Richey descending in the sand of Koksijde.
Last time we caught up with Craig, he was changing his season’s plan and refocusing on his new goals. Now, Craig is in Europe for the rest of the season, armed with a winning attitude and a mustache for Movember. (For those not in the know, in November, many of the men in the cycling community can be spotted sporting mustaches — ranging from serious to just plain ridiculous — in order to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research.) Today, he’s filling us in on what cyclocross in Belgium is like after starting the season in the US.
by Craig Richey
I may have made this comparison before, but a Canadian racing cyclocross in Belgium is like a Belgian playing hockey in Canada, and the SuperPrestige series is the Belgian equivalent of the NHL playoffs.
I raced ’cross in Belgium last winter and I remembered the riders being fast and aggressive, and the courses being hard with huge crowds. But I think over the past nine months, my memories of Belgian racing had lost some of the harshness. The Gavere SuperPrestige snapped me back to the reality of Belgian ’cross. She is a nasty beast. Nothing is easy. Parking is always a struggle. Signs are in a different language. And you often get heckled during course pre-ride. Thankfully, Gregg, the manager of the Renner Custom team, took care of most of this stuff and I was able to roll to the start line relaxed and ready to go.
So far this season, I have had the pleasure of starting on the first or second row at every race. At call up, the official was joking with me that being ranked 73rd in the World might get you a front row call up in America but here it gets you called up third from last. The gun went off and I was instantly reminded of the joys of a last row riding. Riders who slipped pedals on the front acted as pillions as everyone simultaneously tried to move up. A few minutes into the race, having already maneuvered around at least five crashes, things settled down and I found myself riding with the British and Spanish National Champions. We weren’t in last place but we were definitely off the back. Like a Belgian, Brit and Spaniard trying to make it in an NHL hockey game, we were grouped together and put in our place. After the first two laps, our little trio was only 26 seconds back. I raced hard and felt like I was going pretty fast but my legs gave out and I faded towards the end.
Next up was the Koksijde World Cup, which was pretty exciting, as we would be racing on the course to be used for World Championships in two months. In my opinion, World Cups are significantly more enjoyable than the SuperPrestige and GVA races. The fields are substantially larger and the much more global field means there is usually a fair number of riders around my speed. The World Cups also seem to be more inclusive. Maybe the Belgian fans enjoy hosting a more international field. Last year, I was sporting a Movember stash and had a solid group in the beer garden cheering “La Moustache.”
This fall in Western Europe has been especially dry, making for a lot of fast racing. In Koksijde. just the opposite happens: rain helps pack the sand down and helps ruts to form and maintain their shape. This year, the sand was dry and deep making sections that were fairly ridable last year now unrideable for the majority of the field. The dry sand presented another issue I hadn’t anticipated, a sandy mustache. When following wheels, dry sand would fling into my face and would normally just fall off. But not the sand that hit my lip warmer.
Besides the annoyance of a sandy mustache, the race went alright. My limited sand experience was an issue and it forced me to do a huge amount of running, which brought my lack of running form to light. On the plus side, I had a great battle throughout the race with riders from Slovakia, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain, and only the Slovakian got me at the end. He finished 50th, taking the last 300 Euro payout by mere seconds.
It has been a couple weeks now since my pneumonia and after some decent training it feels like things are finally coming around. Next up is the World Cup in Igorre.
Editor’s Note: Richey scored a solid 32nd place in the World Cup at Igorre this past weekend, stay tuned for more of his Euro exploits!