Belgacom Boom XCO

A star studded field lined up behind the chalk in Boom for the next round of the Belgacom XCO Series, included Sven Nys (multiple Cyclo Cross World Champion), Kevin van Hoovels (Belgian National Champion), Rudi van Houts (Netherlands National Champion), Sebastien Carabien (Belgian U23 Champion) and Jonothan Page (former Cyclo Cross World Championship medallist).

I was fortunate enough to have a third row call up again amongst some fifty plus starters.

 

How the race started, you can see me breaking my chain about a minute in.

I felt quite good with the fast pace off the line for a change and was well positioned in the top fifteen until I had to get off and run on the first climb as we all bunched up.

Heading up the second climb disaster struck…. My chain had snapped, and to make matters worse I was literally a hundred metres past the tech zone but the rules stipulate that you can only move in one direction on the course so I had to run some three kilometres to the next zone. I was now comfortably in last place. Arriving at the tech zone Gerry fixed my chain in such a speed that would have earned him a spot on an F1 pit crew!

 

Heading up the first climb.

Image Credit: Ludo van der Put

I knew the chances of being lapped were quite real but set off to get a good workout in for the day nonetheless.  I pushed quite hard on the relatively tough course. There were four steep bank type climbs, they weren’t long but the steepness and the manner in which they were arranged took quite a hit on the body. Although there was nothing particularly technical, most of the single track was quite twisty and required a lot of breaking and accelerating, so technical skills played a major role on the day.

 

The second climb.

Image Credit: Danny Zelck

After my initial mishap I managed to catch four guys through the race to finish in 36th place in the combined Elite/U23 race despite getting a slow flat which meant another stint of running on the last lap.

 

The second climb again.

Image Credit: Danny Zelck

I was quite disappointed as I felt that I could have ridden at least a top 30 on the day but that’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess.

I will be doing a Merida Flanders Cup XCO race this weekend followed by a mid week kermesse next week and then another Belgacom XCO next weekend.

 

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Malmedy Mountain Cup & Ardennes Trophy Marathon: La Reid

The academic workload over the last week and a half was a bit more than anticipated and I wasn’t fully focussed on the racing as I spent hours at my desk finishing off assignments and submitting them in dodgy internet cafes (however these days are over as we now have internet at our flat 🙂 ).

 

First up was the Malmedy Mountain Cup, another UCI category 1 event. The course has previously been used to host the Belgium National Championships and after squeezing in a practice lap the morning before the race I could understand why… steep climbs took the total ascent of each lap up to 280m in just over 5km and even steeper technical downhill’s to bring us back down.

 

I had picked up a bit of a sore throat after Averbode in addition to allergies from the lovely Belgian spring air (don’t you just love pollen?).

Come race morning it felt like it had mainly cleared up, so I decided to go and race.

Malmedy Mountain Cup

Photo Credit: Ludo van der Put

 

I felt I started fairly well up the first climb on the start lap and was sitting in the top 15 riders. The wheels started falling off after the 1st full lap and by the 3rd lap I had decided to call it a day. I’m glad I started though as I became more confident and smooth on the downhill’s as I did more laps. The one practice lap on this course was definitely not sufficient and not being 100% on the gas didn’t help either.

 

I put that behind me and hit a fun filled week of assignments!

 

Next up on the programme was the Ardennes Trophy Marathon in La Reid. Another race in the southern region of the country, which meant some more climbing. And climbing there was, 2400m of ascent in the 90km race. No passes or anything, I think the longest climb may have been four kilometres long, but most of the climbing was done between 15-20% gradient on quite rough track.

 

I played my best “the lady at registration said it would be fine for me to start in the front group” card to try and get near the front for the start. Although some of the French speaking marshals’ didn’t understand I was eventually allowed through to start at the back of this group.

 

Luckily, I thought, the first couple of kilometres were on tar roads… Not so lucky when they are narrow country lanes. A bit of pushing and cutting through and I managed to make contact with the front split not too long into the race. This was short lived as I fell victim to the ever increasing speed.

 

I tried to settle into a group but it just wasn’t happening. I fell down into the 30’s after the first hour of the race. With fresh bottles from Gerry I felt a bit more revived and set out with a fresh mindset. I rode back up into the high twenties again. After a few mid pack duels with a few guys along the way it just wasn’t my day. A puncture 10km from the finish confirmed this and was made worse when I couldn’t find my tyre levers.

 

Anyway I eventually got to the finish and if nothing else it was a solid day training. Up front Kevin took a very convincing win and won himself a 1.5l bottle of beer!

 

Next up for me will the another Belgacom XCO race taking place in a town called Boom this weekend. It looks like I will have my road bike next week which will mean I will be doing some Kermesse races too.

 

The Belgium Diaries – Part 1

Belgium is the Mecca for all racing cyclists around the world. The country eats, breaths and lives cycling.

 

So Christiaan and I choosing it as our first foray into European racing seemed like the most natural choice although one may say we are jumping straight into the deep end.

