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!!!


John Plant said...

Great riding. Great writing. I enjoy your updates. Thank you.

Dee O'Brien said...

Love following your adventures Mical. The chorus of this old song might be your theme! "Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!......" Best and original version by Flanders and Swann Best of luck in those races ahead.