Why did I come here?
I wanted to get a chance to do some racing in the home of cyclocross. The courses, the conditions, the crowds, the competition. I wanted to see what the fuss was about and bank some experience in the toughest place to race bikes. I also traditional find it tough to keep my fitness going strong after a month off racing between early December and nationals. I do spend a lot of time on the trainer and riding in this period but with holidays and no racing it’s difficult to know how my legs will feel when I get to the start line in Ireland. I also wanted more time to adjust to the time change and get as far from the plane journey as possible. Rolling up to the line just 3 to 4 days after over 12 hours of travel has always taken a lot out of me and the year I gave more time to adjust I perform better.
Goals of the trip
Adjust to the time zone
Get back some racing legs
Practice handling in some tough compeitions
Try some Belgian Frites and Beers
Achieve a life long (cycling) goal to race in the home of cyclocross
Things of Note
- Arriving in Belgium, no bikes. Fail #1. Eventually got them back 10 hours later. Thankfully Denis was there in case of emergency and assured me we would get some bikes together if worst came to worst.
-Day I race - Thankfully mostly dry course, but slippery enough that I needed my mud tires. I brought Challenge Limus on two wheel sets and I was expecting mud everywhere. But it has been unseasonably dry here and in Ireland.
First time I’ve had the option of the same tire on two bikes - LUXURY
Slippery conditions, mostly flat but with some tricky transitions from one field to a lower damper area. There was also a tricky feature which I am referring to as the pyramid. A vertical ditch which you approached from and angle and which came to a point at the top. A two story flyover, the tallest I’ve ever ridden. Two weird step ramps in a row. Smoking crowd of ever increasing hoard of Belgians.
31st and made the lead lap with Loes Sels and Annemarie Worst and a lot of really great women. The course worked in my favour as it was not a death defying feat of bravery to just get around it. That didn’t stop me making some comical errors, probably symptomatic of my rusty cyclocross skills which haven’t really been tested in the last few weeks. I tripped on the barriers and landed 4’ from my bike, to which I could only say ‘Whoops’ to the delight of some belgians looking on, and grab my bike and continue.
What is different;
The start. Aggressive, I haven’t been bumped like that on a start shoot in a long time, maybe ever. Felt like a crit, and not the good type.
Crowds, they are huge, they smoke, the music is terrible. I found it hard to breathe on lap II because I was inhaling cigarette smoke at every turn.
The course - twisty and turn-y, not many places to put out huge amounts of power, or at least when you could it was short. Constant hoping on and off of your bike, hard on concentration levels.
Day II - DVV Brussels University
Big field and a brand new course. To be honest this race course pushed me to my limits. There were critical sections where I could not ride due to fear and lack of technical skill. I consider myself a good technical rider, but this was next level, racing over here exposes your weaknesses and it isn’t pretty. There was a death defying drop off, a steep flyover with soft squishy ground at the bottom which could and did cause people to flip over the handlebars if you failed to clip in. There were several sections which required both on bike and off bikes skills.
My main issue was that I have other plans this trip, and risking my bike and my body to prove myself up to the Belgian standard was not worth it. Instead I committed to running sections, which meant I had a relatively smooth race. It was vastly different to the preride, as is often the case with crazy courses, they make more sense at speed. The tougher sections are linked together in a different way, instead of disjointed, sometimes stopping and re-riding, often at speeds that never happen while racing.
Overall I loved this trip and racing in Belgium allowed me to achieve some of my lifetime goals. I’ll be back dammit.