Whitson at Worlds.

Whitson at Worlds.

New Zealander Genevieve Whitson gives us her view on the race at Koksijde.

by Genevieve Whitson

Racing at Cyclocross Worlds now feels surreal …

To have 50,000 drunk, ’cross obsessed Belgians cheering for us in rows five to six deep is something I don’t think much is going to match up to. People still tell me I am crazy for riding ’cross and to be honest I think they’re all crazy for not giving this sport a go!

Worlds this year was such a buzz. It made up for the nightmare of carting a flat tire around the entire course (unbeknownst to me at the time) in 2011 and with much better preparation and experience I was able to focus on the job at hand – having a good clean run on the course without any mechanicals and being in a positive headspace.

The course at Koksijde is as hard as they come. You may as well spend an entire month beforehand rolling around in a sand pit to prepare. I am still cleaning sand out of my Krypton DMT shoes and off my bike! There is no rest. You’re either climbing or descending or running through a sand pit. It’s not a course that you can even consider pacing on … if you’re pacing, you’ll be left behind.

Two days out from Worlds, we pre-rode the course and my first lap was terrible. It was like I had some come down with some ‘sand bug’ – I just couldn’t ride anything unless it was hardpacked and was terrified of the drop of the last decent, which was where a rider last year had done an over-the-handlebars job and broken a vertebrae. That really scared me. You don’t generally think of ‘danger’ when you think of sand, unless it’s quicksand and I think there’s possibly some kind of UCI rule against that sort of thing in a ’cross race!

Come race day, the atmosphere at Koksijde was pumping. It was hard enough making it to the start line in a hurry with the amount of people milling around. My team manager purposely set up our camp away from the main warm up area for athletes so that I could concentrate properly on getting ready instead of dealing with fascinated people wanting to see a ‘random solo Kiwi’ in the show. I am still amazed at the deal the Belgians make about ’cross riders. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great and I love the support they offer, it’s just not something I’d ever see in NZ or the UK, or anything I am used to unless I go to a rugby match. I felt like a celebrity, with people asking for autographs and fan cards.

By the time we lined up for the race, the crowds were going crazy. Could Vos take out her fifth ’cross world title? Could Compton over take her? Who’s going to t-total on the decent?

Off the start line, it was super, super fast. My heart rate must of gone from 100 to 170 in the space of a minute. From a grid position of second to last, I made my way up into the top 30, but once we were off the single track and straight into the heavy sand, I started dropping a lot of time and places. Riders had various techniques. Some were trying to purely grunt through it on a bike, which was sending most to a complete standstill. Others were off the bike and running, bike dragging in tow. But Marianne Vos was a class act all on her own, grabbing onto the railing next to the crowd and motoring on through it. That’s one of the coolest things about ’cross – there are no rules on not using the railing.

By the start of the second lap, I’d lost a lot of time in the sand and dropped back to 30-something. My legs were seriously starting to burn and by the time it was all over I was pretty broken. I finished 35th, I was disappointed, but hey, that’s bike racing.

The week after Worlds, my legs were potato mash. I had to change most of my riding for the week because my power output was so feeble. Worlds had seriously destroyed my muscles. At the gym, I struggled to do anything decent on the leg press, on the bike it was like granny on a Sunday spin around the bays.

So now we can look to Kentucky 2013. I’ve always loved road racing in the States, so I imagine the ’cross scene is going to totally exceed my expectations. Americans are super friendly, ’cross crazy and love drinking beer. Sounds like the right combination to me for an Epic 2013 Worlds, USA Style!

View our complete coverage of the 2012 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium on our Full Coverage page.