The Belgium Report – World Cups and Christmas Racing
Canadian ’crosser Craig Richey is spending this winter in Belgium, taking his racing to a new level. His series of race diaries continues with his experiences during Belgium’s intense Christmas week. If you missed it, go back and read his report from the Koksijde World Cup.
by Craig Richey
My first race back after recovering from my training block was the Kalmothout World Cup. I went into the race pretty optimistic and felt that the solid miles I had put in the weeks earlier would pay dividends at this race. The course was relatively flat but was super-twisty. There was also a fair amount of snow on the ground and just one line was ridden in, so the course was essentially single track making passing difficult. In typical World Cup fashion, the first corner was chaos, and with all the twist and turns the pack strung out. Where you queued up after the first couple turns was pretty close to where you were going to finish. I felt OK, but didn’t have much snap, and after getting bumped around in the first couple corners I ended up close to the back. I managed to pick off a few riders and bridged to a group with Brian Matter and Mark Lalonde. Despite finishing near the back of the race, I felt like we were actually going pretty fast and were only going about 30 seconds per lap slower than the leaders. After watching the race coverage, it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t pushing it enough in the corners.
The week of Christmas was pretty chill, hung out with my housemates and did some group trainer/roller riders. Christmas in Europe has a warm, family feel to it, which is a nice contrast to the commercialized version in North America. It would’ve been nice to be home visiting with friends and family, but with the Zolder World Cup on Boxing Day, most of Christmas was spent prepping to race. On the 23rd, five of us drove out to Zolder to pre-ride the World Cup course, and we were amazed how ill prepared the race organizers were for the snow. The course had close to a foot of snow, and huge sections were unrideable. They didn’t have any snow plows and were using a forklift with a traffic barrier tipped on its side and a quad pulling a fence to try and clear the course.
By race day they had managed to chip away the ice from the start/finish but most of the course wasn’t much better than our pre-ride a few days earlier, and some sections were worse. I crashed six times pre-riding three laps. Four of the crashes were just on straight sections of snow which were rutted; it was like riding in mud or sand, but less predictable because of hard frozen chunks mixed in. You would be cruising along and then your front wheel would slide to a 45-degree angle or washout completely. There were two steep descents and I crashed twice on those, so I tested running them on the third lap. With a 50/50 success rate, I made the call that I would run them in the race.
The start at Kalmthout was military order compared to the Zolder start. I started fifth row beside Lars Boom, and I have absolutely no idea how he managed to hit the first corner in fourth. I felt like I started pretty well and hit the first corner around 4oth when a rider beside me crashed and took me out. The next three minutes was running, crashing, bottlenecks, and riders remounting and not being able to clip in because the soles of their shoes were packed full of ice from all the running. In the first lap I lost 2:44 to Lars Boom who started beside me. After the first lap chaos, the field was spread out and I was able ride the climbs and run the two descents. This was essentially the opposite of most riders around me, but it seemed to be working pretty well as I moved up a few places each lap.
I ended up having a massive battle with Paul Voss from Team Milram. He was faster on the open sections and I was faster in the technical parts, so we went back and forth with a fair amount of bumping and a few words were said. I was having fun. He got away from me a little on our last lap and it looked like he was going to take the last coveted top-50, and with it the prize money and UCI points. However my descent running skills paid off when he had a huge bail on the last descent and I was able to run by him and another rider to 49th.
Drive home. Laundry. Eat. Clean bikes. Sleep. Eat. Drive to the race.
On to Diegem
I was pretty stiff and sore from the World Cup crash fest and was not emotionally invested in the Diegem SuperPrestige the following day. The course was hilly, which I liked, and my plan was to ride the first few laps as hard as I could and not worry about exploding later in the race. After the starting chaos I was in a group with all of the Americans (excluding JP, who was way up the field) and a few Euros. My legs didn’t feel great, but I put my race plan into action and distanced myself from Team America and was gaining a little ground on the next group. After spending some time between the two groups, I started to crack, and Team America was bringing me back when we were pulled.
On the drive home I realized that I get zero benefit from racing against Albert and Nys, because after three corners they are long gone. What I need to do is race against other guys my speed, which is why it’s so nice having all of the Americans over here for the Christmas block of racing. Back in October I traveled across the continent for a weekend of racing against a group of Americans like I raced in Diegem, but instead of racing for the win at a MAC or Verge Series, we were racing for 34th at a SuperPrestige. I get to race against this great group of Americans six times in eight days, never having to drive more than two hours. In my opinion, that’s the biggest value of racing in Belgium -– not getting to race against Albert and Nys.