by Corey Coogan Cisek
In a major upturn in my day-to-day social life, Beth Ann Orton, of Team S&M Cyclocross in Bend, Oregon, joined me for the Nommay World Cup and Rucphen UCI C2. My first thought when she reached out to me regarding Nommay was, “Yay, travelling buddy!” My second thought was, “I wonder if she knows French.”
The answer turned out to be no. Between the two of us, we have a slender French vocabulary of fewer than ten words. No matter; we are flexible travellers!
Euro Dining Adventures
Nommay was a target World Cup for me, as I surmised that few Americans would take on the stress of traveling from Reno to France in less than a week’s time. Sure enough, the U.S. women’s contingent was smaller than usual, so I made the selection.
As a side note, I have only good things to say about doing World Cups with USA Cycling. The selection process is objective, clear and transparent. Applicants are selected first by auto-qualification (top-50 UCI ranking) and then any remaining spots filled by petitioning riders in order of UCI rank. The team managers were organized, responsive, and professional. I am the smallest of small fish, and yet they made me feel welcome.
Racing abroad has a way of being an equalizer and unifier. While the American riders in contention for the World Cup overall are well-supported by their teams, there is a limit to what one can schlep across the ocean. There is less of difference between the “haves” and “have-nots” than when we are in the States. Accordingly, the atmosphere feels more collegial, and there’s a lot of sharing of resources, both equipment and staff. While the top U.S. riders are significantly faster than me, we share the same cultural struggles, be it finding a place for dinner, or trying to make sure the coffee ordered at 9:00 p.m. is really, truly decaf.
Eating on the road, especially when you don’t know the language, is challenging. One of the wisest things my coach ever said to me is, “Calories are calories.” Namely, don’t be picky, because if you are, you won’t eat, and if you don’t eat, you won’t race well.
Our first night in Nommay, we went to “Le Bamboo,” a Vietnamese restaurant that was very good, but seemed more Moroccan than Vietnamese. As the host spoke no English, we used Google translate to choose our meals. The second night, we went to a Chinese buffet adjacent to our hotel. When in France, it makes sense to eat Chinese — right?! Sunday, moody with post-race hunger, we drove in circles looking for something open, and were forced to choose between McDonalds and Buffalo Grill.
Buffalo Grill it was! Buffalo Grill is an “American-style” restaurant in a building designed to look like a cowboy hat. They had a menu in English and provided free iceberg lettuce side salads, which, in our hunger tasted “just like Grandma used to make.”
Having a relaxed mindset about food is key to success over here. Could you be a vegetarian, gluten free, or paleo? Sure. However, there’s already plenty to stress about without adding food stress to the mix.
World Cup Nommay
Most Euro ’cross courses are more challenging in real life than they look on television, but not so with Nommay. The course is entirely transparent: no ditches, no terrifying descents, just a lot of mud … and those stairs. Nommay is known for being muddy, and this year, the nearby rivers and fields were flooded. The conditions were a mixture of greasy and a tractor-pull slow.
Nommay is also “that course,” the one where at the end of the starting stretch, you turn left into stairs — because dismounting on pavement on toe spikes after a sprint just makes sense.
The pits were a mad house, as a field of more than 50 attempted to pit on the half-lap, and a power-washer went down. It was a tough day in the pits, and American crews worked frantically. If you watch the replay carefully, you will notice American staff helping each other catch bikes without regard to trade team.
As far as my racing, I was satisfied. I had a chain drop and a missed pit exchange, but it was a day to expect the unexpected. I was happy to have a solid start, and successfully navigate the traffic at the stairs and on the early corners. In terms of the aspects of racing I could control, I did well, and I finished on the lead lap too.
A C2 Challenge and “Local” Race
The weekend after Nommay, Beth Ann and I traveled to Rucphen, a small UCI C2 in the Netherlands. On the poor-quality video of the 2017 race, the course looked forgettable — basically slow grassy turns beside a lake. Once again, I learned not to underestimate what I did not know. In reality, the course was a series of relentless twists up and down rutted lakeside banks. Nothing was scary or difficult, but riding it quickly was another matter entirely.
During pre-ride, I thought to myself, “I’m not entirely sure how much faster I can ride this.” Sure enough, the answer was not much faster.
This was my first race abroad where I felt not just like a fish out of water, but actually embarrassed too. After a rather poor start, I anticipated picking off riders one-by-one, but just the opposite happened, as each lap, I lost position after position. Quite simply, I could not finesse the ups and downs and corners nor sprint the straightaways like the Dutch ladies.
Sometimes racing here is like banging one’s head against the wall. I think I am getting it, and then slap-in-the-face, I learn I haven’t a clue. am in someone else’s home, riding the sort of thing they ride every day. Sometimes I console myself by imagining them racing hot, dry September American races for the first time.
On the plus side, the race was next to an indoor ski area. Our mechanics casually mentioned this pre-race, as if an indoor ski area was the most normal thing in the world. The building housing “the resort” was approximately the height of an American football stadium but only half the width.
Having grown up skiing the real, outdoor mountains of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Northeast, Beth Ann and I had to see Skidome Rucphen. It’s man-made snow rather than carpet, so the building is kept “ice rink cold.” Seeing, and laughing at this novelty almost made up for my poor race. Because ten years from now, I’ll remember indoor skiing, but my memories of the race will be blurred.
The thing about me is that I am doggedly stubborn. My response to embarrassment in Rucphen was increased focus for my Sunday race, the Vlaamse Cyclocross Cup in Assenede, Belgium. “If don’t know how to ride in Belgium, I’ll just have to teach myself.”
Assenede was a “small, local race,” but that description does not do it justice. Although non-UCI, the organization and professionalism was on par with what you would expect for a U.S. UCI C2. Since there could be no UCI race on Sunday because of the Hoogerheide World Cup, the Assenede field was plenty strong. No surprise, when you remove the nine Belgian Hoogerheide starters, plenty of depth remains in the women’s field.
The term for cyclocross in Dutch/Flemish is veldrijden, or “field-riding.” The term did not seem sensible to me until the race in Assenede, which took place nearly entirely on farm fields. Though the course was regulation-width, there was only a single ridden-in line, snaking through the thick grass, mud, and ruts. While you could depart from the line to pass, the sodden soil slowed you so profoundly that passing was nearly impossible.
And the bumps! The relentlessly bumpy conditions would have elicited a ton of complaining in the U.S., but here is was business as usual.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the day was watching Thibau Nys, Sven’s son, race in the nieuwelingen category (Junior 15-16). Thibau is already a bit of a national hero here. The Belgian television channel Èèn runs a weekly documentary on him: een.be/dna-nys.
While I am fully aware of Thibau’s palmares, this was the first time I have had the opportunity to see him race. He and his peers (two riders finished within ten seconds of him) are flying. As the Flemish say when you do something notable, “Respect.”
Next weekend is an “off” weekend for me, but I’ll be in Valkenburg watching the races and helping Cyclocross Magazine cover the races. [Ed. note: You can follow Corey’s coverage on Twitter at @cyclocross]
— Cyclocross Magazine (@cyclocross) February 2, 2018