OK, this is getting ridiculous.
Colorado State Championships: WIN
National Championships 40-44: WIN
Beernam, Belgium: WIN
And, yup, you guessed it: Balegem, Belgium: WIN!!!
Pete did it again this AM, folks. A win in Balegem against another stacked Mater's field. And again, in Pete's words...
Deeply rutted mud. Wheel sucking grass. Icy farm roads. Gravity drops. Slippery steep run-ups. Barnyards. Ancient cobbles. Rain. Freezing wind. Today's cyclocross in Balegem, Belgium had it all. For the second day in a row, I lined up at a Flemish Cyclocross Cup. This race series is the heart of grassroots cyclocross in Flanders. The events are smaller than the crazy international Super Prestige and World Cups, but nevertheless they have all the important features like a full cadre of officials, food and beer vendors, a manic announcer, great spectators, and a gnarly track.
Today's day started before the sun came up. It seems like every morning is a bit grim over here. Since dawn comes around 8:30 am, and it's only a cold dull grey dawn anyway, multi-coffees are essential to get the blood moving. We loaded up the rental car and punched "Balegem" into the GPS. 30 minutes later we arrived in the sleepy town, without any sign of a cross race. Where is it? A car with Dugast-clad bikes zooms past going the other way. "Follow him!" yells Sally. I whip a U-turn, and make pursuit. He leads us out of town thru a maze of turns. Suddenly we are there, with guys collecting the entry fee and directing us to racer parking. Yep, spectators pay 5-10 euros to get in to any cross race. We get unloaded, and I make my way to registration. Lots of people recognize my team kit from yesterday, and I get a few backslaps and congratulations. It seems they are happy to see a new face.
I hit the course for a few recon laps. Just like any race back home, the first few recon laps are full of surprises. But in Belgium those surprises can be a bit more wild. The past two days, that means insane steep drops and equally steep climbs. Usually with deep ruts that require serious bike english. The Balegem venue was essentially a hillside farm and tiny village. There were woods, fields, streets, singletrack, and farm lanes. But the main feature was the steep forested hill that racers went up and down three times in a row. Super fun, but you gotta be in the drops and ready to rip. I dial in my tires, Dugast Rhinos at about 26. By the way, everyone's bikes are totally pro and I would say at least 70 percent of the riders are on Dugasts, usually Typhoons, with the remainder on Grifos or similar.
Race time arrives. I'm in the third row. An older lady offers to carry my jacket and rain pants - same lady that did it yesterday (and delivered them to me at the finish!) The start is clean, and with a long road climb, I move up to second wheel as we hit the dirt. A few guys try to pass me, but I ride "wide" and hold the wheel. Second lap stays the same. I'm feeling good, but my legs are tired from yesterday... its gonna be a suffer session. I notice that Marc, yesterday's antagonist, isn't in the field, but Mario Lammens, the FCC series leader, is stuck to me like glue. He's hard to miss, with a super-euro lime green/white kit. He and I make a sizable gap to third place, and now the dog fight begins. He attacks. It takes me an entire lap to close the gap, with my tongue dragging on the stem. 2 laps to go. I attack. I attack again. The rubber band doesn't even stretch. Laatste Ronde! Full gas. Tiny gap. Go again. Nope, lime-and-white is all over my six o'clock. Let him take the lead. He attacks. Arghh, close it down, barely. Pavement. 300 meters to finish. One hard bend, then uphill to the line. He slows waay down. He's gonna make me lead it out. Ok. Get in the drops, speed up, get in the 12. Jump, hit the bend. Sprint like mad. Drift over to close down the right side. Hear him coming. Pedal! Yahoo! I held it.
Flowers, kisses from the flower girl, (a girl scout?), and a bottle of Prosecco (sponsored by the on-site ambulance crew.) I clean up, using the heated racer's changing area. Mario sets me up with water and a wash basin, something all the riders bring. We hit the cafe, hot soup for the racers and cold Hoegaarden for the Americans. Life is good.
Pete's pics from today....
You pit wherever you can to get those bikes clean!
This is Belgian singletrack.
I think Stu Thorne's rig is a bit more PRO, but this is quite the truck.
To the victor go the spoils. And let's just say it ain't the prize money!
MICHEL!!!! I was pumped when Pete sent this picture of our very good friend Michel Bajorek getting his game on with a smile in Balegem!
Another day...another "W"!!!
Something you don't want to see: a backboard near the bottom of a steep drop in.
Some juniors getting their HUP on on the steep run up.
The cutest girl in all of Belgium, Ella, yelling at her daddy lap after lap.
I think this about smokes the Dale Knapp run up.
Another day in Belgium.
The Belgian version of tail-gating.
Putting Mario into difficulty. Pete is eyes-forward, jaw-clenched!