Saturday was Hassalt and on account of it being a "long" drive at a hour and a half away (man I'm getting spoiled, it will be hard to go back to the US) Dad, Gavin, and I got up bright and early at 6:30am. That might not sound like much, but it feels way earlier in Belgium on account of it not getting light out until 8:00am. We hit a few unexpected snags and left about twenty minutes late so as a result I only had one lap to pre ride.
|Photo Credit; cyclephotos.co.uk|
There is no "safe" way across this ditch. It's so wide running is almost more dangerous than riding. The first time across it in pre ride, I hopped it, but my back wheel slammed into the edge. I rode it again, and still my wheel slammed into it. Time was running out so it was time to move on. After that there was a few more sketchy aspects, like a corner with wet roots all over it and a set of logs that look deceptively hoppable but ground so spongy in between most everyone who tried ended up face planting into the mud.
I was pretty nervous at the start. I didn't have the course dialed in, couldn't decide whether or not to hop the ditch, wasn't sure how moving up would be possible in such a tight start, and that 180 corner was incredibly dangerous on cross tires. However, I then proceeded to have my best race yet in Europe.
|I found that while the sand was ride able, I was able to pass more people running it when they inevitably messed up in front of me. Photo Credit; Patricia Cristens.|
I had an okay start, there was some severe bottleneck through the tight twisty section and was forced to stop for a few seconds in places. I hopped the ditch on the first lap, but slammed my wheel super hard on edge and decided to run it for the rest of the race. The brakes on my carbon wheels were not good enough for such a twisty course, so I pitted at my first chance in favor of Ardennes. Then it was just throttle wide open and go!
Throughout the race I tried many different lines, perfecting the course throughout the race. Each lap felt faster than the previous. With two laps to go I was in 17th place, catching Gavin's group of 14th, 15th, and 16th just seconds ahead when disaster struck.
After running over the logs while putting my bike down I noticed my rear wheel wouldn't move, the chain was stuck in between my frame and little chain ring! I tried to get the chain out while running, but couldn't and started running for the pits. By the time I got a bike change I was back in the late twenties. Also, this bike had the carbon wheels with less than desirable braking and I had to relearn the course. A few minutes later Gavin had even worse luck and I saw him on the side of the course trying to put his pedal back on.
In those last two laps I worked my way all the way back up to the group of 17th. Coming around on of the final corners I opted to run around it instead of ride (fatigue has a funny way of affecting your decision making skills) and my small gap was lost. I finished 20th (out of 50) in a four way sprint for 17th, less than a minute out of the top ten.
Despite being so close to a top fifteen, possibly even a top ten, I was just happy at the finish. For the first time yet this year, I only made one or two mistakes, and if it hadn't been for a very unlucky mechanical that would have shown on paper.
With such a great race at Hassalt, I was ready to have another great race at Asper-Gavere. Alas, it was not to be. The course was amazing, if you weren't going straight down you were going straight up. It wasn't perfect for me as the day of the race it turned into a nightmarish peanut butter-like mud that made it nearly impossible to ride any of the uphills on the course. Still, with the sheer physical and technical difficulty of the course it was looking like a good day for me.
I'll cut to the chase. This start was particularly long and fast, and right before it turned to dirt there was a quick right-left. As we hit said corner in the race, going very fast, one of the kids in front of me slipped out, hit the ground hard and then proceeded to get run over by several people. I got out of the mass pile up unscathed physically, but not mentally. Through out most of the race I just wasn't all there. I couldn't focus and kept failing at routine tasks that usually are not a problem. I was scared, and just kept playing the image of that kid getting run over again and again in my head.
|the super tricky uphill. Photo credit; Inne Segers|
It was a weekend of ups and downs and I'm determined to end my trip here on the highest note yet Saturday at the legendary Koksijde World Cup.
Despite some frustrations, I had so much fun this weekend and am very thankful for the privilege to race such legendary courses! I can not thank all those who have supported me enough.
Thank you HED Cycling, Apex Physical Therapy, Challenge tires, Enzo's Cycling Products, Lazer Helmets, Cuore of Switzerland, Honey Stinger the Thirsty Pagan, the Skihut, Focus Bikes, and last but not least, Thank you to each and every person who has so generously supported me in the past or recently by donating and/or buying a t-shirt. Without you, I wouldn't be able to do this.