I swear I used to be tougher than this. I remember seeing minus numbers in Fahrenheit and trekking out in my thin speedsuit to the ski lift to batter through ski courses. Last week got colder and colder as the days ticked away, culminating with a snow storm beginning Friday afternoon and continuing through the night. Brook Watts of CrossVegas arrived on train from Gent on Friday and the drive to the station was like a skating rink. The next morning we drove very carefully to Lille, just a 40km drive away. Things seemed a bit more quiet and hushed in the car park than the normal. Maybe this was due to the snow muffling much of the noise, maybe it was because any extraneous energy was devoted to keeping warm, or maybe it was the post-Worlds slump. Either way, I was excited to be there and continue my season through February…3 more weekends of races means an opportunity to feel some race fitness again…maybe, just maybe.
As difficult it is to step out of warmth into crispy snow and sharp cool air, I really don’t mind it, so long as I have multitudes of layers on and so long as I get moving quickly. The course was fun and the corners were reminiscent of the ruts in a giant slalom course – just put your front tire in it and trust it will come around. Most the time it will. The problem I had with the course was the short start straight turning a hard right U-turn into the track. It never felt there was room to pass, so with my crummy start I never moved forward very much and it was more a race of me against the course, which was quite a challenge in itself!
Sunday was an early start with the race at 11am in Hoogstraten, and an hour-plus drive. I’m a big believer in waking with the sun, or after the sun has been up for quite a while. It was a struggle to pack the car and set off in the direction of a bike race in the dark; at least the snow was reflecting the moon’s light! This course was very hard with a lot of steep up & downs, icy ruts and various rocks to flat your tires on. I had a much better start and first lap, still in contact with the front four riders. As the race went on I noticed my endurance and strength was suffering, which is no surprise from missing quite a lot of racing and training. The good part of that is that I know what I need to work on and how to work on it – it is something that will come naturally with health and training. I fell off the pace and finished 8th, but finished with a satisfactory feeling and hope that maybe I can still find some fast in these legs of mine before the final hoorah on Feb 19th. When you get that certain strong and hopeful feeling it provides a wealth of motivation which is critical in this final month when the weather seems to be stuck on cold.
Cyclocross is so important to have a supporting crew; there are many details to think about, equipment choices to make and dial in, logistics to sort, equipment to haul & clean, and on & on. Thanks to Brook Watts for taking time out his Holiday to drive me on the icy roads to the races, standing in the freezing cold snow pits, and setting my tire pressure to the exact psi! Also thank you to my adopted Bart Aernouts supporter club who showed up in the early morning, 4 hours prior to Bart’s race to cheer me on. The racer has the easy job – it’s the people who support the racer who should get the glory!