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!!!
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