Can you imagine what 62,000 people looks like? I couldn’t and I didn’t fully realize it until I watched the men’s race. When I returned to watch I contemplated turning back around to my hotel room to watch on the telly. There was not a single spot to elbow my way into along the entire circuit, not even a spot to have a view of the 8 big screens throughout the venue. That is, until I found my adopted supporter club! I met the Bart Aernouts supporter club when I was out to dinner a couple nights prior. They asked me for my rider card and quickly adopted me as one of theirs’. When I found them at the course they had a fenced off box to which only Bart Aernouts supporters were allowed with a splendid view of the race. This was certainly a highlight of the weekend; to feel a bit more welcomed in to the Belgian side.
I’ll be honest in saying I didn’t have any expectations going into the race. I missed about a month of racing with illness, Zolder World Cup on December 26th
being my last race before this ‘break’. Hoogerheide World Cup was the weekend prior to Worlds so I used that as a test to whether I should even race the World Champs. Unfortunately I was caught in the massive pile-up in the first 200m and the rest of race wasn’t much of a race. There is something to be said for being fresh, but there is also something to be said for training and racing! However, I had done a few training sessions at Koksijde to familiarize myself more with the sand and the more I rode it the more I liked it. I was looking forward to challenging myself again on the course and my energy and health were improving.
The day before race day I saw the highest heart rate I have ever seen. During my pre-ride between the Junior and U23 race I was taken aback by nerves - the crowds, the noise and the colors. I couldn’t concentrate and rode a lap around the course with my head up my arse. The nerves were so rampant I needed to step off the course, take a huge deep breath and reel my focus back in. Because it wasn’t even the big day I knew this was something I’d need to replicate the next morning. I did, and even though the butterflies felt similar to a herd of elephants I was able to hush it all away as soon as the start light turned green, so it was me, the course and my competition. My sand riding was dramatically improved from the Koksijde World Cup back in November and I attribute that to the sessions I had taken on in the build up. The practice on the course, the visualization, the equipment prep, the thinking ahead was all spot on. Simply, I didn’t have the strength and power in my legs because I had missed so much training and racing. With the preparation and tools I was able to work with I am pleased with my race.
Following the men’s race was the flag passing-over ceremony. At the conclusion of the year’s World Championships the UCI flag is passed to the next year’s country. Obviously with the flag going into America’s hands for the first time this is a big deal, I just didn’t know how big a deal. When Bruce Fina asked me to attend the ceremony in the Paul Herygers VIP tent I acquiesced because I knew the food and drinks would be free flowing. Oh, and also because I wanted to see the ceremony! However, I quickly felt underdressed because, to kick it all off we formed a line to see King Albert off. Following that, we then walked upon stage with Mister Pat McQuaid, the US ambassador to Belgium, the owner of the Louisville Parks and the Louisville Worlds promoters…all this and I was dressed in my best carhartts, clumpy boots and a Bart Aernouts supporter hat. Classy.
All in all a great experience, topped the next day by a visit to Ypres to see the makings and breakings of the Great War; the trenches, the cemeteries, the Menin Gate, Hill 60 & 62. I saw what 62,000 people looked like at Koksijde and then I saw the names of 54,389 soldiers who have no known grave at Menin Gate. While it is something impossible to grasp, it becomes a little easier to imagine. 6 races to go to conclude the European cyclocross calendar…