I first met with Mark McConnell at the Canadian National Championships in Winnipeg. He was currently getting set for his travels to Belgium, where he was going to live in Mechelen, using it as a springboard to participate in the big races such as Milton Keynes and Namur. He told us the latter course was “incomparable to any beast I’ve ever raced, long and punchy climbs with intimidating mudslide descents atop a castle mountainside.”
His nickname in the cyclocross community is Hot Sauce, a well-earned name considering that he sells his distinctive Hot Sauce Cycling BioRacer cycling caps in order to fund his travels abroad. He recently reached out to us to share his story, and the following is McConnell’s own words.
The process is always the same on race day: pack the coupe full of bikes, wheels, all the clothing, tea & sandwiches for afterwards. Depart in search of our daily challenges—often only an hours drive from our temporary home—we look for the sign ‘renners’ (riders) in the hosting town to guide our way. The ’cross campaign lead us to Sint-Niklaas and upon approaching the parcours we discovered that sign-on was held at a neighboring pub near the race: De Smet.
Numbers, a parking pass and wristbands for the mechanics & soigneur (my lovely wife, Aimee) are distributed, the beer is skipped and saved for later, however sparingly.
We entered renner parking, where fans flock before the battle to watch the riders warm up, take photos and ask for souvenirs. If you don’t have any ‘hero cards’ the diehards will make their own and request your autograph for their prized collection.
I ride onto the parcours to complete my three laps like every good ’crosser should: 1 to preview, 1 to dial pressures and 1 at race pace. I get my first taste of encouragements or the occasional criticism from people I have never met or spoken to. They whisper or shout and occasionally heckle me lightheartedly during the warmups but especially during the races.
Two hours and several beers consumed later has nothing to do with it, I’m sure.
At the starting grid, I was called up fourth row thanks to my respectable handful of UCI points, but largely overshadowed by the first row’s thousands. We’re off and I’m riding with a clean set of wheels, safely transferring myself one slot at a time forward and backward in the eye of a hurricane.
As the laps tick by, the riders once next to me have disappeared, most ahead and a seldom few behind. I found myself entering my time trial for survival. Hope lives here, that with every race against the giants I pedal one lap closer to finishing on the leader’s ronde, let alone on their expeditious heels. Creeping continuously closer, I know this experience has already proved invaluable and I look forward to the day when I’ll be recognized for my riding as much as the follicles currently cultivated on my face. But we can’t all be Sven Nys, so for now, I’ll take delight in my placing and progression, but vow to never accept complacency. Onward, we push — into the mud of the Kerstperiode.