(photo credit: Delphine Page)
Our European based GrassMoots racer Dan Seaton checks in with this early report of contrasts and anticipation of a new mudder in the family…..he writes:
In Belgium, like a lot of places, October is a month of contrasts. Last year my October started with beautiful, summer-like weather and ended a seaside race in sleet and mud. This year is shaping up much the same way, and the races I’ve done so far in October have been so different that it’s hard to believe they all happened within about 50 km of each other. But that’s the beauty of Cyclocross: one day you can be screaming around a hard-packed course in perfect fall weather, and the next you might be knee-deep in mud, just trying to keep moving forward. You have to be prepared for anything, especially in a place like Belgium where the weather can change completely in a matter of minutes.
October started with a race in Moerbeke-Waas, on a course that was just meters from the Belgium-Netherlands border, not far from Antwerp, in a course that wound around a series of farm fields, some grassy and some loose, dusty dirt. The day was blazing hot, maybe 90° in the sun; weather that makes me think more about lazing on the beach than racing ‘cross. And there was no relief of a flat, very fast course with no shade at all.
(photo credit: Mindi Wisman)
I’ve never been great in the heat, but I had good position in the starting grid and blasted off the line to find myself in find position during the early laps. For much of the first half of the race I battled with four other guys, the group working together on the faster sections and everybody looking to break the race open wherever a turn or barriers offered a chance to grab a bit of a gap. For a while, it was going great.
Then an unusual thing happened, we all started to notice guys on the side of the course, clearly beaten by the heat rather than their fellow racers. Soon, one of our group joined them, pulling out of the race in the pits. Just as I was telling myself how tough I was, the heat caught up with me too, and I instantly was dangling dangerously at the back of our group, which now down to just three riders and me. It didn’t take much for the two leaders to pull clear, and I was left to battle the rest of the way with one guy who was able to take advantage of some confusion on the finishing straight to sneak around me just before the line. So the first result of the month was more or less disappointing.
The next week, however, saw a return to real ‘cross conditions, rain and fifty degrees. I headed south to a small race in Jodoigne, in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. Racing on a gorgeous course dominated by a hard climb on the road and a fast, slippery descent through the gardens of an old Belgian chateau, I found myself welcoming the return of bad weather. The race was my first authentically Belgian ‘cross of the season, and I felt like I handled myself pretty well.
I managed to pull away from a little group of three at about mid-race and hung on for my first top ten finish of the year, with an eighth in my under-40 category and took home a box of cookies as a reward for my best Belgian result in more than a year. Of course, I spent about three hours cleaning my bike when I got home — but when you’ve got a bike as beautiful as my Psychlo-X, what choice do you have?
The next weekend I took my shiny, clean bike back to Wallonia for one more race, this time in Grez-Doiceau, and raced on one of the most perfect fall days I have ever seen. The sky was crystal blue, unblemished by even a single cloud, and the temperature just below 60. And again we were treated to a beautiful and very difficult course that combined a very long, hard climb with a loose but very fast descent and a series of very difficult 180-degree turns. It was, perhaps, the most physical course I’ve seen in a couple of years, and left me sore for days afterwards. (You know when your arms hurt after a bike race that you were really working.)
This time I got beaten in the closing laps by a couple of guys who just played a better tactical hand than I did, but still managed a fourteenth place, good enough for a €5 prize.
Mindi, my wife, and I spent the money on post-race beverages and watched the crazy-fast Belgian juniors do battle on a perfect fall day, chatting with my friend Clément and his family. It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend an afternoon. (I owe Clément a big debt for telling me about these great Wallonian races — Flanders gets all the attention when it comes to ‘cross, but the folks in the south are warm and welcoming and know how to put on a great race too.)
The afternoon was especially great because it’s probably the last I’ll have for a little while. Sometime in the next week or so, Mindi and I are going to become parents. So I’ll be thinking more about cleaning dirty diapers than dirty bikes for the foreseeable future. But I hope to pick up where I left off when the big November races roll around in a couple of weeks.
And yes, the kid will be out there alongside the course with his mom and dad. It’s never too soon to get them started with ‘cross, right?