Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hassalt Bpost & Asper-Gavere Superprestige 'Cross the pond V

This was one those weekends where I just couldn't wait to race! I learned a lot of lessons from Jaarmarketcross and was super excited to apply them in another race. Not only that, but both courses looked super fun (in a twisted sort of way).

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;
Of all the courses to only have one lap to pre ride, this was not a good one. It was certainly not the hilliest course, definitely not the muddiest, nor the most unique. No, Hassalt is simply dangerous and lets you know right off the bat with a 180 degree corner on tar with painted cross walks right at the start. Then after just a few short straights and the first sandpit, the tightest, most technical section of the course is thrown at you. This might not sound like much, but let me tell you, 50 juniors within a minute of starting squeezed into a tight track is quite dangerous as almost anything goes in Belgium. Hassalt then throws its ace of spades at you. This ditch.
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
Needless to say, I had a terrible race. With to laps to go I started to shake it off and race properly, but while riding really close to the course tape I caught my shifter on a wooden post which swung me around and slammed my stomach in to the post so hard I stopped by the medical tent afterwards to make sure I didn't have any internal injuries. I finished 29th place.

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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

GGEW 'Cross Cup & Soudel Neil, 'Cross the pond IV.

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of going to Germany, to race. The intent behind this was to get UCI points. Dad and I packed up the car and left Saturday morning. Besides riding into Germany a few weeks ago while at the USA house, this was my first time in the country. I had not anticipated how beautiful it would be! Flanders has it's own rugged -yet quaint- aura to it's hills and forests... Germany oozes grandoise with hidden valleys, forest, and real elevation change.

We arrived at the course saturday evening and I did a few laps to get a feel for the course, see where the lines were and what-not. Unfortunetly, this pre ride became a moot point as it rained all night... but I'm getting ahead of myself. That night we stayed at very nice hotel and had a good night's sleep, which isn't especially hard when you don't have to race until 13:20 and are ten kilometers away from the race venue.

Once arrived at the course Sunday morning, it had completely changed. In tire tread jargon, it went from a Challenge Fango, debating if one could get away with even a Chicane, to an unquestionable Limus. It was raining really hard there was standing water, and just a few degrees above freezing... needless to say these are some of the coldest possible conditions for a Cyclocross race. So I hopped on the course to take a look at what had and had not changed. The start straight was long, paved, and slightly uphill which fed into the separate finish line, directly after it went slightly downhill, turned to bricks, and took a left hand greater than 180 degree corner. After which it quickly turned right (still on bricks) into a flight of concrete stairs. This already looks like a formula for disaster (something like Rain + bricks + cyclists going fast on mud tires = high likliehood of crashes) but it gets better. Or worse depending on your perspective. After the flight of stairs the course follows a paved town street so you can build up your speed... and then goes down a flight of stairs. Yes you read that right, not up, down.

They have boards on them so it's sort of okay

After going down the stairs you feed into the grass and the rest of the course simply switchbacks back and forth across a very muddy field with a set of barriers thrown in here, going up a ditch there, Ectcetera. After preriding I was very wet so finding shelter underneath a tent with Jonathon Page to warm up was life saving.
JP and I warming up
I finished 7th out of 25 starters. It was dissapointing to not get any UCI points, especially with being so close to the podium... (10 seconds back entering the final lap) I was in touch of fifth place the entire race and screwed up on the last lap, (flipping on the barriers... fatigue has a funny way of messing up your judgment) in the end though, this race was about learning, not results. Initial disappointment in my result allowed me to take a step back and remember why I love riding and racing bike. It's not for a virtual point, or a number on a results sheet, or even success itself.
I love racing because it pushes me to better myself in every possible way to get that extra second.
I love Cyclocross because it's raw, primal, and rewards the tough people.
I love getting a result not for the result itself, but for it to embody all the hard work, difficult lessons, and teaching that had to come together to create that moment.
I love Cycling because it gives me freedom and the opportunity to explore the world.

Apparently it took something really painful like that result for me to learn my lesson because the next day at Soudal Neil was a blast! Dad and I drove back to the Chainstay Sunday night, got all of our equipment and clothes ready, got some sleep, and left for Neil at 8am Monday morning. Once arrived at the race venue Gavin and I immediately jumped on the course to pre-ride. It consisted of lots of tar, more running, and even more mud. 
Gavin and I. Photo Credit; Inne Segers

Pretty much my entire race experience was fun... I was much more motivated, focused, and relaxed. I had a great race. It was a small field, only about 20 juniors, but many of them had placed top ten in the Superprestiges and Bposts we have been doing. Also every one in the top 5 has actually pulled top 5 results in the other races we have done. The rider who won got away at the start, but by the end of the first lap I was in the chase group. Lap 3 I was driving the group. 
Covered in mud. Photo credit; Inne Segers

After reflecting on the race I realize my excitement of finally being at the front battling for the podium led to some poor tactical decisions, namely never letting myself rest on the road sections by driving the pace everywhere. I paid for this on the last lap and lost 4 spots fading from 5th-9th. 

