I guess the word to use by this point is something like ‘rampage.’ As in: “Pete Webber is on a RAMPAGE in the lowlands this season, chalking up his 3rd win in as many tries.” This recent win comes to him against some stiff competition, including the reigning Dutch Masters National Champion. The rest, I’ll leave up to Webber to bring us up to speed on as we all try to live vicariously through his exploits…
Za Webber Trip
Vorden Race Report
I want to start today's blog with a big "Thank You" to everyone who's been encouraging me. The emails and Facebook comments are totally great! I'm very lucky and fortunate to have such great friends and family.
Today we made a long haul to the Netherlands for a Wednesday race. A cool thing about the holiday season over here is mid-week racing. The top elite riders get a bunch of mid-week races between Christmas and New Year's Day in Belgium, but there are fewer options for Masters. Last year I raced an event in the Netherlands and it was awesome. Very PRO, great riders, great atmosphere. So this year I was looking forward to a return trip to try the "Castle Cross Vorden," even if it meant a 3.5 hour drive each way. Local racers here would never dream of such a long drive for a race, they seldom look more than 1 or 2 hours from home. But I'm here for 'cross, and cross-border adventures just add to the fun.
Our day started with a 5:30 wake up to hit the road by 6 for an 11:30 race. Straight east, past Gent, Antwerp, across the border, past Eindhoven and finally to Vorden, not far from Germany. As is usual this time of the year, the sun doesn't fully rise until about 9 am. That equals 3 hours driving in freezing rain before sunrise. Not exactly the best race-day prep. But over the years I've figured out that my 2-hour pre-race routine will get me to the start line no matter time of day, amount of sleep, or crazy weather conditions. For me, the important thing is to just execute the routine.
I had read on the web that the recent snow and some freeze/thaw had put the race into jeopardy. Thankfully the local community rallied with tractors and shovels to clear the heavy, crusty snow from the entire loop. In most places, that left only a singletrack-width race track. The snow to the side was widely variable. Sometimes unridable crust, other times just heavy wet stuff. They did a really excellent job and the road sections combined with some creativity provided enough passing. The terrain was very flat, maybe a couple 3-4 foot 'hills', but otherwise just twisty turns and power slogs. The ground was not frozen, so there was also wheel-sucking mud and boggy grass, followed by icy turns in the shade. No dismounts at all. Flat, heavy courses are often the hardest since cornering, accelerations, and simple pure power are required. Adding to the challenge was a dicey corner right on the bank of a muddy canal and a heavy stench of fresh manure.
With 4 laps pre-ride, some practice starts, and a Clif Shot I worked the cobwebs out. The A-Team pit crew of Sally and Ella had my Rhinos at 22 psi and hit my pedals and shoes with some de-icer spray. I was ready to roll.
The start/finish pavement was icy in spots, so the organizers had decided to shorten the start straight to only 25 meters before a turn into the singletrack in order to prevent high-speed crashes. This, combined with the large amount of singletrack convinced me to approach the officials before the race and beg for a better call up than the last row normally given to internationals. They actually listened to me and invited me to line up first! Unfortunately I didn't know this was going to happen, and I missed them call my name in the string of Dutch. Fortunately, another rider clued me in and I made it to second row. The one race I get called up, and I miss it! Duh! There wasn't long to dwell on this hiccup however, as the rider next to me on the grid gave me a back-slap and said "Let's go Mud and Cowbells hey!" The spirit of Za Keller is everywhere! I laughed and was psyched!
We sprinted away from the line and were instantly into the woods. Total chaos as everyone tried for one line. I ran and elbowed and took a shoulder or two before I settled in about 15th place. After a minute to get my wind back, I set myself to the daunting task of moving up. It took two frantic laps of aggressive passes and capitalizing on each opening before I made the front group of 3. I sat with these guys for another lap until I felt I like had the legs and the cornering speed to attack. I went full gas for the next two laps and took the lead with 5 to 10 seconds of daylight. The second place rider was wearing the Dutch champion's kit, so I knew there would be no giving up. He pressed me the whole distance. And with about 50 slippery opportunities on each lap to make a mistake, I worked hard to stay smooth and focused. Cross-eyed and gasping, I was completely at my limit when the finish line finally arrived. I raised my arms for a very grateful victory.
Some of my pics
Some additional photos by local photographers:
The start: http://www.robsfotoshop.nl/index.php/fotos?view=album&album=5556210069495287249&page=5
The first turn chaos: http://www.robsfotoshop.nl/index.php/fotos?view=album&album=5556210069495287249&page=5
The finish: http://www.robsfotoshop.nl/index.php/fotos?view=album&album=5556210069495287249&page=9
The results: http://www.wielerland.nl/index.php?option=com_database&c=u&sc=1&id=23651&Itemid=242
Check this video of the 15-16 year old juniors. These kids are very impressive: