This weekend, some of the top racers are heading to the Milan World Cup, while others are either resting for worlds or racing Kasteelcross in Zonnebeke, Belgium. But the top masters races are gathering in Mol, Belgium for the town’s annual hosting of the Masters World Championships. While much more low-key than the main event a week later, the racing is top notch, and more Americans are making the trip each year (See our article by Greg Keller on how to plan a trip). NorCal’s Henry Kramer, who finished second at nats behind Ned Overend this past December, makes an annual trip to Mol and sent in this report below from Belgium as he readies for the big event this Saturday.

My 2009 Belgian Masters Worlds Trip: Jet Lag and Tune-up Races
by Henry Kramer

This is the eighth consecutive trip I have made to this Mecca of cyclocross. Since returning to bike racing in 2001, cyclocross has been my key focus. After my return to racing I competed in the nationals at Baltimore and scored a convincing second place, one of my training partners suggested I go to the worlds in Mol. My wife supported the decisions and I made plans. This might be my ninth trip if not for two broken ribs and a punctured lung suffered during training the week before the first scheduled trip. In those earlier years, there were few Americans and the Belgians welcomed the foreigner.

Belgian amateur racing: Less crowds but still muddy and very hard. by Henry Kramer

Belgian amateur racing: Less crowds but still muddy and very hard. by Henry Kramer

The trip has always included the weekend before for warm-up races. Many of these races have been repeated over the years. Places like Langemark, Veregem, Schriek, Viekevorst, Wilrijk, and this year two new venues at Londerzeel and Kasterlee. That first year, a sixth place at worlds was everything. Since then getting a silver medal and places consistently in the top10, keeps me coming back to dawn the prized tunic. Winning many of these races have kept me encouraged. Last year’s result was set back by a broken leg six weeks before, but it didn’t stop me from winning at Schrieck and placing sixth at worlds.

Last year a large contingent of east coasters showed up and Mark Howland’s black market racing brought a large group, as it has done for many years. One thing all enjoy as much as racing in the worlds race is doing the local races. It gives a real look into the heart and soul of world class cyclocross. The fans, the kids, the young stars looking for contract, the moms , the dads, the officials and the promoters…all of it is so great.

This year trip began with the worst case of jet lag ever. In the past several years, I have got right off the plane and been able to win races, but this time, I didn’t sleep for two days. So the adventure began at two new venues, Londerzeel and Kasterlee.

This past Saturday was a bit of a struggle at Londerzeel, no sleep, up at 4 a.m., driving around in circles looking for the venue –  all the Peets couldn’t super charge this engine. The course raced on flats through horse pastures, with bmx style rollers, bumpy straight aways, lots of wide, slick muddy turns. It was a wide-open start in one of the horse pastures, not super fast like we are use to, but it wears on you always being on the gas, grinding away, not much finesse needed.

I knew it would be a struggle as I started to doze on the way to the race. But I was awoken on entering the lot, as a Belgium yelled out my name. There were lots of hellos and hand shaking. “How are you?” was as far as are language skills take us. The officials asked me if I am going to win this year. One even joked, after the race, that I must be jet lagged, he expected me at the front contesting.

The start went ok, with a mad dash across an open field, digging into the deep grass for traction. Not willing to take any risks, it took two laps to manage the front group, but by that time two great Belgium riders had already taken off. A stumble here and a dab there slowed me off this lead group after serious effort from a back row start. But it was the slip in one corner that put me off and it required too much effort to regain them. Then the jet lag fatigue pulled the needed power out of me as I struggled to earn and protect a sixth place finish. Well, it was a good finish, but I knew I had to get some rest as I was falling asleep on the drive home to Retie.

Kasterlee – what a most awesome par-course, worth the trip here. I have wanted to do it for years. It has lots of twist and turns through the woods, up and down on tacky sandy loom. Add a stretch of bricks…a challenging race to boot.

Starting at the back was a serious handicap, as the Belgium champ rode away from the front line. I had to manage riding through traffic safely to attack the leading group on the second lap and get free. I finally opened up a good gap was able to keep the lone leader in sight until the last circuit.  Last year, the same Belgium champ got up to my wheel and attacked me at the start of the woods. Learning from that race, this time I determinedly stayed glued to his wheel on the short snaking tree-cluttered rises, and realized my advantage. He went hard on a short straight before the faster winding section, but just before we entered a sweeping dip, I jumped around him at full tilt into the drop and shot away, gaining a gap. I was able to nailed it shut on the bricks into the finish. It was an exciting avenging ride and a very, very fun course, and hopefully a good omen for Masters Worlds this weekend.

This Kasterlee venue is in a town with a bike shop that Bart Wellens worked in until he got his first pro contract. At Harry Van de Watters shop, many of Bart’s bikes are for sale.

Thanks for reading, and wish me and the other Americans luck this weekend. Drop us a comment below.