First of all Happy New Year! I hope you all brought in the new year in style, instead of a big bowl of pasta and an early night like me. We were in Belgium you see, we being the Hope Factory Racing Womens Cyclo-cross Team, or also known as Adela Carter and myself. We also had our pit crew, team chef, driver & souigner with us, all otherwise known as Lucy, who also put together flawless logistics for the whole trip (Thank you!) . So 3 races, in 5 days, Bredene, Diegem & Baal….. Here are a few things we learnt.
- No race in the UK could prepare you for the carnage of Belgium. Sections of the courses that would be deemed too dangerous or too flooded in the UK were instead surrounded by beer tents and made a spectacle of. During the Sven Nys GP I’m sure it was luck that I kept rubber side down as rarely did I feel in control of the bike as it sailed down streams of liquid mud, but I was definitely in more control with disc brakes than others around me. After experiencing this race I feel like I now have an insight into what it would feel like to be in the trenches in a warzone, sounds extreme but the mud was really that bad.
- Finding where to sign on for the race is a mission in itself! We found ourselves on numerous wild goose chases due to some definite language barriers, but signing on venues were eventually found in a back room of a bar, a castle-like
building and a porta-cabin (
such obvious locations). Locating the sign on was only half the battle, the next test was making your way from parking (which was miles away because we were women and campervan-less) to sign on or indeed the startline without being clothe lined by a brolly, running over a small child or just getting generally wiped out by the large crowds. I’d love to know the stats on rider-spectator collisions as it must be high, people are everywhere and usually falling about drunk.
- If you want people to stare in Belgium take a Cyclo-cross bike with disk brakes to the pits with a female pit crew! It caused no end of fascination!
- The start of a Junior boys race is carnage from the back row (yes, we did race against junior boys), but there is not as much devastation as starting the race from the back of an Elite Women’s field. At Diegem Superprestige I have never seen so many bodies on the ground in the space of 300m. At one point I dropped down off a bridge to just see bikes piled in the middle of the course but no bodies, and I’m still not sure where those bodies went!
- You can never have too much kit when racing cross in Belgium, and in hind-sight I didn’t have anywhere near enough. Two pairs of shoes and ample pairs of socks is a must to avoid starting every race with the beginnings of trench foot like I did. Multiple layers are needed to try reduce teeth chattering on the startline and zippy-off leg warmers were a life saver! Basically everything you take to the race will get mud on it, even if you didn’t wear it, it will still some how get mud on it.
The trip was eye-opening but definitely enjoyable. Despite not being happy with my personal performances I took a lot of experience away from the trip and it was great to witness some quality rides for the UK from domestic based riders like Adela and the legendary Louise Robinson alongside the established euro pro Brits. I think in GP Sven Nys British women took home 2nd, 4th, 5th, 11th & 13th! And with results like that what a race we are in for at the National CX Champs in Bradford on 13th January and I look forward to being a part of it! Well done to all the other fellow Brits who were out racing over the New Year period especially Jake Womersley & Abby-Mae Parkinson both showing themselves to be GB’s cross stars of the future, I’d put money on it!!
Right I better set about sorting out the post race aftermath in the back of my car. I hope the washing machine is ready for a hammering as I have a bag of horror waiting to be cleaned!
Thanks for reading and thank you to Bart Hazen for the Photos (@Bartoli84)