Place: Wilrijk, Belgium
As I type these characters, I have a warm flush rushing through my cheeks...partly due to the work today in the mud of Fort 6, part due to the work apres-race cleaning and packing of ALL the equipment for our trip to the airport but a LOT due to the Westvleteren Yellow Cap hitting every friggin happy-nerve synapse in my body. Yes, it is an incredible beer.
My beautiful friends: Za trip. She is done.
I want to write. A lot. At this moment I have so much to tell you my 'crossing brethren but in sum, I can only say: I 'saw' it. You know those album covers or posters made by computer generated imagery...e.g. the ones where if you stare long enough you see Jesus or the Led Zeppelin signs or maybe a fish? Well, it didn't take much proverbial squinting on my part to see what they have here in Belgium. By that I mean how this sport is Belgium and Belgium itself as a society and a culture is lived out each weekend on these muddy pastures. Field riding. Veldrijden. And that is the slightly hazy imagery I started to see come into focus with each and every race, and each and every experience here in the Motherland.
In Belgium, when a crosser is seen on the parcours with hands on hoods, head focused forward, jaw clinched, rooster tail of mud and grass spitting out the back, the Belgian silently watching is not watching like you and I watch a cross. Indeed, there is the sport of it all they are interested in, but beyond that, it is a communion of all that they are as Belgians and it is inherently known by the spectator there lining the tape on these fields. They're born into it. Grit, determination, nature, heart...they are watching a communion of their boys with the same earth and fields and conditions they call their home. It is not like what you and I know when we watch cross. We've made a spectacle out of it. And it's fun, do not misconstrue what I am saying, but the essence of that person and how the person communes with their birthplace is something we do not yet have the history to embrace and have sunk in.
They, my friends, are harder than us. But we are fast. Faster than you think.
Please do this. Please race over here and talk with as many people as you can about it when you return....but talk about it in the RIGHT ways. Please ask them their opinions on their racers...on their local courses, on their local beers. You will be taken in.
OK, enough of that. It is what it is over here, and what it is, simply needs to be experienced as a racer if you truly feel you are a crosser and you truly want to understand its roots. That was my mission and I call it complete. And the completeness has me staggering on how I want to build courses and involve town committees, and....well, you get the picture.
On to the day, peeps. Today was the Fort 6 Cyclocross literally within the city of Wilrijk, just outside of Antwerp. I'll get right to it and say: 18th folks. Out of the money (15th was the cut off for za prijs). It was inexplicably hard for me today and no excuses. Seriously. I am better than that but I've never felt more empty. Zero in the legs after truly leaving my corpse on the sands of Zilvermeer yesterday. Absolutely nothing. Let me give you a bit of a taste of the day.
We got to the course, went to the inschrivung, said hello to folks we've seen at the registration TONS already, and grabbed numbers. We then kitted up and jammed out on our B bikes. We could immediately see that today equaled MUD. When we got onto the parcours, holy God, tough. axle deep mud, slippery single track that pitched up at 45 degrees and equally down at vicious pitches. Dubba, as always, has us totally dialed, bringing our A rigs to the start, collecting all our crap to keep us focused.
So, we got the 5 minute to race time TWEEET! and we all queue up. I was hoping for a good call up but it wasn't to be. they called up 1-30 and the' De reste!" which means the rest should fall in. Literally last row. I was bummed! After pre-riding and knowing that the legs were not turning over the way I needed them to, I knew I was in for it.
"Ein minuten!". Again the tension then TWEEEEEEET! The whistle blows....
We roll down the pavement into a 180 switch back into mud and from mud into a mud uphill. Dudes are squirly and I am fighting to get past as many as I can. We climb this muddy fire road up onto the 45 degree pitches. LITERALLY, people are standing still so I run through the woods to get around some of these foolios. More climbing. with whoops and off camber slippery mud. Dodgey. On this one downhill chute, there is hesitation. I dismount and run past 5 guys (literally) to ensure I am safe and out of their schwag.
The course demanded unbelievable power which I was not in surplus of today. My 42 x 12/25 really needed to be a 42 x 12/27....
So I ground it out and got 'er done. I had Richard Groenendaal in my head as I had to dismount and cross country run through the fields and up pitches to stay within contact of my competition.
I changed bikes once to lighten up the mud and eventually came in on the lead lap about 4 minutes after the winner today who was flying.
It is late here in Belgium and I've got to finish up so I can get some Z's. I will post on Brandon's race tomorrow or Tuesday when I am States-side which was great! I have a TON of photos as well. Arne won today amongst a pretty impressive field. Tim Van Neuffel looked uper strong early on but faded and big Arne just dieseled this mud with inexplicable power. You really have to witness it.
Oh, we met Mario De Clercq today after our race who was pitting for his son Angelo and we chatted and it was really fantastic! It confirmed the communion I speak about above when you see a 2 time world champion working his son's bike over in the muddy pits, running across the fields in the mud to get to sections to cheer him on. Awesome.
The dream has been lived. More to report in the coming days so you can see some more digital celluloid. Brandon and I are talking about a slide show between our numerous photos and videos to talk you through our experiences. Likely at Boulder Cycle Sport in the coming weeks. We'll bring the beers. Stay tuned.
Lived the dream. You will too. 363 days.
Tick tock tick tock....