Monday, 17 October 2016

Thursday, 28 January 2016

More Mud at Hoogerheide WC

Hoogerheide mud is definitely the mudder of all mudder races, it’s so hard physically and technically due to the mud, and yet somehow ….fun?  From what I can remember last year was really wet, having snowed the night before pre-ride, and then melted.  But this year, I think was muddier, with a good amount of rain on and off all week, there were some good soupy sections.  The majority of the course was the exact same, however there had been a lot of construction along the start straight, making the start a long sweeping uphill with a hard right into some gnarly mud and ruts after about 500m. 

3rd row call again, love not having to start all the way at the back anymore J  I had a great start, elbows were definitely out in that first corner, but I managed to come through unscathed and upright.  Past the pits, a couple of fast corners and into a fast descent with a bermed (or maybe rutted) right hand corner at the bottom.  You could definitely catch a lot of speed here, and if you played the rut at the bottom wrong, you could easily end up in the trees.  Popping out of the trees into a long flat grass straight away past the busy VIP tent, I found a great line out of the corner carrying momentum along and moved up most laps along here.
Photo from Marc Deceuninck

Sharp right hand hairpin at the end of the VIP tent and the mud started to get thicker.  A couple more flat corners and with each passing corner the mud would get thicker and thicker.  This was the section that I seemed to struggle the most with this year, not being able to find that balance point on my bike to get enough traction to move forward efficiently in a straight line.  Give me all the greasy corners and off camber, I rocked those, but muddy straight sections were my kryptonite.  Once clear of the worst of the mud, sharp little power uphill back into the trees, short downhill with a 180 at the bottom and up the greasy climb.  This one 9 times out of 10 due to the mud is a runner, for me anyways J.  Up the first pitch, the course turns left out of the trees and into a flattish very muddy section….so you just keep running.  Hairpin corner at the top and you can finally hop back on your bike, hopefully getting clipped in just in time to hit the first of 2 deeply rutted, very muddy and very slick left hand corners.  I proudly rocked the big rut safely and somewhat quickly most laps, having to hop off and run up the small incline the lap I messed the rut up and almost ended up on my face.  The second left hand corner had a lot more options for lines and the main rut had a good “jog” in it half way through the corner making for trying to stay in the rut an interesting exercise.  Up a small slick incline and back through the pits.

Photo by Luc Hermans 
This short section seemed to be the least muddy and you could catch your breath a little going through the fast corners.  Picking up speed, the mud got thicker and deeper as you neared the next hairpin.  This corner in particular is one that you always see on video, for me it really stands out in my memory from watching races, and it’s easily distinguishable with a huge tree and a giant running rut around it.  Flying what feels like break neck speed into the corner, trying to get off in the uneven mud, and trying not to fall flat on your face because you’ve just jumped off your bike while it’s moving faster then your legs can move, makes for some great facial photos at this corner!!  Going into this corner with anyone nearby spiced it up even more, having to look out for bikes and feet flying you way.
Photo from Bart Raeymaekers

Around the corner and running back up the hill with your bike, hairpin at the top and try to get clipped in again before the slightly off camber downhill with the right hand corner at the bottom.  A couple more flat really muddy straights with rutted corners and the course popped out a road climb.  Old course had a fun series of really steep and rutted shoots with steep run ups, but new course took us up past the start and into a really hard off camber soggy sand section.  There were two paths that were about a tire width, and if you got off those you were essentially riding in what felt like wet concrete.  Power through that section, tight right hand corner and a huge 44 set of concrete steps that were built specifically for this race, OUCH!!!!  And at the top, just when you were weak in the knees and out of breathe, there was about a 100m of what again felt like wet concrete to power through.  Making it about ¾ of the way through each lap I found it faster to get off and run at a certain point.  Pop out on the pavement and you have about a 100m to stretch your legs out and get ready to do the lap all over again!!!  I got my new blue Giro Empires so dirty L

Photo from Luc Hermans
I’ve know for a while that I need to work on pacing, but this race yet again has reinforced the fact that I love to go out too hard…..but I do have a good start J I battled with a solid group of 4 or 5 girls for a large chunk of the race, and finished happily with a 24th.

One more week of rest and the last race of the season back at Zolder!!!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Ligniere-en-Berry World Cup

Back in Belgium after a quick stop over in France for the Ligniere-en-Berry CX World Cup, stop number 6 out of 7 on the World Cup circuit.  The course was held at a Hippodrome, also known as a stadium for horse or chariot racing.  Beautiful venue in the French countryside, it was a very flat area.  The course took advantage of every piece of terrain change available in the area, however with a pretty flat venue, there were a lot of long straightaways, some sharp slick off camber corners and more straightaways.  Morning of pre-ride was a chilly -5 and snow, race day ended up being sunny and just above freezing.  The sun and breeze cause the ground to dry up a little and the course was fast!

Moving up slowly, I was the 18th call up and landed myself a third row start for the first time J. Long fast straightaway, and somehow I found a really nice opening on the left side and managed to move up a lot.  Sweeping lefthander into a tight righthander, off camber into a tight right uphill corner bottleneck.  Back on the bike for a quick couple pedal strokes and up the first set of stairs.  Quickly back on the bike, small downhill trying to get clipped back in, and off camber sand section and more running.

