Entries in Za Webber Trip (7)
Have a gander of Pete's presentation to a great group of folks who came to hear about racing in Belgium...and as you'll learn, a history of American Cyclocross as told by storyteller, Pete Webber. Thanks to the wonderful sponsors and OnSight Media (Brian Patrick) for hosting and documenting the event.
Continue watching the rest of the videos...
First, let us all join in concert:
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear Peter,
Happy birthday to you!
Indeed folks, get Pete gift cards to Target because home boy is going to need his Depends. Homie turned FORTY today! And what a day to spend a birthday...in Sint-Michelsgestel, The Netherlands. Today Pete, Sally and Ella spent their last day of their vacation before heading home by donning winter gear and bearing the cold and ice of the parcours to cheer on their husband and daddy to another WIN!
Pete, we're all unbelievably stoked for you and you've represented the US of A in a way that the Euros better understand that we eat, sleep and LIVE this sport of theirs...err...ours. You've done us proud homie.
And now, Pete's farewell report for Za Motherland. Come home safe Webbers!
Hello readers. First, I want to say thanks for checking my reports and allowing me to indulge in some storytelling. It has been a fun couple weeks!
For the final race of za trip, we made a 2-hour drive into Holland to partake of the Grand Prix Groenendaal in Sint-Michielsgestel, just south of south of 's-Hertogenbosch. This has been the site for several Dutch National Championships and the World Championships in 2000, won by today's namesake Richard Groenendaal (NED).
Before we get to my race report, let's spend a few moments on Mr. Groenendaal. When I was just a 24 year old rookie, I raced at the elite worlds in Koksijde, Belgium. I was a total noob when it came to euro cross racing, and without the internet, videos, coaching, or any mentors, I knew zilch about the deep sands of Koksijde or anything else. I was inevitably lapped. But just before I exited the course at the nearest beer tent, I wintnessed a legendary drama play out as pre-race favorite Belgium Paul Herijgers finally bridged up to a 23-year-old hotshot who had taken a bold mid-race flyer. Herigers, pre-ordained to win, soft pedaled alongside the red-faced youngster and draped an arm over his shoulder in a show of fatherly affection. With a pat on the back and a few encouraging words, Herijers stomped on the pedals and powered away to win. That young hotshot? None other than Richard Groenendaal. He went on to many big wins, including 8 national titles. He earned other accolades too, as seen in this quick video.
With these memories in mind, Sally, Ella and I loaded the van and for the o-dark-30 drive (really not so early but the sun isn't up til 9 am here) over snowy roads thru Gent, Antwerp, and into Holland. Upon arrival, the sun was glistening upon 3 inches of fresh snow and an awesome course (if you happen to be from Colorado). I made three practice laps during which the Rhinos were lowered progressively to about 24 psi and mushing all over the slipperyness. The site was very flat, but the course used every bump and wrinkle. Cornering was the primary challenge, and there were at least 30 turns per lap where you could make a mistake. A set of barriers, a mini staircase, a flyover, some woodsey singletrack, and open field riding completed the circuit. Great spectating and difficult passing were in store.
The masters field was 54 strong, and guess who scored number 54? I worked the staging as much as possible, but was still 4th row when the gun went off. With yesterday's lessons fresh in mind, I attacked the first lap like a kamakazi. I knew that the favorites had started from the front row, and would be impossible to pull back if they got too far. Passing guys on every straight, and sticking my wheel into every door left ajar, I worked up into fifth place by the end of the first lap. The second lap was fast, but I clung to the lead group like glue. These guys were quick, but I could feel their hesitation with the snow. We've had a crazy season of snow in Colorado, and a couple icy days at Bend Nationals too. I've had some snow practice and hoped I could make the turny course work for me. As we hit the start/finish with 3 to go, I went like mad, passed all 4 guys, and forced my way into the first hairpin bend. Now in the lead, I focused on two things: railing the turns and sprinting like hell on every straight. It was my bud Brandon Dwight who showed me that sprinting out of turns is essential on flat, turny courses. Without climbs, it is the only way to make time. So I sprinted, 30 times per lap, and by the last lap I had 20 seconds over two chasers. With this slim margin, I took my 3rd win of this trip.
The post-race scene was totally PRO, with a warming tent, hot drinks, podium girls, and of course fresh Dutch tulips. And to bring it all full circle, I got an arm around the shoulder and backslap from Mr. Groenendaal.
The Master's Field was 54 deep. And yup, I got No. 54.
The Dutch do their courses PRO.
Never letting the Dutch Master National Champion out of site.
To the victor go the spoils.
The amzing Sally. Pete's now totally PRO wife. She'll be in demand in Boulder as a pit boss this season.
Boulder's Yannick Eckmann drilling it off a fresh podium appearence in Sint Niklaas.
David Kessler from Littleton, CO throwing it down with the juniors.