 

We left South Africa last Saturday and just over 24 hours of travel arrived at our flat in Leuven, which will be home for the next two months. Leuven is a university town, much like Stellenbosch is, and is about thirty kilometres east of the country’s capital, Brussels, and is what I would imagine, a typical European town with many cobbled roads, old buildings and a large church in the centre of town.

 

The Oude Markt in the centre of Leuven.

There are about 50 bars in this big square.

 

The riding here is a really amazing, with many roads leading away from the town in every direction and we have only explored a fraction thus far! There are also cycle lanes on 90% of the roads and when on the actual road cars wait and only pass when it’s safe to do so, very unlike South Africa… I haven’t had much of a chance to explore the trails yet but I am sure they will not disappoint.

 

We have enjoyed in a few Belgian specialities namely frieten and beer (all in moderation of course as we are here to race). I have enjoyed the Maes beer the most so far and the frieten (French fries/slap chips) are great and can be found in many frieten cafes around the town with a choice of sauces. Mayonnaise is the most popular choice. I have recently been informed that as Leuven is the home of the Stella Artois brewery that is now my favourite beer…

 

The frieten are unlike those back home, are always very hot and crispy and quite superior different to ‘slap’ chips. I also had quite a cool ice cream the other day after practicing the XC course, and haven’t ever seen anything like it. Each side had two thin pieces of wafer biscuit, using the outer pieces as a scoop to eat the ice cream in the middle and when that’s done squeeze it together and eat the rest like a sandwich! Enough about the food.

 

Ice Cream!

My first race was the second round of the Belgacom XCO Series in Averbode. This series is pretty much the Belgium national series and the event was a UCI category one race.

 

 

The Belgium National Champ, Kevin van Hoovels, had been kind enough to pick me up in Leuven and give me a lift to the race. I was also able to chill with his team, Versluys Evenza, before the race in their very professional setup! The course was just over five kilometres long, which we would do eight laps, but pan flat with only thirty metres of ascent per lap.

 

The Versluys Evenza Team setup at the races.

 

The race started at 4pm on Thursday afternoon (my latest start ever but apparently it was a national holiday) with about 70 guys lining up. The scales were tipping at 30 degrees, not what you would expect when racing in Europe but it is going into summer here, the vibe was very different to the South African races I have done as almost two thousand spectators lined the course.

 

All started well until we hit the beach sand sections which had changed significantly from the previous day’s practice.  A lot of cyclo cross guys raced on the day and for them riding in the sand is second nature. I managed to get a hang of it by about the 5th lap in the race but this was a bit late.

 

Struggling along in the sand.

Photo Credit: Regiopunt

 

I think I must have lost at least 10 positions on the first lap in the sand. I would be able to ride back to the guys in the forest section and pass them only to have them pass me again in the sand. This yo-yo battle went on for most of the race, against who I’m not sure as I don’t know many guys’ names.

 

Coming through the start finish on each lap was cool as the commentator would say in Flemish “here comes Christopher Wolhoooterrrrr the South African” and really roll the “r”.

 

I finished in 42nd place in the elite and u23 combined race and somewhere in the top 30 elites. Not an amazing result but it’s something to start with and I feel I can definitely improve on that (especially on a course with less sand J ).

 

My next race will be on Sunday at the Malmedy Mountain Cup, another UCI category 1 race.

 

Apologies for the lack of blogging of late but we have had a couple of issues sorting out internet on our lap tops which is now all resolved.

 

Afrimat Keeromberg Mountain Bike Challenge

This last weekend it was back to the other side of the mountain, Worcester that is, through the Du Toits Kloof tunnel… An engineering marvel – as my Dad would say. This time it would be for the Afrimat Keeromberg Mountain bike race.

The opening kilometres of the race saw us traverse the walls of a number of dams. These were quite rocky and not much different to riding the cobbles on a road bike. Petrus Malherbe and myself took turns at pushing the pace to try whittle the group down. We were soon four riders off the front including Robert Sim and Reniel Matthysen.

I was quite disappointed by how the latter two decided to race on the day. Helping with the pace making was not high on their list of things to do for the day. Petrus and I took turns in attacking in an attempt to dislodge them but this was to no avail.

Unfortunately for me I started losing air from my rear wheel some 35km into the race. Over the top of one of the short steep climbs Sim put in a bit of a move and was awarded with a 5 minute gap. I couldn’t chase him on the rocky downhill with my soft tyre successfully and the gap opened a bit more thus I was faced with the decision whether to ride it conservatively and hope to make it to the finish or stop and bomb it and surely loose the group.

I decided to ride it. Approaching the main climb of the day, only 500m long at that, I tried to close the gap on my own. The climb although only 500m long is exceptionally steep and has to be walked up, which took close on 10minutes.

I rode conservatively to the finish in 2nd place pushing it where I could and backing off on the down hills and corners. This is how I finished with Matthysen in 3rd and Petrus in 4th.

A post on Belgium coming soon!