Craig Richey in Hamme-Zogge. ©Dan Seaton

Craig Richey on a rare rideable section in Hamme-Zogge. ©Dan Seaton

by Craig Richey

Canadian ’crosser Craig Richey is spending this winter in Belgium, working on taking his racing to a new level. He’ll be checking in on his progress throughout the next few months.

My name is Craig Richey. I am 26 years old, and I was born and raised in the small northern Canadian town of Smithers, British Columbia. I have been living in Victoria, BC, for the last eight years, where I have progressed as a competitive cyclist while completing my business degree and working in advertising. I have dabbled with cyclocross racing the last few years, but decided this summer to make it my primary focus.

I mountain bike raced for Blue Competition Cycles and was able to sign on with the p/b Blue team. On September 8th I quit my 9-to-5 job at Neverblue Media and cashed in my savings so I could commit 100% to getting faster on the ’cross bike. As a ’cross racer I have a good engine, but need more big race experience, and the best place to get it is Europe. I did nine stateside UCI races and Canadian Nationals before moving to Belgium in November for three months of racing in the heart of ‘cross country. I have been in Belgium for close to two weeks now, and things as going pretty well. The house where I am staying, The Chainstay, is great, and the quaint town of Oudenaarde is surrounded by some amazing riding.

A few days after arriving in Belgium I decided to do my first race, the Superprestige Hamme-Zogge. It had rained steadily since my arrival, and there was widespread flooding the weekend of the race. I actually found this a little bit encouraging because it meant that this huge amount of rain was not normal. It did however mean that the race was going to be a mudfest.

The major ’cross races here are held in little towns, and a huge number of spectators (10,000+) come out the big races like the Superprestige series. Cyclocross in Belgium is the equivalent of hockey in Canada. I have 37 UCI points and a ranking of 104, which got me called to the start line around 35th out of the 45 starters. The course was pretty cool with three huge flyovers and tons of mud. There was so much deep mud that all the riders were forced to run major sections of the course. Of the nine-minute lap, I probably spent four minutes running. Under the 80% rule, I was pulled with three laps to go and finished 28th.

The front page newspaper title the next days was “Sven Nys Swims to Victory.” It was an eye-opening experience and I was most shocked by how many kids were at the race cheering. Watching the live coverage after the race was also a great learning experience because it allowed me to compare my technique and decisions with the best riders in the world. Turns out my decision making needs some work, as I was riding (trying to ride) a few mud sections that only the front guys were riding. One of my mud bog attempts was shown on TV.

The week between the weekend races was spent training with my housemates Rene Birkenfeld, Gabby Day and Shaun Adamson. Rene and I did some great cyclocross skills practice at the nearby lake. After the ride when I was trying to get my bike clean I realized that my equipment is taking some heavy abuse here.

On Saturday I opted to do a local pro race for riders not ranked in the top fifty in the world. The race was in the town of Laarne and turned out to be one of the bigger “B” races. Based on my world rank I was called to the line first but was not able to hold that position for long. The course was in a cornfield and not a North American style course. It was flat and bumpy with a bunch of man-made ditches that were hard to ride. I rode OK and finished 14th out of the 50 or so Elite racers. For just a little local race, it was comparable to a UCI pro race in the US with 500+ spectators.

Craig Richey in Gavere. ©Dan Seaton

Craig Richey climbs one of Gavere's many difficult hills. ©Dan Seaton

Sunday was the Superprestige Gavere. It’s a cyclocross classic and is considered the Paris-Roubaix of cyclocross. The promise of crashes and lack of rain brought out hordes of fans. The technical course was hilly with lots of slippery rutted descents; pre-riding I was able to ride everything and loved it. At the start line I was optimistic that I could have a good ride. Unfortunately it was not my day and I was plagued with problems from early on. A huge pedal slip at the start left me standing with both feet on the ground as the field rode away. I was able to catch up and move up a bit, but ended up in no man’s land, chasing a good group in front of me, with stragglers losing ground behind. On the fourth lap my derailleur hanger broke off and I had to run to the pit zone.

I have two matching Blue Norcross SL bikes that are super nice, but I only have one pair of Dugast Rhino tubular tires, the gold standard for mud tires. So in the pit I had to take my other bike, which had mixed-condition tires. They packed up with mud and the descents were like trying to steer a truck with bald tires down a hill in a snow storm. I had a pretty good crash, glancing off a crash pad into a tree. The crash unhooked my rear brake making the next descent even more sketchy. I finished the lap but all the issues cost me a lot of time and was I pulled, finishing 27th. The crash was apparently the best one of the day because it was replayed in slow-motion on TV a few times.

At a bike shop today someone recognized me from the crash on TV yesterday. Publicity is publicity I guess.

Now I just need to rest up, work on bikes and find some more mud tires. Next up is the Koksijde World Cup on Saturday.