27 October 2007

Mud in your eyes.

With winter coming on strong in the northern hemisphere, all the road races are almost over, and the ground underneath is getting wet and soft. This can only mean one thing, mud and more importantly the Cyclocross season has begun. A sport we don’t see at all, or very infrequently in the southern hemisphere. This, I am not sure why, but the theory is that we have such nice weather all year, you never have to stop riding on the road. You can race it all year, in fact most of NZ has it’s road season through winter anyway, go figure. With the bike scene the way it is, the odd company has brought a few Cross bikes out to sell, but they have never really worked. A few multisport racers, have wised up to the fact that they are way faster then a MTB on unsealed roads, but we still have not seen that many of them at events. I certainly have tried over the years to create a bit of interest in the sport, but it never really worked. There was some rumours of a small Wellington scene years ago, but again, less than ten riders turned up for the races, so it died, as you would expect.

Waiting in the pits are the mechanics and parents, with bikes ready, time to find a spot.

So with the Cross season starting up, I was starting to get a bit excited about having a look at a few races. And of course, time to check out some of the bikes. And having some mud on the bikes and around my feet, would cleanse my soul after another season on the road. Our team actually has a few of the girls that race the Cross season, but I will be gone by then, as they happen a little bit later in the year. So in the meantime, I have the boss’s son, Danny racing a few events before I leave, and I get to hang around and see the big boys race later on in the day as well.
Over the pedestrian tunnel, unfortunately no crashes here today, shame.

The race was at a small town in Belgium, and we were racing first up, so the carpark was pretty empty when we arrived. The class is for 15-16 yrs old, and it’s called Newelings, very self explanatory. There are plenty of races around for the smaller kids, down to about 8 yrs old, but this was more for the big boys. The same course is used for the juniors, right up to the professionals. The track looked pretty sweet, not what I was expecting, but as usual, I had no idea what to expect. Think of it as a big field, with a huge big-top tent in the center, this was the bar, and it was full at ten in the morning, the course snaled it’s way around the bar. Everyone had beer in their hands, as I was expecting, they had to get a head start on the beer, as the big race was at 5pm. There was a start/finish straight on the tarmac, into a winding paddock, over a bridge (pedestrian tunnel), through the pits, over a hill with off camber track (some rode, some ran), back over the hill again, through a sand pit (about 100m, 200mm thick, some ran, some rode). Then over a big set of stairs, down into a drop-off over a river, back over the river, some whoop-de-doo’s (it’s the noise you make when you ride over them), another set of stairs, some more paddocks and then through the start/finish again. It was mean, with no recovery at all, it was great to see them suffering, and you can see them many times each lap, suffering as well.

I love this little guys dedication in autograph hunting. That's my kind of cycling fan.

There was a couple of these structures, must feel nice on the legs after a few laps.

I was mechanic for the first race, and I had two bikes already prepared. Like the road, the kids are on restricted gears, and the chainrings looked very small (42-14 is the biggest). Some very nice, hand made tubulars, pumped up to a massive 25 psi, and the bike was ready to roll. There is a pit area that allows the riders to pass twice each lap, just in case they need a bike change. It’s a bit of a shit fight to get a good spot on the first few laps, but after a while it gets fairly spread out, so it gets a little bit easier to find your rider. It was an easy day for the mechanics, the weather was perfect, the mud stayed away, and the bikes worked, excellent. There were a few bike changes in my race, normally they were at the back of the bunch, with the kid trying to find an excuse for getting dropped, nice, blame the bike.

Some of the Belgium crowd, warming up for the afternoons big race. Most of them had a beer in hand.

The Newelings race for 40 mins, and the pro’s race for an hour, so it’s all over pretty quickly. But there are enough races through the day, to keep the drunk Belgium fans happy. Later on in the afternoon, the course was getting full, with up to ten people deep, around most of the course, it was starting to get messy out there. I stayed for a while, but it was time to start heading home, it was long day, my rider was fourth, not bad since he was one of the smaller guys in his class. With the first race of the season over, it can only get better. Tomorrow I have another race to work at, this should be fun, as it is all the small kids, rall the way up to the Neweling class. I can’t wait to see the midgets getting stuck in the mud, I am praying for rain tonight.

This guy didn't stop for at least an hour, talk about dedication. Watch out, in a few years he will be unbeatable. No crashes either, damn it.

You can find a few more pics here.

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