Obviously there there was a little bit of "What if" frustration after the race, it's hard not to when I was battling for the podium at one point in the race. Mostly however, it was a huge confidence booster. I'm ready to rock for Hassalt  and Asper-Gavere.

Big thank you to the always wonderful Segers family for hosting us and taking such wonderful photos! Thank you to my Dad for always being there to help and my Mom for being ever-strong, supportive, and loving... On the team and sponsor side of things, Thank you to John Haley, HED Cycling, Apex Physical Therapy, Challenge tires, Enzo's Cycling Products, Lazer Helmets, Cuore of Switzerland, Honey Stinger the Thirsty Pagan, the Skihut, and Focus Bikes!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

'Cross the pond 3; Koppenberg and Zohoven

The legendary Koppenberg... 'Cross race style! For those who don't know, the Koppenberg is a famous Cobblestone climb in the Tour of Flanders that is very steep. Koppenbergcross is a Cyclocross race that goes up part of it and then back down. I pre rode the course a couple of times the week before as it's only 7 kilometers away from the Chainstay. It's not the most technical of courses, however  what it lacks in corners it makes up for in sheer brutality. The start turns off into an extremely muddy feild, then winds through town on roads until it hits the Koppenberg. Half way up the Koppenberg it turns off, then goes downhill. You then turnback up the hill and do a brutal grassy/muddy slog fest back up again. Once at the top, you head down a hill full of switch backs into town and do it all over again.

This time, I had a slightly better starting position. 6th row instead of 9th. My start was also better than usual, by the time we hit the mud I was up in the thirties or twenties. Around the first corner, some one was running and ran into me. His bike got tangled up with mine and by the time I got going again I was back in the sixties. I made my way back up quickly enough, by lap two I was in the thirties. However the course was not technical enough for me to make up a ton of time so I placed 27th.

Zonhoven was two days later, this course was almost as tough as Koppenbergcross, and far more technical. My kind of race. The race was almost entirely sand and a large part of the course dropped into what was basically a sand pit.

My starting position was once again last call up and the start was hard to move up in, but move up I did, slowly but surely. On the second lap I moved into the top thirty. The entire race I could see a big group of riders just a little bit ahead of me, but I was never able to quite catch them. I was in 20th on the last lap, but a bobble cost me a place and I ended up 21st. I was just 36 seconds out of 15th and 1:06 out of the top ten.

Next weekend will be a race in Germany and then back to Belgium for Neil.

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Experience in Europe 'Cross the Pond #2

I arrived in Europe for the Valkenburg World cup in the Netherlands. This was my first World Cup and my first time to the Netherlands. Thank you so much to Marc Gullickson for facilitating this event for all of us! Team USA stayed in Sittard at the Fitland center, a big athletic center. This was pretty close to Germany so I later rode there. The Netherlands is only slightly different from Belgium. The houses are a little bit more modern, yet still rustic. 
Once done with the World Cup, where I finished 32nd, It was time to set up my base camp at the Chain Stay in Oudenaarde, Belgium. My team mate Gavin Haley, my father and I will be staying here for the next three weeks to race Superprestiges and Bposts. Our first race, Ruddevoorde Superprestige was this past Sunday. The course was pretty different from most European courses I've done, it seemed like more of an American course. Twisty, grassy, and fast. The day before the race it was dry, so I got to try out my new Challenge Chicanes and was excited to race such fast tires... but the morning of it rained a bunch so to my delight it was to be a muddy race. I was the absolute last person to be called up out of 68 riders (Gavin however had UCI points and got a first row call up) but had a fantastic race and worked my way all the way up to 19th place and my team mate Gavin Haley had a excellent race placing 14th. The fields in Europe are super competitive. Everyone is fighting tooth and nail for every last place, with their legs and elbows. This was my best result so far in Europe, and a great first result for Gavin. It's a very positive way to start our campaign. Thanks so much to our Belgian mechanic and friend, Tom Segers for guiding us through the racing scene over here!
Post Ruddevoorde

Belgium isn't so different from my home town of Duluth. Just more amplified... More rain, more clouds, more wind. However, my first week in Belgium was surprisingly sunny, warm, and pleasant. This past week I have been occupying myself with exploring the town of Oudenaarde and riding parts of the Tour of Flanders. I've found some pretty cool stuff so far.
Cool buildings....City hall on the market in Oudenaarde
Good a resturaunt at the top of the Oude Kwaremont
And famous rides like the Koppenburg

Belgian people have a whole different attitude about their history. They take pride in it, take care of it, and show it off for everyone to see. There are no run down buildings here, and no trash in yards or streets. The streets are smaller than I remember, the hedges more elaborate.

The city centers in Belgium are amazing too. Each one is unique with it's own history. It seems like around every corner and down each tiny alley is some new place selling something different. 
Koppenbergcross is Friday and Zonhoven is Sunday. From watching footage of past races, both appear to be brutal. The former is set on the hillside of the infamous Koppenberg and Zonhoven is almost entirely sand, and hills

It's an exceptionally sunny day here in Oudenaarde so it's time for me to go out and do some training, preriding the Koppenberg... and maybe stop for a chocolate croissant at a cafe.