Craig Richey enjoying the BMX Washboard section at Loenhout. © Dan Seaton

Canadian Craig Richey ( p/b Blue) has been in Belgium for “Holy Week” – six UCI races in just over a week. Read on for his words about the experience.

by Craig Richey

There are six UCI races in Belgium between December 26 and January 2. This is commonly known as the “Holy Week” of cyclocross.

Zolder World Cup – December 26

I talked about this in a previous post. Quick recap: Super snowy, riders crashing everywhere. Finished 49.

SuperPrestige Diegem – December 27

Racing through town under the lights. Huge crowds and an amazing atmosphere. I ended up riding with mostly Americans and was happy with how I rode to finish 34, the second North American behind Jonathan Page.

GVA Trofee Azencross – December 29

After a day of laundry, cleaning bikes and resting up I was ready to go after it once again. The Azencross course was really cool and despite all the mud and frozen ruts preriding was fairly fun. With the temperature around zero (Celsius) and three races doing battle on the course earlier in the day, most of the snow had melted and the wet ground had been kneaded into deep mud by the time the elite men hit the course.  About one hundred meters into the race Gerben De Knegt unclipped mid acceleration and caused a huge pile up. Once we turned off the pavement and hit the mud, more chaos ensued as riders crashed into each other, forcing most of the field to run. My start wasn’t great, but I was able to move up to a group of Americans that I seem to usually end up riding with. Strange to travel to a different continent only to race the same guys; that being said I am super happy they are here because it makes my race more dynamic. Highlight of the race was getting to repeatedly ride the BMX style roller section.

Sylvestercross – December 30

Sylvestercross was the most North American style UCI course I have seen in Belgium. It was mostly

Richey's housemate in Belgium, Shaun Adamson, leads Sean Babcock over the washboard. © Dan Seaton

flat, primarily grass and pavement with a small sand section and a little mud. The race was not a series race so most of the big teams only had a couple riders in attendance, and as a result the atmosphere was much more relaxed than a World Cup or SuperPrestige series race. With fewer big team riders, the racer parking lot was less chaotic and we parked our little van between Stybar and Albert. The race was fast and, with the less technical course, the speeds were high. Despite repeatedly spinning my hardest gear (46×11) I wasn’t able to hang with some of the Belgian riders that I was beating at the B races a few weeks earlier and my legs felt like this was the fourth race in five days.

Grand Prix Hotel Threeland – January 1

Officially cyclocross holy week would definitely include GP Sven Nys, a GVA Trofee race on New Years day. However, everyone in the house received start money for the Hotel Threeland race in Luxembourg, so early Saturday morning we packed up the RV and headed to Luxembourg. Jonathan Page told us to bring our 28-tooth cassettes and he wasn’t joking. The course looked more like a mountain bike circuit than a ’cross race. The main climb was massive, with some off-road running in the middle. The descents were long and fast with some high speed muddy off-camber corners. On a mountain bike the descents would have been normal, on a cross bike they were scary. After the preride Davy, Shaun, and Gabby were all complaining about the course and some said the start money wasn’t enough to justify having to ride this course. I came into the RV with a grin on my face and said I loved it. Usually when you love the course and almost everyone else hates it good things happen. I started OK and was riding the flat mud section really well, so I could use the section as a break if I was in a group or a place to close gaps if I was by myself. The descent was sketchy, but I tried to let the bike roll and find the rut of least resistance. Despite some close calls I managed to keep it upright, so I guess it worked. I heard the sweet sound of the bell lap (first time at a UCI race in Europe) and knew I was going to get to finish. I had a battle with another rider on the last lap for a top fifteen place, but he got by me just after the pit and held it to the line so I finished 16.

Fidea Cyclo-cross Tervuren – January 2

After the race in Luxembourg my right hip flexor was a little sore but on the morning of the second it was very sore, to the point that it hurt to walk. I made the call to take a pass on Tervuren and, as I sat on the couch watching everyone trudge though the deep mud, I knew I had made the right call.

For most of these races we were able to use a massive RV. Rolling pro style in the RV made me realize why all the pros have them. With the typical race parking nightmare and the need to preride before the women’s race, virtually all of the elite men arrive at least three hours before the start. Having a warm dry place to sit around and get dressed is amazing with the temperate hovering around freezing. Not to mention the lack of public bathrooms and the large number of fans that hang out in the rider area. Putting on chamois cream in front of a large crowd gets old pretty quick. Thanks again, Rick.

During this week of racing I noticed a fair number of Blue bikes around. With Jonathan Page, Brian Matter, and myself all racing on Blue bikes, little Blue Competition Cycles is one of the most prevalent North American brands in the Euro Cross scene.

The next couple days is relaxing and eating good food in Switzerland with my aunt and her family before gearing up for the Pont-Château World Cup.