The cutest girl in Europe: Ella met Frites. My boys would have cried uncle and cried for warmth. Ella: she's hard.
Obviously for warmth.
Pete with Richard G and his daughter Ella.
Dutch National and former World Champion Lars 'the real tree farm' Boom prepping bikes for his debut in Sint Michelsgesten before he tries for the Dutch jersey again.
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.
Pete and Family are continuing their Holiday Week in Belgium with some epic rides! Have a read of his latest installment as he navigates his Dugasts over the famed cobbles of the Classics...
Happy New Year's Eve!
I've had a couple great rides this week around Oudenaarde, our home base here in Belgium. This somewhat hilly region is known as the Flemish Ardennes, and many of the famous bergs of the Tour of Flanders are within a few k of town, and easy to get to. As is normal for this time of year, it rains so frequently, and the sun is so pitifully weak and short-lived, its a mistake to venture off-road much. But the road riding is so good, that isn't a problem!
There are numerous way-marked routes that take the climbs in the preferred direction, visit the ubiquitous tiny villages, and hit as many cobbles as possible. You don't even need a map, just follow the proper color signposts. Once you get out of Oudenaarde, the roads are small, there are almost no cars, and the riding is super fun. Plus there's the history. I'm a lover of the spring classics and racing history, so it is really cool to pedal up to an unremarkable intersection amongst sleepy farms and see signs that point to the Eikenberg, Koppenberg, or Kwaremont.
These cobbled-classics are crazy. You really have to ride them to appreciate how bumpy and difficult they are. When wet, the stones are slippery and scary, and I don't think they dry out until summer. Some of the climbs like the Koppenberg reach 20%, and are basically unridable on a road bike in wet conditions. Even on a cross bike, I had to walk the steepest part. This makes watching the pros hammer up these beasts in the races that much more impressive.
I've got two races coming this weekend, so stay tuned for more updates!
Pete's Dugasts have returned 'home' to tpuch the sweet and famed cobbles of Koppenberg. NIce zig-zag, Pete.
The precision of the cobbles is amazing. here, the Eikenberg.
Pete cresting the Koppenberg.
Nothing dries in Belgium as witnessed by the moss between the cobbles in Oudenaarde.
Pete in front of their apartment and rental car in Oudenaarde.
Another installment from friend and teammate Pete Webber along with his wife and daughter, Sally and Ella as they romp through the mud and cobbles of Belgium this holiday season. The last few days saw the Webbers take advantage of some well needed rest, some RVV museum visiting and some cafe'-viewing of the latest stop of the GVA, the Azencross in Loenhout!
Monday and Tuesday have been rest and relaxation days. First, the bikes needed complete washing and tuning. Also on tap was laundry, grocery shopping, a visit to the bike shop, and some chilling. The weather is pretty rainy and temps are low, so even when fully rain-kitted the recovery rides are short. Today I did 40 minutes along the river in a steady 35-degree rain. It was actually a great spin, and I don't think any ride in Belgium is bad.
The tubulars needed some attention, because the constant wetness and mud has been tough on the Dugast sidewalls. The only way to dry them out is to bring 'em inside, as nothing in the garage ever dries out. A fresh coat of sealer is needed on the older set where a few nicks have allowed water to infiltrate the side-wall and is creating these spreading black stains. Nice.
During this trip I had intended to ride some Master events as well as some Elite races. At 40 years old, I'm definitely a Master, which starts at 30 over here, but I also wanted to try some of the second-tier mid-week Elite events. However I have learned that Belgian rules do not allow for this. A rider must choose only one category and stay there for the whole year. In the US, we are allowed to ride different categories, even in UCI races, and I was a bit surprised by this rule. So this week I looked into changing my license to Elite, but that is fairly difficult to do, especially during the holidays, and it would disqualify me from riding any more Master races in Belgium. Additionally, after checking out the results in the recent Elite races, I realized I would be the oldest rider in any elite race by several years*, and would be getting lapped, or close to it. It is a difficult position, and unfortunately, there are no mid-week Master races, so I'll have to wait till Saturday to race again. But hey, that leaves more time for riding the amazing Flemish countryside and family adventures. Not to mention some rest, I'm whupped.
Today we watched the GVA Trophy race from Loenhout on TV in a nearby cafe. Of course, all the big cross races are on live TV, and they have plenty of pre and post race analysis. The mud looked incredibly difficult. You could see that many riders were running, while the top guys stayed on the bike. It is sick how much power they generate. Churning thru the mud at a good clip while everyone else has to run. I'm also amazed at how they can create (or close) gaps so quickly. When they turn on the speed, its like an instant 20 meter gap. Powerrrrr.
We also went to the Tour of Flanders museum, located right here in the center of Oudenaarde. This region is known as the Flemish Ardennes, and is the heart of the Tour of Flanders course. Many of the key bergs are within a few miles of town. The museum has great stuff, like photos of all the champions, ancient team cars, bikes through the years, examples of the different types of cobbles, and of course heaps of jerseys and team stuff. They even have a bike that simulates riding on cobbles. Hilarious.
