Wednesday, 30 December 2015

World Cups and Superprestige Adventures

Awesome roads everywhere in Belgium
CX World Cup round number 5 of the season in Zolder, Belgium was a full preview of the World Championships course at the end of January….and I have to say that I’m really excited.  The course is has a great mix of everything, some fast straight aways, tight corners, sand, off cambers, roots, steep drops, and some really cool history.  Circuit Zolder is an old F1 racetrack used in the 70s and 80s.

Christmas day was a cold, wet pre-ride of the course.  Wet, sandy muddy conditions made the drivetrain unhappy within a single lap.  There is an interesting combination of sand and clay, enough sand to keep things together and enough clay to make it slick and keep you on your toes.  Though Belgium has been having an unusually warm dry December and Boxing Day (race day) proved to be warm and sunny, drying the course out throughout the day and making it a very fast track.

Moving up to a fourth row call up, I had a solid start, but I still have to learn to be a little more aggressive fighting for spots with these European racers.  Long straight away on the track, and the field bottlenecked in the first hairpin corner after about 200 m.  Second hairpin corner and through the pits, everyone is jockeying back and forth trying to move ahead.  Through a treed section, I hopped off my bike to run a backed up corner and found myself being checked left into USA’s Ellen Noble by a Rabobank rider, things were getting rough!

Through the pits and accelerate hard into a tight, slick uphill hairpin corner.  Two lines here, if you can rail the corner hard enough and take the high line it’s faster and smoother, but really hard to get to; most times I got shot to the bottom and had to ride the mud to the off camber corner up to the pavement. 

First lap I’m sitting in pretty good company and feeling somewhat comfortably uncomfortable.  The long sandy clayey shoot is relatively dry and fast, with a couple good ruts.  Hitting the bottom you have about 100m to regroup then straight up a cliff.  If you’ve watched the past races this is a super steep cliff with steps cut into the side…..this year they decided to move the track over a little and there are no steps cut in, so it’s a free for all.  Literally scrambling up, using my hands to grab whatever I can while the front wheel if hitting the ground and the seat hitting me in the head, throwing me totally off balance the whole way up.  At the top there is another small run then a short flat section to smack the sand out of your pedals, clip in and hump it up the long steep climb….if you can ride you will definitely pass anyone running. 

Photo from William Beerland - going into the steeeeep run up
Loose off camber corner, couple steep little drops and a huge flyover back down onto the track to the finish line.  Lap 2, I managed to move into the top 20, lap 3 I was apparently in 17th position……then just before the long steep shoot I hear the dreaded “psst psst psst psst” of my tire letting out all the air L (turns out to be a half inch cut in the side wall, nothing would have saved that). I definitely let out an audible choice word and limp my way to the pits.  The steep downhills and flyover are so sketchy trying to ride with a front flat and I almost end up on my face 2 or 3 times so I decided running the drops was my best option….gaaaaah!!!!  Loosing about 1 minute in lap 3 and at least 20 secs in lap 4 to just get to the pits, I move back in the high 30s/ low 40s…..and I had my work cut out for me!  Trying to stay calm but make as much time as I can, I slowly pick off a rider here and there and move up to finish in 33 place.  Definitely not how I wanted the day to end, but I am really happy with how my body was feeling.  Loved the IRC tubeless Mud Seracs on my NoTubes rims at 23 psi on this track and was able to rail the technical sections with ease!

Quick recovery and straight into my first Superprestige the next day one of the oldest courses on the circuit, Diegem…aka Cross Vegas of Europe.  This is an interesting course, using some tight cobbled roads, through some back yards and a lot of features around a soccer pitch.  I made the full rookie mistake of putting Mad Alchemy Embro on my legs (yummy) and then my chamois cream on……ouch! 

Men's Race - that's Sven Nys!!
Second row call up here, yippee!!!!  I’m so close to those fast girls on the front J.  I have a good start up the long road climb (though definitely not as good as fellow Canadian Anna Schappert who came from behind to a top 10 before we hit the grass!!!), through the first couple of corners and into the slick off camber that jams everyone up and I find myself in the top 20.  Around the soccer field and past the pits we start to climb, first up and over a fly over, around a corner and through an alleyway, then hitting the cobbles we turn left and climb up a long climb (the TV definitely makes this look flat). 

