by Sue Butler
The Azencross at Loenhout was a completely different race than last year. It was frozen tundra this year, with no long muddy run or muddy corners. This year, the biggest obstacle were icy corners, frozen ruts and in my case, myself and crashed-out girls on the whoopdee’s.
The legs were back and I had a decent start, considering I was a bet apprehensive of the long tarmac and the first sharp left turn. The Euro starts always make me a bit nervous because they are sketchy, and even the girl that will place 50th is trying to get to the turn first. As I gain more experience, I tend to get less timid and just know to relax without letting myself get pushed around.
After the start, I was in an okay position and figured I could keep moving up. The lead group had escaped and unfortunately, I was not in that group, but there was going to be a good chase group, and I was going to make sure I was in that! It was fast! But after riding by the pit the first time, I found out what happens when you take a steep up before a dip that follows with another up on a bridge at too much speed. (Can you visualize that? It looked like this: /\/ ) You get airborne and you fly right into the post and tape and spectator to the right. But it wasn’t that bad. I was still in the race and I could recover from my bonehead mistake.
I finally got back, but only to get stuck. Getting “stuck” for me is when someone drops off pace and then you can’t get around, so essentially, you get dropped by being behind the wrong person. It is frustrating, but all part of racing. This course was so fast and turny, it was hard to pass and when I would finally try and get by, I found that the two racers I was stuck behind seemed to migrate towards the direction I was passing, gradually shoving me into the tape, forcing me to back off. Hmm…was this on purpose?
I had to find a way. Unfortunately, the way I got by cost me even more time. They both crashed on the whoopdees (jumps that some refer to as washboards – jump to the 4:40 mark in this video) and there was no getting by. Bars stuck in wheels, two bodies down. It was not pretty. But I did not panic. I relaxed, separated my bike easily and then ran the rest of the whoops and remounted to start the chase. Reset! This is important to be able to do when something goes wrong, and unfortunately, I have had to learn to master this!
I rode the rest of the race alone. I would approach groups that were drafting and riding like roadies, but I just went to the front and kept moving forward. When it was all said and done, I only got as far as 15th. The race ended too soon for any more forward progress, but I was in the money! I got the last place that gets a payout. Sure, it was only 30 euros, but somehow it was satisfying. And it was great to see so many Americans in the top 10! Do you think the message is being sent that women’s cyclocross is competitive in America?
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!
Guest columnist Sue Butler (Monavie-Cannondale.com) is currently in Europe contesting the biggest races and getting ready for the world championships. You can read her previous report on Carpetbagging in Belgium here.