After a much appreciated weekend off from racing, I was back at it last Friday at Scheldecross in Antwerp, Belgium and followed it up two days later with a World Cup in Nommay, France. The actual racing went a little better this time around while the experiences were just as interesting.
Scheldecross is theoretically a “local” Belgian race as it is not part of the Superprestige or GVA series but the star-studded field that materialized would make everyone believe differently. Included in the womens lineup were current world champ Hanka Kupfernagel, Marianne Vos, Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn, Sanne van Passen, Veerle Engels, Sanne Cant, Helen Wyman and Gabby Day of the UK, Wendy Simms and fellow CXM writer Vicki Thomas from Canada. The guys’ start line included world champ Lars Boom, Klaas Vantornout, Thijs Al, Radomír Šimunek and Zdenek Stybar from Czech Republic, Dieter Vanthourenhout, legendary Richard Groenendaal, Nys’ teammate Rob Peeters. America was well represented by Molly Cameron, Steven Hunter and David Quist.
In the women’s race, Hanka took the win over Vos by only eight tiny seconds – an impressive result for Vos who was competing in only her second race of the season. As for me, I placed 17th out of 34 finishers. I was exactly mid-pack [Ed. Note - top half actually]. More importantly, after the first two laps of pedaling backwards, my body awoke and I was able to start passing racers. As much as I love the feeling of passing others, I would prefer to start the race off well and hold it. Then if I pass racers, it feels much more rewarding. Even so, on the last lap of the race, I passed four riders and it felt awesome!
A quarter of the course was covered in thick, twisty undulating sand, which was barely rideable in some parts at best. But this generalization, I discovered, does not apply to World Champions. After the race, while I was spinning on the trainer, Hanka came up to me to ask how my race went which is when I found out that she rode the whole thing – twice! The second time was on the penultimate lap. I still cannot imagine having the power to wield the tires through that seemingly impossible connection of twisty sandpits. Heck, I was able to pass two of the four girls on the last lap due to their untimely tip into each other where they locked bars in a trackstand.
We unfortunately left the race site before Thijs Al crossed the finish for first place, ahead of all the pre-race favorites. His win has a special meaning to Jonas and me – and most likely to many other cyclocross fans as well. We have been watching Thijs command nothing but the holeshot for a long time, betting each other on how many minutes he can last up front, while privately hoping that one day he can hold his speed to the end. And on that day, it finally happened!
The next morning we were off early at 8am for a six hour drive to Nommay. On the way down, we drove through the Vogesen (Tes Voges in French), a beautifully mountainous region of France that is a haven for cyclists). But the fog killed any designs on checking out the views. We drove back home in the dark so now I will have to make a special camping trip this summer to properly check it out.
We arrived at the course at the same time as the rain which had me worried. The course looks simple on paper but when those grassy fields get wet, they turn to thick greasy mud instantly transforming innocuous bumps into monstrous run-ups. After the pre-ride, I ran into Rachel Lloyd. In our brief conversation I was reminded of how funny we Americans are when communicating. We both talked a million miles an hour – simultaneously.
Next we headed back to the hotel which turned out to be a container; its name of Premiere Class Hotel was a cruel irony. Hotels in Europe tend to be small but this was tinier than a mobile home. In order for Jonas and I to pass each other, one of us had to walk over the bed.
Later that evening, at registration, it was an American reunion. I saw Sue Butler, Georgia Gould, Ryan Trebon, Jamie Driscoll and another guy whom I couldn’t recognize without his helmet. It has been a while since I’ve had so much American English exposure. Hopefully they don’t think that I am still suffering from a head injury since surely I was probably speaking to them in my Dutch-speaker-enabled English-language – slowly, small words and in pseudo-Belgian sentence structure.
On race day, we got to the course early enough to snag a spot in the good parking lot only to discover that it may be a good location but the lot was completely flooded. Any time we got in and out of the van, we’d have to remove our shoes as we were standing in 3″ deep mud. When I needed to leave the van, I had to circle a mini-moat.
Our van was wedged between Sven Nys’ “mobilehome”, that was more like an 18 wheeler, and Katie Compton’s tent. Sue Butler was somewhere nearby as well. Before the race, Sue and I pre-rode the course to find that it was completely different from the day previous. The mud was thicker and greasier, turning the semi-rideable sections to running only.
My start was better than most this year, putting me in the early 20′s three minutes into the race. But then, similar to the event two days ago, my body shut down on me. It took two whole laps to recover before I could turn on and start to pass people. Again, I passed four gals on the ultimate lap. The last I got beat by a foot at the finish line to end up in 33rd out of 46 riders. My plan for this Friday’s World Cup in Zolder, Belgium is to get the first two laps over with in the pre-ride so I can go directly to competitive racing speeds from the gun.
Sue and I lingered at the finish for a few minutes to cheer for Katie and Georgia (and Hanka) while they made their podium appearance. On our way back to the parking lot, an official informed us that we can take the blue van to the showers. This was at least my interpretation of what he said as my French is not too good. But what threw me off was that he was making the motion of twisting his nose as he told us this. In Dutch-speaking lands, that hand motion means that someone is drunk so naturally I was thinking either I was way off with my translation or that they were serving alcohol at the showers. When I got to the steamy showers and saw only naked bodies, I was truly disappointed.
The sole advantage of our parking spot is that we could see the men’s race without leaving the van. And that is what we did for most of the event. However, I popped over course-side for a couple of laps to act in proper American fashion. At the top of my lungs, I screamed for the American racers as well as some favorites like Sven Nys, Lars Boom, Bart Aernauts, Christian Heule, Thijs Al, Bart Wellens and of course Richard Groenendaal.
Thanks for reading.