U23 podium rounding the bend. Tom Simpson

U23 podium rounding the bend. © Tom Simpson

by Tom Simpson

First, you have to start off with the map otherwise you’d never feel oriented (especially when I mention course crossing #9 and you’re already in the woods). Here’s the map. Course crossing #02 – and the race is already done. It’s 100 yards after the hole shot turn off the pavement and please tell me there won;t be instant traffic carnage here. This kind of sand requires entry speed, selection of the right – and usually ONLY – line and then a huge dose of luck. With 69 starters in the EMen’s field this will be the start of riders losing momentum, dumping in front of more traffic, everyone thrashing about trying to fight their way through the mess while the leaders – who got through cleanly – are working up to the next bit of fun.

Just past the pits, this is a close-up of the typical sand. It’s not dry fluffy beach sand, more like construction quality sand. There are (in my mind) 6 awful, horrible, terrible sand pits – each one needing approach speed, workable lines and more of that luck-stuff. There is nothing else like Koksjide on the calendar – it’s a truly unique venue. What a huge contrast to the dirt criterium World Cup in Lievin a few weeks ago. “We ain’t got no barricades here – and way don;t need them.” We have old volley ball pits or playgrounds on most US circuits – this is so extravagantly different from all other cyclocross courses.

Just past the “Runnersbrug” beyond CC 06 – this is what is meant by lines, correct/useful and all those that aren’t useful. That deep trench is THE line – move and inch off of it and you’ve left the building.

Those guys at the fence line are trimming the posts – with a chainsaw. That rider in the dark jersey is in the line but caried so little speed that her entry was stopped almost immediately – the mantra is ” Appoach Speed, line, immense torque” (and luck)

The start line consists of a big fenced area and the Finish line is a scant 100 yards from the final turn.

VIP’s at the S/F zone get a second floor option – I’m pretty surethose steps lead up to a deck overlooking the entire home stretch.

Our World Championships have their presence – Bruce Fina introduced the course to the assembled ‘cross community tonight somewhere in VIP-land.

There’s going to be the usual scintillating coverage of the event by Belgian TV, and thank you very much for the cameraman assigned to THIS position.

What do I really think? I think about 25% of each field will finish on the same lap as leaders – in all races. With six of these lollapalooza sand challenge sections per lap – with attendant traffic jams and running – these sections are difficult enough in practice with no one clogging up your line. With thrashing elbows and some doofus dumping in front of you and cutting you off in your attempt to carry speed into the line (when you dump, though, YOU’RE certainly not a doofus) I think referees will start eliminating riders in the third lap.

Friday Notes:

Koksjide was wet and slimy yesterday – today (friday) the sun is out but pretty cold. One enormous disappointment yesterday – on the way home on the N8 I stopped off at West Vleteren and took the super backroad to St. Sixtus Abbey – the religious beer dudes were not open! Today I hope to get lucky.

The dunes were open today – I don’t stand a tinker’s chance of the “Before/After” traditional photo because I’ll never get close to the “After”. Over 30,000 tickets sold already – that means the dunes will be packed to gunwales. Possibly tomorrow with the Kids races I can get back to the original locations.

The beer tents are ready – nice and quiet currently but the stages are ready for lots of singing – and the toilets are ready for the rental of 30,000 liters of beer. Koksjide race course is sort of like a KOA campground – you wander around the course and here are these camper trailers set up for either weekend or full time use. It reminded me of New Zealand and the campground we stayed in a few years back. Plus – this isa working Belgian Air Force base, now specializing in Helicopters althought they have an old Phantom Thud displayed on stands near the road. This is a beach town par excellance – the main esplanade is typically deserted off season but I can just imagine what it’s like in July and August.

They had a children’s day at the races – huge crowd of 500 or so – all decked out in their safety vests – and they had some sort of special ceemony on top of one of the dunes. Probably Whirled Peas or someother Euro-style children’s event. Lots of noise, lots of playing in the sand…

I did see a couple NorCal luminaries – Tobin Ortenblad and Cody Kaiser from the Giant Strawberries.
Last time we were at Worlds US Team got a couple of medals so clearly I’m the good luck talisman. They ought to take good care of their lucky charm.
U23/Junior Races:

Alec and I have been to a variety of Worlds and Saturday has always been the lightly attended of the weekend. We thought the biggest crowds we ever saw were in Zolder but today when they handed out medals to Juniors and U23’s – the place was pleasantly filled. Not packed – I was able to make my way from start zone to CC10 before they arrived and then still move to 2 other locations during both the Juniors and “old” juniors – but they’ve emphasized no tickets will be sold at the gate tomorrow – they have sold out the house! I got stopped on the way in this morning by a couple of guys who didn;t have tickets and wanted mine (let’s see, flight cost, hotel, car rental, eats – how about $2,000 pal?) and they just wanted to pay face value? Ever heard of the World Series, chums? Get real and get lost.

Observations – if you had 30,000 customers , wouldn’t you try and unload some souvenirs on them? T-shirts? Coffee mugs? Key chains? Tschotchekes, right? Nothing and more nothing available. I put Richard Fries on the hunt because he also dares not return home without something for every house resident. I’m going to come back on monday on course tear-down day and see if I can “Help” them clean up by disposing of unwanted course signage – I’m as green as they come.

Today was cold – fog rolled in about 10:00 and it stayed COLD all day long – not even Gluwein helped – but I did try the cactus-flavored Geniver (I also don;t recommend it again). The fog also wet the sand dunes and created some solid lines on the secondary hills. It also helped on the big doubleback dunes (still got your maps? – it’s B6) and best riders were able to stay on the bike way longer than yesterday. There was a perfect line grooved in by lap two of the Juniors on the hills where I sat – CC09 and most riders could keep enough speed on the approach to muscle up it. I’m getting older and Juniors keep looking younger – the silver medalist from Belgium looked like an 8th grader but could he ever float up the sand hills!

The day ended Holland II, Belgium zippo for Gold medals – it was a quiet crowd unless there was a Dutch bobble and all of a sudden the crowds around the Jumbotrons got a little excited! There are at least 10 Jumbotrons situated all over the course – you mean I flew 6,500 miles to spend the weekend watching TV? Ironically true.

Did you guys know that cooking shows are huge on Belgian TV? I never saw Alton Brown and their finished goods didn’t speak to me but I saw, in a one hour stretch – five different shows.

We had two entries today – Tobin Ortenblad in the Juniors and Cody Kaiser in the U-23’s (*ours, of course, means a true son or daughter of Northern California). Two bike racers out of the hundreds of kids their age in the US who are good enough to be selected to race for their bigger country (not under the Bear Flag Republic jersey) under the biggest of all venues – and they saw just how enormous Cyclocross can be. They are total studs and I got shivers everytime I saw them ride past me.

Check out Tom’s Gallery from the past two days: