Rattray in action. Bart Hazen

Rattray in action. © Bart Hazen

Yes, Australia has cyclocross. They have the Dirty Deeds cyclocross series, and that inspired one Aussie to cross the pond and try his hand racing in Belgium. Now that Aussie, Lewis Rattray, represents his country at the 2012 Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium. He sent us this journal penned late on Friday.

by Lewis Rattray

After an extremely successful season of cyclocross in Melbourne, Australia, I decided I wanted to race cyclocross overseas at the end of the year. Despite my success, I was under no impression I would be competitive when racing against people who have raced cyclocross for five to 10 years, however, I figured I should be able to start quite a few big races as the UCI is keen to globalise the sport. Whilst working at St Kilda Cycles, we had a Belgian cyclist, Roeland, come in looking for work. I explained my situation, and he convinced me to race in Belgium, as he would be home at the end of the year and I would be able to stay with him and his Australian girlfriend, Rose. I didn’t need any convincing otherwise, Belgium it was, and they have been fantastic support whilst over here.

Australian cyclocrosser Lewis Rattray surrounded by his new fans in Belgium.

Lewis Rattray surrounded by his new fans in Belgium.

I contacted a few race organizers and teed up a couple of UCI races that I would be able to enter. One was a UCI C1 race, the GVA Trophee in Loenhout, and another was a C2 event straight after the Belgian Nationals in Otegem. After plenty of emails to people in both Cycling Australia (road governing body) and MTB Australia (MTB governing body), citing my performances in the Dirty Deeds Series and Cross Melburn, I managed to secure a spot in the World Cup in Heusden-Zolder on the 26th of December. I gained UCI points from that race and the following two World Cups in France and the Netherlands which enabled me to enter the cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde. Australia has had two representatives at World Cup/Championship level before, once in the late 70’s and once around 2000. I will be the first since cyclocross has a true following in Australia, as series are starting to pop up and establish themselves across the country.

Part way through the Dirty Deeds CX series I scored a sponsorship with Giant Australia, who gave me a TCX Advanced with full Dura Ace, to use in addition to my TCX 1. It’s quite special to have the same bike as many of the Rabobank riders that end up lapping me! Giant have been good enough to subsidize my trip, and I have picked up a few other sponsors, both from home and in Belgium. Through Giant I’m looked after by Shimano, as well as Schwalbe, Sports2 Nutrition and Qoleum. I even got some supporter cards whipped up by Rose.

Lewis Rattray has had a crash course in Belgian mud.

Lewis Rattray has had a crash course in Belgian mud.

Prior to arriving, I had raced seven club level cyclocross races (we currently don’t have a national championship), which is ‘experienced’ for an Australian. I now have three World Cups, a GVA Trophee, a UCI C2 race in Otegem and a C-Level race under my belt. The races tend to be the same kind of story for me, keep riders in sight for as long as possible, and try my best to beat a couple of finishers. I managed to get second at the C-level race, however there was a significant difference in competition to the other races I’ve competed in whilst here. I am slowly seeing improvements which were evident after the last World Cup in Hoogerheide, where I finished 55th, but only three laps down, and on the same lap as some very fast riders. Fingers crossed I can secure a similar result come Sunday.

World Championships – Koksijde

I am lucky enough to be staying with the Japanese team in Koksijde in the week leading up to the World Championships. Japan isn’t quite a powerhouse when it comes to cyclocross, however they are very competitive across each category, and certainly not just making up the numbers. They have a team of seven riders, and about eight staff members including mechanics, a photographer and assistants.

Lewis Rattray even has is own trading card!

Lewis Rattray even has is own trading card!

We rode out to the course yesterday and immediately I was wondering what on earth I’ve gotten myself into. About 1/3 of the course was made up of sand dunes. That’s not to say I don’t like it, it’s simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen or ridden. For the somewhat less proficient riders such as myself, this means a lot of fairly exhausting running, and some treacherous descents. Thankfully, whilst racing the circuit for the past few months, I’ve made some friends who are invaluable when it comes to advice on riding in trying conditions. Things as simple as the right tyre pressure, when to remount and how to shift your weight when riding the sand are completely new to me, but I am learning from watching the other riders, and speaking to people like Yannick Mayer (second at German U23 Nationals) who are more than happy to share advice. During official training the organizers had school groups visit to cheer on the riders. There would have been about 1000 students lining the exciting parts of the course, which was certainly a nice way to be welcomed to the World Championships. I stopped to take some photos with the children, and immediately was swarmed by them all trying to get my autograph.

Today (Friday) the course has dried up a bit, and the channels in the sand are a little more defined, making the tricky sections a little easier to ride, but still very difficult to link up, without having to dismount. Watching the professionals ride these sections is truly amazing, and I’ll do my best to emulate their skills come Sunday.

Tomorrow will be a cruisy day, practice laps here are very strenuous as you can’t exactly cruise through the sand. I’ll be cheering on the Japanese juniors, Anglophone junior and U23 Men tomorrow (as well Yannick the German).