Entries in Za Trip (25)
What an AWESOME update from Pete today and admittedly, reading this installment I was pulled back to my own experiences while racing in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2008 on 'Za Trip.' It was great to read his words about courses, logistics, prep, registration and the style of racing you experience and every master 'cross racer who has an idea about going to race in Za Motherland should read this entry. It's essential...
The racing continued today, folks!
Today was at a lake-side sports park in Sint Niklaas, a small city between Brussels and Antwerp. It is an annual UCI race, but not part of any big series. It was great to have a masters race at a UCI event because everything was totally pro. the course was more groomed and buffed than some of the Flemish Cup courses I did last weekend. It was flat, firm, and fast. There was only one dismount per lap, on a steep, slippery hill. I rode the hill twice during the race, so for over 15 minutes I didn't even get off the bike at all. As someone who favors lots of technical stuff, power, and running, this wasn't ideal for me.
There was a long section of lake-shore beach that might have required some running in normal conditions, but the wet sand was frozen and it was all rideable. What the course lacked in elevation, it made up for with turns. Constant back and forth, with only short straights. It froze last night, and some of the turns were ice under a thin layer of mud, very dicey, especially with massive pine trees looming on the exit. Also, there were insane frozen ruts from yesterday when practice riders must have been sinking in the mud, but then night temps had locked it up solid. There was also a staple of all the Sint Niklass courses, a dicey off-camber grass stretch along the water's edge. It was similar to the off camber thing at Bend this December. As usual with cambers, the trick was to not touch the brakes at all. The course also had a crazy steep flyover made of steel that was loud as hell.
Riders were staged according to the Belgian national ranking system, and the field was pretty big. I had a clean start and moved up to about 15th at the first turn. For the first lap, I focused on passing, and I stuck my wheel into every gap I could find. As expected with the icy turns, there was some carnage, which thankfully I managed to avoid. After two laps of frantic passing, I had worked into 4th or 5th. Unfortunately, I could see the rainbows of Marc Druyts up the road and opening a gap. I still had to get around a few more guys before I could fully try and chase him down. With so many corners, no climbs, only one dismount, I worked hard to make up time and positions. Passing was pretty difficult. I finally made it up into second place, but Marc was off the front and a couple guys were still glued to my wheel.
The main location to draft was the long start/finish. With 3 laps to go I attacked and opened a small gap on the chasers. One of them, I think it was Bert Vervecken, chased back on the straight. With the wind from the side, I moved to the fence to minimize his draft. He cut loose with a manic yell. I don't know what the problem was cause I didn't look back, but if he thought I was gonna let him echelon for 600 meters he was wrong. Shortly after that he slipped onto his knees on the slippery run up, while I ran it clean, digging in with my extra-long toe spikes. He never connected again.
I chased the leader as hard as I could, but the gap was unwavering at about 10 seconds. Lapped riders started getting in the mix, and I couldn't make a dent. He stayed in sight, but at the end, I never got close and rolled in with a solid second place. I was psyched to be in the fight, and to have beaten some strong guys on a fast course.
After my race, we got to hang out and watch the other races, including all the US juniors and other hard chargers. Skyler Trujillo (see photo above) from Fort Collins finished a soild 10th in the juniors! Nice.
See all the results here.
Ok, so now on to some other Belgian insights... You've heard it before, the racing in Belgium is much more aggressive than the US. You've really gotta be strong and confident to stay in position. And if you wanna make a pass, you've got to do it forcefully. Expect to be bumped, and to bump back. Not radically different than a good tight race at home, but definitely not all courtesy and camaraderie like some of our races can be. During the past week I've been yelled at, brake checked, shouldered, elbowed, and blocked. But I've been giving some back in return and mostly have held my own. I've gotten good at sticking my brake hood into whomever's butt is in my way, and thanks to years of watching moto racing on TV, I've perfected the block pass.
Another big distinction that comes into play is road racing tactics. In the US, it seems like a lot of races turn into individual time trials, with lots of gaps between riders. Over here, riders really fight to hold position and chase back into the groups. Fortunately I've been riding strongly and have had some opportunities to force the pace and attack. But these guys will dig deep to close the gap and hold the wheel as long as possible - they won't settle in and ride their own pace. To get away, you've got to do something extra, or have some technical gain.
