managers meeting). And three: the big teams with star riders stand in whatever box they like whenever they like.

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At every race there is a new thing that I learn, sometimes small, sometimes big. The biggest one had to be tire pressure. If I had to say what is the most important thing on a cross bike, I’d say tire pressure. In the beginning we thought we knew what we were doing but looking back, we had no idea. And its not something that you just go and ask another mechanic for advice on. I’ve asked other mechanics twice what pressure they were running and both times the answer was something like “the right one” followed by a big grin. Like Tyler Durden said “you do not talk about tire pressure!!”.

Dave (2)

On a smaller scale another thing I learned was what’s best to wash first, the wheels or the frame. That is a little thing but it is a thing that matters in the pits. If you wash the frame first you can do it all over again after you’ve washed the wheels. There is more to bike washing then you think, not really but it’s one more thing to geek out on and that’s nice. So that’s what I do, geek out, and youtube is great for that. A couple of weeks ago I saw a video on the web about how to wash your cross bike, thought I could pick up a few tricks. That wasn’t the case but one thing did catch my attention, the guy said that the teams you see on TV/internet washing the bikes with pressure washers can do so because they have chains and cassettes from floor to ceiling, or something like that. I can assure you that that is not the case for all the elite teams. The idea that we use pressure washers because we can always just change the chain, is just wrong. We use pressure washers because we have between four and eight minutes to get the bike clean before the rider comes around and swaps again. Flemish mud is no joke. I’ve tried with a normal hose, it can’t be done.

Last year we went to a few Cat 2 races and the pits were packed with the riders’ friends, family and girlfriends, who where all as clueless as I was. Some of them were more clueless than me so it was nice to feel like the experienced one for an afternoon. But it made me realize that at the elite races those mechanics have been doing what they do for years and years and its second nature to them.

 

Dave

One thing that I noticed in a race last year was how the mechanics from one of the bigger teams used the pit in a tactical way. At every UCI race there has to be at least six (pressure) washers in the pits, I’ve never seen more than eight and that has only happened once. So it doesn’t take a whole lot of math to figure out that at the really muddy races a line for each washer will form pretty quickly. The leaders mechanic got to the washer first and saw the mechanic of the rider who was in second or third standing in line, he made sure to take his time to get the bike nice and clean. In most of the races this will never become an actual obstruction for the top ten riders because they’ll have two bikes in the pit. But when it gets really muddy and the rider expects a clean bike every half lap, this can become really annoying, even for us who’s not directly in this little drama but it effects everybody who’s standing in line.

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And that’s another thing about elite cross in general. There’s the elite and then there’s the elite-elite. We are just elite. Hell, even the UCI calls every country except Belgium and Holland “developing countries” to our faces. It’s the truth so there’s nothing to get offended by but it makes it pretty obvious that we are there as part of the show in this Flemish “national” sport and some people would like it to stay like that, they couldn’t care less. That’s quite alright though. I like that we come to the races in a station car packed to the bursting point, and everybody else has a campervan and a mechanics van. I like that my workstand is the bikerack on the car and I like that Angus has a beer when he gets on the rollers to warm down after a race. I like that we can show them that their national sport is catching on around the world and maybe they should start thinking about that.

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What to do when not riding

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I am working on the blog posts for the races following Namur. This Christmas I managed to find a great balance of cozy times between races and quality time with friends. Which was lovely, this did however mean spending less time writing about it all. It is coming though.

As I sit here drinking my morning coffee waiting for a friend there is something else that I would like to share. I listen to podcasts, a lot of them. When commuting, at work, driving to Belgium, they fill the spaces in between. It started with fitness and nutrition, listening to Ben Greenfield, Rich Roll, Abel James and the Bulletproof coffee guy. With time though Ben got a little geeky, Rich became too spiritual, Abel too nice, and so I started looking further afield. It started with Dan Savage and his advice column podcast. There I found hours of entertainment and wisdom on love, sex and relationships, with a little politics thrown in. A must listen for sure, I guarantee your will horizons will be broadened. Next came Radiolab. Wow. They opened my eyes to what was possible with podcasting. It is a little hard to describe what they do because in essence it is a science based program, but really it is much much more. Now I was born into a generation that watched TV in the evenings, radio was kinda dead, and computers, well they hadn’t really made their impact yet. I have nostalgic kinds of pictures, shown to me by the benevolent TV, of what the radio generation must have done with their cold wintery nights, sitting round listening to radio broadcasts. But it wasn’t until I heard the likes of Radiolab that I truly began to appreciate quite what that must have felt like. They brought a quality of journalism and story telling that I had never heard in an audio-only format before. I had trouble though, after I had waded through about 5 years worth of Radiolab podcasts, finding a worthy successor. My hunger was sated a little by On The Media and their spin off TLDR, with their interesting look at current events and the media’s way of spinning them. The TED Radio hour, TED talks put into audio and compiled into themes, again left me inspired. But how could you go wrong there? A TED talk is hard to beat. Well that was until I found This American Life. Speachless. I am not going to try and sum it up, I couldn’t do it justice, listen to it. I promise you if you do your only regret will be that you didn’t start listening to it earlier. Unlike other podcasts This American life only makes this weeks podcast available for download. So there is no ‘going through the archives’. I have started collecting them like prized possessions. Serial is worth mentioning here. The podcast that took the internet by storm. One story told in 12 episodes, Serial quickly rose to being the most downloaded podcast on iTunes. I have also just discovered The Moth. Basically The Moth is everyday people telling stories from their lives on a stage somewhere in the States. Breathtaking. In my 30min commute to work I have both laughed out loud and be brought to tears in the same trip. Before I start to ramble too much in the noteworthy category I will add, Stuff You Should Know, Criminal, and Strangers.

I am truly excited about the podcasting format and what it has to offer. I think it will become more and more prevalent in our society and maybe discussions started by Dan in his weekly episode will begin to compete with the latest gossip from HBO. Download and enjoy…

The days in between

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Don't leave Belgium empty handed!

Don’t leave Belgium empty handed!

Guest bedroom project

Guest bedroom project

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There is stuff to fix

There is stuff to fix

More stuff...

More stuff…

but wait, there's more!

but wait, there’s more!

Then there are abbeys to visit.

Then there are abbeys to visit.

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Christmas shopping to be done...

Christmas shopping to be done…

And now we drive to Zolder…

Namur

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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.

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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

Guys! SVENNESS socks are World Cup tested. Get yours at www.svenness.com. @cxbeaver @hotsaucecycling #namur

A post shared by In The Crosshairs (@cxhairs) on

 

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.

There were good fights to be had at the back :)

There were good fights to be had at the back 🙂 Photo – Martine Adam

Here is when things were under control

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Photo – Tom Prenen 

And here is when they weren’t

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Photo – Tom Prenen

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.

I <3 Namur (seriously)

I ❤ Namur (seriously) Photo – Fabienne Vanheste

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!

This is what happens when you bring Dutch people to cross races...

This is what happens when you bring Dutch people to cross races…

 

 

Spreading the Niner love

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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?

Riding in style

Riding in style

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 😉

Cross in Denmark

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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.

It was cold and wet in Ringsted, I hope the cross gods will forgive me for this transgression...

It was cold and wet in Ringsted, I hope the cross gods will forgive me for this transgression…

If races in DK continue to be this muddy I will have to start racing with both bikes...

If races in DK continue to be this muddy I will have to start racing with both bikes…

Koksijde sucks balls

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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.

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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.

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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.

Team Beaver

Team Beaver

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.

 

Post race recovery

Post race recovery

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Belgian crack (Liege) waffles

Belgian crack (Liege) waffles

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!!

Dinner the first night

Dinner the first night

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We still had a tent and two bikes to pick up...

We still had a tent and two bikes to pick up…

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The best fries in Eindhoven

The best fries in Eindhoven

It was a loooong weekend...

It was a loooong weekend…

A round of the Dutch SSCX series, post World Cup fun and games...

A round of the Dutch SSCX series, post World Cup fun and games…

Shit Happens

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Last weekend at the Gogoo Hellcross I experienced a bit of a non-event of a race. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a fantastic event and lots of racing, it just happened without me. If I thought breaking my arm in the first hour of a 9 hr race at Schlaflos im Sattel sucked, then taking myself out in the LeMans start before we even got to the bikes really takes the cake. I accepted a long time ago that these things happen, I try however to sit down after (often in a hospital bed) and figure out why it went wrong and how I can prevent it happening again. Schlaflos was easy. Trying to put distance between me and 2nd place, by riding at a speed that would have been considered fast during the daytime, in the first hour of the race was probably a bit silly. Right, don’t do that again. The Hellcross was a bit trickier. Who could have predicted how slippery the paving stones I was crossing would be while running in bike shoes. The end result being a nice fail video style somersault over a metal bench. I never liked watching those fail videos, I always had too much empathy for the victims, I felt my body twinge every time that they slammed into some immovable object. This time it was me…

 

The first bandage change

The first bandage change

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This morning I removed the stitches. My leg is looking good in spite of a weekend of racing and a couple of small crashes (Sam’s SS race just outside of Lille, France, Saturday night had some pretty sketchy sections). Now I just need to work on getting back into shape (again).

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In the next exciting blog post you get to find out exactly why it is that racing in Koksijde sucks balls…