From there, back on the bike, up through the pits and into a slow tight section with some good off camber downhill corners, if it had been really muddy this would have been a blast!!!  Short straightaway, some more slow corners, then a long….I mean loooooong, like 200 m long, straight away along the back side of the course, followed by another tight twisty section, then another looooong downhill straight away through the pits.  This was definitely the suicide pit direction, you were going so fast it was nearly impossible to get into; I had tried this side during pre-ride only to get completely run over by one of the juniors…..I have a really good bruise on my rear end to show for it.

Tight nasty weird corner at the end of the pits in mud, which claimed a lot of people, followed by yet more straight aways, tight twisty off camber corners, some running, some barriers, a fly over, some more stairs and some really weird tight corners on sand, then off to the finish straight.  It wasn’t your typical European cross course, definitely not as technical overall, but there were some corners that kept you on your toes for sure.

Came through on the first lap in, WHAT, 11th place!!!  First 3 laps I was in the mix, battling back and forth, but I think I may have worked a little too hard to be in this place because my fourth and fifth lap were painful.  Painful like when you get that empty heavy feeling in your legs, and every pedal stroke is a battle.  Held on for an 18th place and my first top 20 in a World Cup, so I do have to be happy with that!

Letting to body heal and recover and back to Hoogerheide (my first European CX race last year) for a much anticipated mud fest J    

Friday, 8 January 2016

And BPost and Soudal Classic Races too!

And that’s a wrap for my first Kerstperiod (Christmas Cross) series in Europe.  It’s been on the radar for a while, always getting up early to watch the races in Europe, and this was the year to make it happen.  I opted out of two of the six races during that nine day period because I knew doing a stage race at this point in the season would totally destroy me…but watching those races from the sidelines was really difficult J. We finished off the week with a Friday race in Baal and a Sunday race in Leuven.

The race in Baal is Sven Nys’ (literally the king of cyclocross for those who don’t know) race in his hometown.  Being Sven’s last year of professional racing I knew this was one even that I really wanted to attend and the crowds were nuts.  This is typically a mudder race with a lot of elevation, and this year did not disappoint, even though it has been unusually warm and sunny this winter.  I had an amazing start, sitting fourth or fifth wheel going into the first corner.  Over 2 large barrier logs, up and over the fly over and into the first time climbing up through the pits I was sitting comfortable but pushing hard.  Sharp left drop into a full on squirrely mud pit descent with wheel eating ruts.  These are definitely features that we doing get to practice in North America and European racers are far superior at this. 

Skiing your way down the mud, there is a sharp hairpin and then straight back up.  Only a handful of people, including the men could ride this, so there was a lot of running.  Back on the bike and surfing down another slick, rutted out straight away, deep rutted corner at the bottom, through some sloppy mud and grind back up the hill.  This one was a little more rideable, but definitely had to hump the bike up over the top.  A couple more muddy corners, running in deep mud, then hitting a pavement climb back up to the pits.  The second time through the pits is the ideal place to pit, it’s slower and at the end of the pit you have to get off your bike anyways to go up a giant set of like 20 stairs….OUCH!!!! The second half of the course was a lot drier and faster then the first half, bombing downhills and hammering climbs, a couple good rutted corners and back to the start/finish straight.

Sharpen those mud skills for Baal
I had a great battle back and forth with a couple girls, going into the last lap I found myself gaining fast on the girl in 9th place.  Dropping into the first real muddy second on the lap for the last time I was just about to make contact with 9th place and decided to make my move……only to end up on my butt in the mud, much to the crowds delight J.  I didn’t catch her again, and had to ride my sideways saddle all the way back to the pits, but I did catch my first top ten in a Belgian cyclocross race….yippee!!!

Rest day Saturday was much welcomed, the mud and running from the Baal course left me with a lot of mystery cuts and bruises and very sore all over!  Leuven on Sunday was a completely different type of course.  Pretty much a slick road race with four of five gnarly little a lap, a lot of rough bumpy ground, and a short really muddy section with 3 steep uphills and 3 steep downhills in fast succession. 

A second row call up allowed me a great start again, scrambling around the first two hairpin corners and over this weird double stair feature (two wide steps up and 2 wide steps down), over the fly over and through the first two ditches.  The ditches really spread the field out as there was really only one good line.  The first time through the bumpy pits was pretty near the position that I would end up in.  There was a huge bottleneck at the short technical section and everyone was off their bikes running up.  Once we passed the pits for the second time and hit the flat section I worked really hard to catch the wheel in front of me to be able to sit in a little and draft.  I quickly realized I probably couldn’t have picked a better wheel, Christine Majerus, a road racer from Luxomburg, was driving hard and we quickly opened up a gap to the group behind.  I was able to stay with her for the first 3 laps, doing work when I could, but once we caught Sabrina Sultjens, the pace picked up and I had a harder time closing the small gaps that would open, finally loosing contact.  I finished the last 3 laps in no mans land,  just over a minute down from the girl in front and a minute ahead of the girl behind me……grabbing the 9th place on the day!!  Baby steps!!
Road tactics in Leuven

2 day drive through France to get to Girona, Spain, and I’m putting in some fun miles on some amazing roads in the sun, recharging my batteries and getting ready for the last push of the season. 
Jan 17 – World Cup in Lignieres-en-Berry, France
Jan 24 – World Cup in Hoogerheide, Netherlands
Jan 30 – World Championships in Zolder, Belgium

It's so cool getting to know the locals once you do a couple of races in Belgium :)

Also, the pastries in Girona are amazing and totally worth the drive!!!