Another notable difference is how the courses are marked. The entire route is fully taped off on both sides, and steel fencing is used where more spectators are expected. All the posts are 4" diameter pressure-treated poles, sunk deeply into the ground with a power auger. The posts are totally immobile, unyielding, and you do not want to hit one. In addition to the plastic course tape, rope is strung tightly between posts. So if you run into the tape, it ain't gonna break. There's no cutting corners, running the tape, or going wide. The edges of the course are completely fixed.
The master's field I've seen here is similar to home: pretty diverse. There are really fast guys, medium guys, and slower ones. They have a range of technical skills too and are not all bike-handling ninjas. But they all have dialed equipment, meticulous preparation, at least one helper, and lots of experience. The average speed is a bit higher than the US, but its not dramatically faster like the pro level. Motivated masters racers from the US could be competitive here if they bring a good game and don't make mistakes.
One thing that really stands out is the race-day preparation. All riders come with at least one helper to handle the bikes, unload the car, pump tires, and work the pit. You rarely see racers arrive in their car alone. Everyone has a selection of wheels, and two matching bikes. They do not bring their own bike to the pit, the helpers do that. And everyone brings a small portable work stand, buckets and brushes, the whole set up. In a word, PRO. Riders don't change in their car - there are changing rooms for that purpose, and plenty of full-on hot showers at the bigger events. You're not likely to see muddy riders standing around drinking beers. You'll see clean, dressed and warm riders inside the cafe drinking beers.
A few other notables: registration is performed by uniformed officials, inside a building, all is computerized and there are no forms to fill out. Entry fees are dirt cheap, like 3 euros (or they pay you if you're an elite) but spectators have to pay. There are no liability waivers and don't forget your safety pins - they're not provided.
Tomorrow we head to St Michielsgestel, Holland for my last race of the za trip.
Well, it's official, I guess. The news is now emanating from Za Motherland about the cancellation of this year's UCI Master's World Cyclocross Championships. Sad sad sad state of affairs.
A few months ago I heard rumblings from my dear friend Mark of Black Market Racing. Parenthetically, it needs to be understood that we...we=Americans...have a rich history of participating in the Master's Worlds for a decade or more. Folks like Mark and the BMR crew, Kathy Sarvary and Tom Stevens and of course the machine himself, Mr. Will Black, have been packing up their bikes and heading to this race for a decade or more.
With these relationships having been formed over the years by guys like Mark et al, we now have great relationships with the inner-sanctum of the Belgian Cycling Federation and regional authorities which are kept up around the calendar year and re-formed when the troops head back over to race year after year. Dialog with authorities on the Belgian Cycling Selection as an example indicated that these 2010 Master's Worlds getting cancelled unfortunately all comes down to a lack of financing (isn't it always money??). 30K Euros was the apparent sum required and unfortunately not able to be sourced for the event. How that was to be utilized (e.g. between the UCI and the Zilvermeer course and others) is not understood....but alas it's assumed that hands were thrown in the air and brain damage was being done and the event was whacked. The solution: The European Masters Cyclocross Championships held in Mol, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel...just sans UCI. And sand beautiful master's jersey. Oh and 'non Europeans' are apparently allowed to race their championships. Sigh. What does it all mean....
This all begs the question of fundrasing. I mean, we pushed and got something infinitley more insurmountable done here in Boulder with the Valmont Bike Park. That is a multi-million dollar sustainable park! Here, I wonder why a consortium wasn't assembled, sponsors solicited and pushed hard. Maybe it was. It makes me think that the Master's Worlds is just something that is 'humored' by its organizers and the UCI itself....yet still cherished by riders.
Anyways, I digress. I'm bummed out for those who were making plans for this yet I'd still encourage you to go. The racing in the area at that time is unbelievable and you'll learn lots you need to bring back to your regions here in the US. This is how we grow.
38. Thirty eight. Years passed and stuff learned. And yet I never felt younger. Should it come, I'd be satisfied. Failing it coming, I can look forward with wide eyes and determined nerves. Happy.