Here's a funny thing that happened last week. While grocery shopping, I looked and looked but couldn't find any salt. I asked an employee, and in broken english he said "no salt, no salt" and a bunch of other stuff in Flemish. I'm thinking, what? no salt? I turn to a nearby shopper and ask again for salt. She laughs and explains that all the stores are completely sold out of salt because of the recent snow and ice! The locals even bought little shakers of table salt to battle last week's abnormally snowy conditions. Ha! The snow has all melted now, thanks to the rain, but salt remains out of stock in the grocery store.
*Really a decade and a few - Sally
Some Digital Celluloid from Za Webber Lens:
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!
Jealousy. There, I said it. I am insanely jealous of Pete and his family's assault on Belgium and they are living the dream....although it started with some nightmares with luggage and bikes not showing up for a day or two into their trip.This family is core, they live life and we are all so proud of them...Especially Sally (mom) and Ella (Daughter) as they man the pits for their daddy/husband as he goes against some pretty damn hardened Belgians this "Christmas Week".
Two guys have taken me under their wing here in Boulder...Pete and Brandon Dwight and I think it is safe to say for Dubba and I that Pete is a beacon of information and history having raced professionally during the heyday of mountain biking in the late 90's with the Gary Fisher team. Pete has been so influential to Brandon over the decade + they've known each other and of for me over the last 3 years I've known and trained with him and he's been amazingly impactful. His advice to me has been nothing short of spiritual....from tactics to technical aspects to things that SHOULD be obvious to me after racing all these years and what is really needed for success: rest, reality, repeats and REALLY good beer.
I want you all to get a taste of Pete as he is a great friend, teacher and possibly the man with the driest sense of humor this side of the Thames. He's been on a TEAR this year with his win at the Colorado State Cyclocross Championships (Men's Open) and of course his win in Bend as our US 40-44 National Champion. And to think a year ago when he and I went out on a mellow ride and he said: "Yeah, I'm going to gun for Nationals. Haven't raced it in like a decade..." The man knows how to peak.
Pete, we're so proud of you, hombre. And now without further adieu, Pete Webber....
Hey everyone, I'm over here in Belgium for a holiday cross adventure and vacation with my family. We've been here about 5 days so far, and outside of baggage delays and crazy cold weather, it has been a great trip so far. Oh yea, it isn't just a trip, it is "Za Trip" as Keller would say.
Today was my first race, and it ended with a big W. I can't believe it, but everything came right and I scored a nice victory. I'm doing another race tomorrow, so I'll have to keep this short . . . Anyway, the race was a Flemish Cyclocross Cup event in Beernem, just north of Gent. (Hometown of Sven Vanthourenhout). I raced the Masters, 1961-1970 age group, which is my UCI category.
The course was pretty strange. It was actually super fun, but the layout of the site was totally different. It was in a green belt, a woodsy strip of land between a big canal, like a river, and the dike along the edge of town. So the course was a long out-and-back, with a mixture of bike path, singletrack, and crazy steeps down to the river and back up the embankment. It wasn't too muddy, but by the end I was pretty covered. Everything was slick.
One scary item was that the bike path was covered with a massive sheet of wet ice. You had to ride the grass along the side, or risk the ice if you wanted faster rolling, were brave, and didn't mind an ice-water roost. Anyway, I got a great start from the 3rd row and hit the dirt in 4th. I gradually moved up and kept the pace high until it was just myself and another guy, who happened to be sporting the rainbow stripes.
We traded the lead for several laps and I thanked my lucky stars (or maybe it was the lucky bib 13 on my back) that us old farts just race for 45 minutes. When I finally heard 3 to go, I was cross-eyed and digging deep. I tried a handful of attacks, but the WC stuck with me like glue. We diced for the singletrack a couple times each lap, with some good bumping too. My wife Sally and daughter Ella were screaming like mad from the pit, where they had my B bike ready to go every lap, thankfully not needed.
With one to go, I drilled it and got a small gap. I kept the gas on, but that dude clawed back and passed me again! But, I noticed that I had an advantage on the 2 insane run-ups - these crazy steep walls. He didn't have my fast feet, at least going up these muddy banks. I attacked one last time going into the final dismount before the finish. Just then, music to my ears, I heard a unidentifiable string of flemish behind me. I hit the road and went full gas.
I snuck a look... nobody. He bobbled or slipped or something! I sat up cruised down the finish straight with the arms up. Yes!
Some photos from the day:
Check out the foot holds of this run up...
Sally, Ella and Pete celebrating.
The Uitslag Beernam
6 year old Ella (and our neighbor!) rocking it in the pits.
I know this face and if you are behind it (like most of us), here's what it looks like to slay the dragon.