The dance of the Cyclocross Tape unfolds…….Zegelsem, Belgium
Our Belgian based GrassMoots Racer Dan Seaton writes in this week with two race updates from the motherland of Cyclocross. The country has seen the storm of the decade pound the fields with rain, turning the lush farmland into deep quagmires, better suited for running than riding. Dan writes;
The past couple of weeks I’ve headed out to a couple of my favorite Flemish races of the whole ‘cross season. The first was in Zegelsem, and every one of the three years I’ve gone there, it has been one of the toughest, muddiest, most technical and most beautiful courses of the season.
Set deep in a relative remove little valley, the course crisscrosses the first big climb on the route of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the season opener of Elite road racing in Belgium. It’s always been a pretty muddy race, but this year the rains have been relentless, and although the race actually featured some pretty nice weather, the course was a complete mess, with many of its long,twisting sections deep enough with mud to sink a wheel up to its hub.
So the race turned out to be another in a series of hybrid cross-country running/bike races this season, and I was able to take advantage of the fact that I’m a half-way decent runner to work my way around a number of guys I normally don’t manage to beat.
Frequently in these Belgian races I do a lot of work during the first couple of laps to move up; put a number of guys away, before the race thins out and I end up riding pretty much alone during the later laps. But Zegelsem was a race all the way to the finish, and I managed to fight off a two-man attack from behind by shouldering my bike and just running like my life depended on it through the final muddy stretch of the last lap. The results were great, and I managed to crack the top 15 in the Masters 30+ category for the first time this season.
The following Thursday, Armistice Day here in Belgium, we headed back out, this time to Zaffelare, a town northeast of Gent, to go again, and I was hopeful I’d be able to continue the top 15 trend. The course was already soaked when we got there, but the skies opened up about 30 minutes before my race, kicking off four days of what would become one of the worst storms Belgium has seen in decades. The wind was screaming across the mostly wide-open, completely flat course, and the temperature plunged down into the upper thirties, setting up some epic Cyclocross conditions.
This was the kind of race where the weather was so bad, bike changes were unnecessary. The course was so wet that mud didn’t really stick to the bike, and the rain fell so hard that what did stick was basically washed away as the race went on. For me, the weather was bad, but after years of racing in New England, I’m at least used to racing in cold conditions, and some careful clothing choices and race preparation left me feeling ok despite the weather.
Dan is looking for a clothing detergent sponsorship…..Zaffelare, Belgium
Through the first half of the first lap I just sat in on the back of a big group, again including a number of guys I normally don’t beat, and waited to see what was going to happen. But it quickly became clear that I was in much better shape than a lot of people in the race, so on a short section of sloppy dirt road I grabbed a comparatively dry line on the outside, hit the gas, and went for it. For the next few laps I led the group around the course, but nobody seemed to want to take the initiative to come to the front, so I just kept the pressure on and one by one everybody dropped away.
To give you some idea of what it was like last Thursday in Belgium, the biggest problem I had in the race was that, on the one section of course where shouldering the bike was really necessary I found myself repeatedly blown into the course tape by the wind. Pick your bike up and it immediately became a sail, pulling you every way but forward. But in the end I managed to improve on my good result the Saturday before, grabbing 13th place in the Masters and beating my nearest competitor by almost a minute and a half. Of course, I spent the next hour shivering uncontrollably, and the rest of the day cleaning bikes and doing my seemingly endlessly muddy laundry, but that was a small price to pay for my best race of the season.
It’s worth adding that, in both of these muddy races, I was really happy to have the Psychlo-X with me. The bike clears mud well enough to keep you rolling when others just jam up. On top of that, in combination with some really incredibly light and well-handling wheels from Revolution Wheelworks that I’ve been testing for Cyclocross Magazine, the bike cuts a nice line through the muck and is easy to shoulder. Weight may not matter in ‘cross in quite the same way as it does on the roads, but having a bike that doesn’t bog you down when you have to run with it can make the difference on a bad day — it certainly did for me in Zegelsem.
Thanks to Dan for writing in and giving a firsthand perspective of what it’s like to race Cyclocross in Belgium. I think me personally I get a new found respect for the style of racing that goes on in Belgium. It’s not that glamorous on our level of racing…it’s dirty, it’s cold and without doubt it’s hard. Dan also wrote a great piece for CYCLOCROSS MAGAZINE not too long ago about the history of the Belgian mud and just how nasty it can be while fighting a real war….if you’d like to read his article I highly recommend it:
World War I ….Belgian mud had a huge impact on the front