Craig Richey in Koksijde. ©Dan Seaton

Craig Richey tackles the sand in Kokisjde. ©Dan Seaton

by Craig Richey

Canadian ’crosser Craig Richey is spending this winter in Belgium, working on taking his racing to a new level. His series of race diaries continues with last week’s World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium. If you missed it, go back and read his report from the Gavere and Hamme-Zogge races.

Last Saturday I raced my first Cyclocross World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium. Before seeing the course I talked to a couple other racers about what the course was like and they all said one thing: “sand”. I thought that I was pretty decent in the sand and had some practice racing in it with the new Rad Racing GP course and a few other races this season. I was not well prepared.

On the Wednesday before the race I went to Koksijde with Rene Birkenfeld to do some training on the new course, which will be used for the 2010 World Cup and 2012 World Championship. Before hitting the course we warmed up on the roads around town and along the beach. Rene swerved onto the beach and tried to ride an impossibly deep sand section, I thought he was just joking around but it was actually a good representation of the sand on the course. We were the first riders on the course and my first impression was that the course was retarded. Virtually all sand section where unrideable and I was dismounting 10+ times a lap; I was starting to regret signing up for the race. We broke down sections of the course and tried different lines. With some other riders now on course lines were forming and some sections were now consistently rideable. By the end I only needed to dismount five times a lap and I left the course pretty optimistic.

Friday it poured and Friday night it snowed.

On race day the course was a different animal. Some sections were ridden-in nicely, but others had huge ruts, and most of the fast dry grass sections were now a slog though deep mud.

Growing up in Northern BC, I can handle the cold and I have fun getting dirty so I was feeling good going to the starting line. Of the sixty rider field I was called up around fiftieth. The start went down the paved start/finish straight though a muddy corner and then up a steep sandy climb that nobody was able to ride. Everyone knew traffic was going to stack up bad at the climb so the start was a mad dash. I started reasonably well and made it through the bottleneck ok, but lost ground for the rest of the first lap as I struggled with trying to ride the sand amongst a huge amount of traffic.

After the first lap things became less chaotic and I started to ride better and pick up riders. Going into the race I wanted to finish in the top fifty for some solid UCI points and prize money. I also had the goal of finishing on the lead lap, but each time through the start finish I could see that I was losing just over a minute a lap: finishing on the lead lap was not going to happen. At the start of lap five my bike was starting to run pretty rough as the sand and mud had effectively tarred and feathered my steed. However the pitting lane was slower so pitting cost about five seconds. Up to this point in the race I hadn’t been pitting and had been using it as a way to pass some of the riders, since passing elsewhere on the course was hard. I figured there was a good chance we would be pulled at the end of lap five so opted not to pit in order to try and move up among the five other riders I was battling with. After 45min of racing, at the end of lap five, I was pulled, finishing 46th.

All Cyclocross World Cups have chip timing with a detailed breakdown of each riders lap times. This is really useful for post race analysis. Looking at the lap times, my first lap was the slowest by over 15seconds than the rest of my laps and I lost a lot of time and places in the first lap. All subsequent lap times were more consistent and I was moving up every lap.

Overall my first cyclocross World Cup experience was a good one. The fans were crazy and I had a huge cheering section of guys at one of the sand pits that were cheering “Le Moustache”. I think I represented the Movember stash well. I have no idea how Neils Albert was going over a minute faster a lap, I guess just better technique and way more watts.