I crave it, year after year. The changing of the leaves, the donning of fleece, the running of thinner knobbier rubber...and yet Colorado makes it difficult to envision the season of the changing leaves with it's desert like surroundings. The rain pours today like it has for days and it's green. All green. And wet. And Belgium...and I slip back to Mol...
I watched my Rhino rip into the peat-like earth. I brought the tire back to its place of birth. And while I should have been watching the bends in the lush singletrack they call a 'cross course, I couldn't help but look down and watch as the cotton casing and the perfectly pliable rubber bent and molded to the earth, sending small wakes of peat into the air as I turned the wheel left and right. Perfect. God's good earth given to us to race on.
Ned reminded me of this last night with Whit-J and Dubba. After work frolics to blow the tubes out on soil that should have been dusty and hard. Instead, our 29" wheels and tires dug into the earth in the same manner, getting me stoked for the season to come.
We're here. What did you do to get ready for cross? Years ago I would have said intervals or barrier work or suffer or...well, honestly anything naive. And now...simply....carve. Just let the tires do the work and smile.
Uh oh, drama folks! Looks like my friend Edwin Raats, Masters racing 'hard man' from The Netherlands, tried in vein to challenge the participation of Ludovic Dubau in last year's Master's Worlds in Mol. I paraphrased the translation below for you from an article in Belgian Cycling Selection.
29 November 2008, Edwin Raats still with empty hands
It's [nearly a year] now after the world masters cyclocross championship in Mol and Edwin Raats has thrown in the towel as a result of his complaint against the irregular participation of Ludovic Dubau [in the 2008 January race]. Dubau won this world championship indeed, but there was serious doubt if he, however, belonged in the masters category. Dubau as an example rode as an elite racer in A1 the cyclocross in Roubaix just before the master's worlds, and briefly stood in the top 200 at the UCI ranking for Elite cyclocross racers.
Edwin, with the UCI rule to his side, complained against this irregular participation which cost him the world title in Mol in January. We supported Edwin Raats point of view; the world championships for masters belong to the pure amateur sportsman, to them that Elite racers have chosen consciously to race for the master's [trophee]. In spite of his sound complaint, Edwin still has not received an answer from the UCI and of the Dutch KNWU, which him would have support in its matter, he experiences little good will here make work, for them it is purely a master category issue. It is sad note that this complaint no longer gets attention from the UCI, and this dipute and hs already dragged on way too long.
Finally it concerns here, however, the world title. Edwin is tired of this fight and wishes now to be able put energy in the sport himself. However, he remains with a sour feeling: "Apparently the sport-loving value of the World Championships is [sucked out] and seems its more and more a commercial matter. I have 23 years with a permit at the KNWU/UCI and have considerable experience in this sport. With much pleasure I have raced for years in the amateur and masters, all [us] boys with the same context and the same objective. It's our game, and no aubaine (translation: 'cherry picking) by the inferior elite racers."
Small [closing] detail: In November our master Dubau took 3rd in the A2 cyclocross at Marle, behind Mourey and Vervecken. Master for 1 day?
So Edwin is taking one for the team I guess but has clearly created a stir. So for all you folks heading over to Mol this year, best of luck. It's a knife fight against hardened pros.
I've had numerous emails, questions, etc from readers on details of the trip KP, Dubba and I had last year to Za Motherland and worked with CX Magazine to publish a piece on the experience with various resources on how to do it logistically speaking.
You should go. You should 'cross. You should imbibe the Belgie Brown Dubbels.
Entering the Lion’s Den: My Masters Worlds Experience and a How-to Guide
by Greg Keller
Welcome to the lion’s den…
It was by far the biggest moment in my cycling career. Oh, and if you’d humor me and call my hobby a career along with me, my ego will be indebted. I’m hearing my name being called out in Flemish. I’m seeing hoards of spectators in Wellingtons and rain jackets waiting to watch the spectacle on a prototypically dismal Belgian day. I see massive signs for Duvel and Primus. I am feeling the tension build as I get a front row call up. And yet with all this going on around me, all I could do was stare at this guy yank up the leg of his skin suit in front of everyone at the start/finish and proceed to pee on top of his White Sex Sidi Dragons.
