Cyclo-Cross for me is almost the perfect cycle sport, except the fact they race it here in the middle of winter. The bikes are essentially a road bike, with a few mountainbike modifications, stronger frames, fat tyres, canti brakes, smaller chainrings and mountainbike pedals. The bikes are pretty sweet, and they are all quite different designs between manufacturers, and some trick custom parts. The races are very short in comparison to the road racing, 45 mins for the Women, and one hour for the elite men. There is a pit area, which the riders pass through twice every lap, and the laps are generally about 5-7 mins long, so we see the riders quite a few times every race. Each rider has three bikes, one they race and swap out when they crash or get when they are covered in mud and crap. This we then quickly wash and check over, (if needed), either fixing or just having it ready for the next half a lap. The third is a spare spare bike, just in case things are really bad. And always a couple of extra sets of wheels, for the inevitable punctures. The tyres are all hand made tubulars, 32-34mm wide, and are run at real low pressures 25-28 psi (1.7-2 bar). Each course has a combination of mud, grass, road, running sections, and some steep bits, so you can choose whether you ride or run them.
Welcome to the Netherlands
I helped to organise the bikes before the race, one bike the riders had to train on the course a few days leading up to the event, the others we would bring on the day (so the national federation mechanics couldn’t mess too much with them). Saturday saw the juniors racing early in the morning, it gave us a chance to walk the course and have a look at some of the more technical bits. The wind was up, and the temperature was a fresh -2’C, but it felt about -10 out in the pit area, at least the sun was up, and it fooled your body that it was warmer. I had most of my warm clothes on, and I was still freezing, as long as we kept moving it was no problem. The juniors raced, then a couple of hours later the U23 started, I got to hang in the pits, it’s where most of the mechanics were, so I felt at home. Jean-Paul’s son was racing next, he was Junior World Champ a couple of years ago, so was a hot favourite for the race. They had 50 mins racing to do, and all I could think of was to stay warm, and soon we would be out of the cold wind. The boys started with a hiss and a roar, and soon there was a good lead by one of the Dutch riders. Unfortunately it was not JP’s son, he was struggling a bit with his breathing (he crashed a few days earlier and hurt his ribs a bit). We stayed on duty till the race was done, at least it was a Dutch guy that won, the crowd was going wild as he was a local kid. Then straight into the van and on with the heater, I was going to have to dress up tomorrow for the elite races, I could not handle another day like this, frostbite of my entire body was high on my mind.
Katie Compton giving everything on the first few laps
Sunday was a beautiful day, at least the sun was up anyway, this time I was prepared for the cold. Three layers of merino wool, then my jeans, three pairs socks and some warm boots. Five layers on my torso, finished with a nice warm jacket and to top it off, three warm woollen hats. Now I felt like the Michelin man, but at least I was almost comfortable in the wind. The sun was no longer around, and it looked like rain in the distance, but it was far too cold to rain, it was probably just going to be huge chunks of ice, falling from the sky instead. At least my three hats would protect my head from getting cracked. The course was starting to fill up with fans, mostly Belgium’s as the border was less than 10km away, there was beer and cross racing, the perfect day out for them. The crowd was expected to be about 50,000 strong, so it was going to be very loud later on for the Men’s elite race. At least they were there early for the Women, it gave a sense of equality in cycling for a change.
50m before the finish, on the big screen
Mirjam and Saskia were warming up (if that was possible, but worth a try I suppose), when we arrived with the bikes. After a bit, we headed to the pits with the spare bikes and wheels and waited for the first pass of the bunch. Right from the starting gun USA rider Katie Compton (US champ) put the hammer down, Hunka Kufanagel (GER) and Marianne Vos (NED) put up an instant chase. Mirjam was a few seconds behind, driving the second chase bunch. Thing pretty much stayed the same for a while, with Katie giving everything on the front, the two behind were still chasing hard, with Vos sitting on the wheel of Hunka as usual. Mirjam had broken out of the larger chase bunch, and was about 10 seconds from the two. I thought she may have bridged across, but just as the two in front of her caught up to Katie, they seemed to work even faster together, making the gap back to Mirjam a little larger. Mirjam dropped back into the pursuivants group, and the three in front just seemed to stay just out of reach. Nothing changed for the rest of the race, oh and Saskia crashed out on the first corner of the first lap. I was looking after her spares for her, so my job was made redundant, just as soon as it started, as she didn’t even make it into the pits. Katie was just hanging on to Hunka and Vos, and the three of them made it easily to the finish. Marianne Vos out sprinted the two, winning her Cross Worlds stripes, for the second time, Hunka taking second place, and Katie taking out third place. Mirjam finished a respectful 8th, and Saskia finished pulling the stones out of her arm, about the same time. We gathered up all our stuff and headed home, the Elite Men we starting in a couple of hours, so we decided to rush home and watch it on TV. At least it was warm, we had hot soup in hand and could see the whole race without fighting for position with the 10 deep crowd.
Some more pics to come once I load them.