Short recovery at the top with some fun singletracky corners and let the legs recover enough to hit the thick heavy sand pit.  There is sort of a beat in track in the middle of the pit, the farther you go the less of a track it is, and if you get off of it you sink another inch and stop dead.  This effort really cooks the legs and if you have to dismount and run, good luck getting clipped back in!!  So much sand was jammed into my shoes and pedals when I had to run that once I got in, I also had troubles getting out in time for the barriers….that made it interesting a couple times J

Yaaay for Arcteryx waterproof gear
Fast downhill on cobbles with some good curbs to hop, and into the last couple greasy corners.  I had a really good battle with the girls for 13th place, but plugged my front wheel in one of the final hairpin corners and she got away.  I was able to make up some distance in the final mud put run into the stairs, but I didn’t have the gas to close it on the final straight and finished in 14th.  Pretty cool race with an unbelievable number of people watching!  It’s been said before, but cyclocross is like the hockey of Canada, everyone pays good money to get in and watch, they buy all the supporters gear, and make an evening out of it drinking beer and eating meat on a stick, then they hit the disco tent and things get crazy!  Washing my bike in the pits after the race was an adventure and I didn’t escape the crowd in my little skinsuit without getting groped and kissed by some Belgians… time I’ll leave my bike for Regan J

Couple recovery days, though when I went to watch AzenCross in Loenhout I really wished I had raced!!  Getting ready for the Sven Nys BPost in Baal on Friday (New Years Day) and the Soudal Classic on Leuven on Sunday.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!!!!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Namur WC - Storming the Citadel

The Namur Citadel is a pretty amazing place to host a World Cup cyclocross race, I had to do a little research after the race to find out a little more information on it.  The original structure was dated back to the year 937 and the current citadel that we see now was finished in the 1600s, though apparently Napoleon had some of the walls dismantled in the 19th century, and is one of the most fortified structures in all of Europe.  I could only imagine the tunnels and hidden rooms in a building like this.

The course has a lot of steep climbing and a lot of steep shoots, some gnarly off camber rutted out sections and usually tonnes of mud.  After pre-riding on Thursday for the first time it had just rained the day before and there was a lot of slick deep mud……I love it!!!!  We’ve had a very uncharacteristically warm, dry and sunny Belgian December (which is apparently the general forecast right to the end of January), so the course tacked up a lot making it really fast.

4th row call up, 37 out of 70, was the best call up I’ve had a world cup, but with the big climb right off the start, we bottlenecked really fast.  At the very top of the first climb it kicks up and there is a covered wood plank on the transition to the road…..after watching videos of previous races I knew this was a problem spot, and sure enough, someone on the right side of the track ended up running into the post at the top and took the whole rest of the group down….all it takes it one.  Not a huge deal, my goal for this race was to not go out too hard, pace myself because all the climbing and running really catches up to you fast.

At the top of the first climb, you have about 50 feet to catch your breath before you dive back down a rough paved section, then hairpin transition onto the track to power back up to the top.  Another small bottle neck here and we were off and running back up to the top.  From the top of this there is some fast, rooty and technical descents, I managed to straight line over the roots and make up two spots here and grab a good wheel headed into the only flat sections through the pits.

Exiting the pits there is a huge drop in which was getting progressively rougher due to braking bumps, shooting you out on a slick mud road to climb up to the short steep run up with a 6 foot transition at the top to remount and drop back down the cliff.  At the top of this climb I was so out of breathe every lap it I felt a little cross eyed dropping back in, half the time not even clipped in to my pedals yet.  From here we hit the muddy sloggy straight away to a hairpin corner and into the infamous off camber straight away.  It’s funny, if there were no ruts on this it would be totally fine to ride, but with years of racing cutting ruts into this hill, and the ruts being really slick mud, this section is deceptively treacherous.  I had this dialed the first 3 laps, but really struggled the last 2, making some back decision and I really should have run, but racer brain had me slowly struggling with the tripod….though at least I didn’t crash J

Remount for a quick descent, and off the bike for another steep run up.  This section always felt really good until I remounted again for another short downhill, followed by a little power corner climb and slick slog into the bottom of the longest steep run up of the course.  I fumbled this corner and slog pretty bad in the last lap and got passed by two more girls here L.  This last run up was one of the toughest (though Sven did ride it 2 times during the race) and I found that it was all I could do to drag my ass up there the last 2 laps.  Having watched lots of video of this course, I knew it was actually okay to walk this section, a fast walk J.  Back on the bike at the top, short transition and one last big drop and one big rideable (YAAAAY) climb back to the top, through the pits, through the finish and back up the first big climb.

I thought I had done a great job of pacing myself, I felt great coming through the first lap in 20th position.  Second lap felt great, not pushing too hard on the climbs, there was enough elevation in the course to force you to go hard, but by the fourth lap I was really starting to suck wind and make some silly mistakes.  My last two laps were slow, and I lost a lot of spots in the last lap.  But I’m really happy with how I raced and I know I left everything out on the course.  My goal for the race was a top 20, so I’m definitely disappointed with a 31 finish, but what a race to start off my Europe Cross adventure!!!

What’s next??
December 26 – Zolder World Cup
December 27 – Diegem Superprestige
January 1 – Baal – the Sven Nys race
January 3 – Leuven Soudal Classic
January 17 – Ligniere World Cup
January 24 – Hoogerheide World Cup
January 30 – World Championships, Zolder
February 1 – Fly to Canada J