Wow! What a COOL night! Thanks to you all who came to hear some stories from the 'old men' about this adventure we went on to Za Motherland. The turnout was fantastic and we were able raise some great coin for the CLIF Bar Cyclocross Development Team. Sweet!
At the end of the proverbial day, I hope people had fun and could here the 'subtle' messages of things that I learned....and is at the heart of what I wanted to relay:
a) Trips like this aren't just for pros
b) The racing is just 1 aspect of the trip. Keeping your head up and 'seeing' is more important and seeing that culture woven through the races and racers themselves is what must be tasted.
c) Cross is life. You need to go.
Thanks to all the supporters of the Slide Show Fundraiser! Chris King, New Belgium Brewery, CLIF Bar, Izze, and Rocky Mounts! People were stoked for their prizes and we thank you all for your kind donations.
Some digital celluloid of the night!
Chocolate, Waffles & 'Cross: Bye-bye, Belgium
It’s rather comical how meticulously I pack my bikes and gear for a big race trip, such as this recent adventure to Belgium. Everything is cleaned, wrapped, folded, and hermetically sealed, then put in its perfect place.
However, on the return leg of trips such as this one, it’s a different story.
I just finished packing my bikes and gear for the long trip back to the States following my last cyclocross race of the 2007-08 season, and basically it looks as though a bomb exploded in my bike case and duffel bag. I pity the person at airport security who inspects my duffel bag, which has been stuffed to the gills with dirty cycling clothes, wet socks and muddy shoes. At the end of an epic week of slogging through thick Belgian mud, my luggage weighs about 10 pounds more than when I left. Although, it might have something to do with all the Belgian chocolate I am bringing home.
I'm home. Really home. It feels great....even the veritable fire hose work had pent up for me that started up Tuesday AM at 6 AM when I got back to it.
Ironically, it felt good.
But now I feel empty. Weird. I want to cross more. I want to hear my name being called out over the loudspeakers in a language that is totally foreign to me. I want to finish up my race and get a beer ticket from those nice people that seem to be at every race and submit the ticket to the even nicer people in the beer tent to drink the brown goodness. I want to stand in the pits with my boots on talking with more and more people about this sport I love.
I want to learn more.
I went out on a ride yesterday on the roadie and found myself up out of the saddle sprinting. Didn't even think about it. I just did it. I've GOT to stop that and start to release and let the body rebound a bit. OK, rebound a LOT.
I miss it already. Worlds this weekend to keep me satiated. Then, I need to think about fat tires. Projects to hold me over like building that 29'er....until its time to dial in the cross bikes. Shit, maybe I'll just dial them in now and just look at them all Spring.
I'm home. I'm happy. I'm longing already.
Boulder Cycle Sport and Mud and Cowbells (er...ah, me) would like to invite you to to join us for a little slide show viewing, cyclo-cross talking, friend seeing, beer drinking and most importantly some fund raising for Ben Turner's team green: The CLIF BAR Development Cyclo-Cross Team.
- Come hear stories and see pictures from Za Trip: 3 old men go race cyclocross in the Motherland. This is not a film by Sam Smith.
- A suggested donation of $5 American Dollars will entirely be donated to the CLIF BAR Development Cyclocross Team and make you feel like a hero.
- We're going to attempt to get some raffles together. Stay tuned. Possibly the chamois from Ben's USA Cycling issued skin suit from his World's venture. Mmmm.
- Beer will be served and all the cool kids will be there.
- Why in God's good earth do you need justification to come see friends and geek out on cross?
- More Americans need to go to Belgium and duke it out with the best on earth. This is our chance to Jedi Mind Trick you to a) do it yourself and b) help kids do it cause they like, have a future.
- We need you to help support our young'ns and help get 'em to races and buy some new Dugasts for 'em.
- Beer. Celebrate it. Cross. Celebrate it.
- Thursday January 31st
- Doors Open at 6:30 PM
- 7-8PM Slide show
- 8-9 Happy hour!
- The hallowed halls of Boulder Cycle Sport. 4580 North Broadway, Boulder 80304
It's gonna be awesome.
While in Belgium, I was able to finally hook up with the man behind CTodd,TV, Mr. C Todd himself! Great to meet and hang home boy! You can see some videos and read some of his perspectives on the race here.