by Helen Wyman
The last two weeks have been pretty much as you would expect for the end of pre-season. There are lots of “don’t forget to” lists dotted around the place before we leave for Belgium and separate piles for America/Belgium/England so we don’t mix them up! But so far it’s working out.
I left my home in France for Belgium last week. It’s definitely a weird feeling. After last season’s shenanigans and having not moved into our house until December, this season is the first time in my career where I’ve actually left my home to go to Belgium, other than the very first season I went there way back when. Nearly my entire career has seen me living in Belgium all year. I’m absolutely going to miss my massive bed, shower, the incredible training and sunshine in France, but at the same time I’m excited to spend a winter in Belgium again.
Take Me Home, (Cobbled) Belgian Roads
There really is no place in the world like Belgium. It has broken more bike riders than it’s made, but it’s truly unique and all those things that cruelly crack racers are all those things that make it so very special.
We’ve rented the servants quarters of a big house; it’s small but perfectly formed (It might be a Granny Flat, but who knows). Living directly on the route of the Tour of Flanders, it would be safe to say there are plenty of cobbles. I spend my life trying to avoid them and generally fail. So day one at the new house while out for an easy spin, boom, two sections of cobbles.
Pat on the back Helen, epic fail. Maybe I should try to find them instead!
Kasseien – cobbles
Belgium has a particularly strong-willed bunch of mosquitoes that not only leave the biggest bite marks but also wake you up with their noisy buzzing just so you know they have left their mark! Day two in Belg and the mosquitoes were back. One summer they made me crack so bad I went to the DIY store (yep that’s where you buy anything that kills insects) and bought six plugs, one for every socket in our bedroom. Fortunately I still had quite a few spares for this return trip.
Muggen – mosquitoes
Day three in Belgium and it slashed it down. You might not be aware but “slashing it down” is a technical term only appropriate in tropical storms … or in Belgium. It can go from full skin-burning sun to a jet wash from the sky in seconds. This water from above is fantastic for making ’cross courses muddy but not so fantastic for training.
I know, skin is waterproof, blah blah blah, but morale isn’t waterproof. Six months of this stuff can crack the hardest characters.
Amira Mellor said last year “Well at least if it’s raining it means it’s warm.” Never ever be fooled people!
In Belgium it can rain below zero degrees, somehow defying the laws of science. It’s truly wet. Like bone-soaking wet, instantly-drenched wet, sap-your-morale wet rain. Every single bike rider who has ever been out in the Belgian rain between December and March has had to get in the shower fully clothed because they can’t feel their hands to get undressed and fear hyperthermia if they wait. Just ask them!
Regen – Rain
Time to Race in Eeklo
Having got all the stereotypes of Belgium out of the way in the first three days, it was onto the race. It was amazing to be back in the environment of cyclocross racing here. The people love it so much, crowds are huge and the interest in women’s racing grows by the week. So many people come up and say hi, pass on well wishes or take photos, want post cards and all those things that make you feel famous again. It’s a far cry from my home village, complete with its 160 residents.
I’ve tried to learn Dutch/Flemish over the years because even though I’m English and everyone can speak English—a common English person’s notion—I feel I should learn to integrate as best I can. Living in France, my Flemish has got more than a little rusty, but I still try. However, sometimes as soon as a Belgian hears you speak a little Flemish, they go straight into full local dialect that many of their fellow country folk can’t even understand.
It’s brilliant to be able to speak back to people when they ask questions; however I sometimes get myself in trouble. I once told our next-door neighbor we were prostitutes when I was trying to say we rented the house. Similar word, different pronunciations, very different meanings that led to an awkward five years with them having suspicions about us!
The first race at Brico Cross Eeklo is done and dusted, or “behind my back” as the Belgies would say. I got squeezed on corner three or four while trying to move up and found myself on the floor, last by a couple of minutes, so it was just a training ride.
A sports psychologist always told me to assess a situation and say “What’s the best thing I can do right now?” The best thing at Eeklo was to change my broken bike and get a 40-minute training session in. It would have been nice to compare the early season form against my competitors, but alas, it was not meant to be. I tested my equipment more than my form by throwing it on the floor and turning the chain into an unsolvable Rubix cube. it survived so we are good to go! Onwards and upwards.
Achter de Rug – It’s Finished
Cyclocross now moves to America, home of plastic cheese, heckles, equality and some of the best cyclocross courses on the planet.
Helen Wyman will be posting a column every other week during the cyclocross season. If you have missed any, check out the Wyman Wednesday archives.