AFI Valkenburg

I always get a little excited about heading out to Valkenburg because, you know, CAUBERG and this day was no exception. A bike ride and 3 trains later I’m there and my feet know their own way from Valkenburg station to the Cauberg. I was feeling good with my new insoles!

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Straight away I’m in the carpark and I run straight into fellow Kiwi, Mr Katie Compton who’s having fun filing cog teeth (it’s all in the details!). The new look Katie/Trek looks gorgeous, but I shall apologise for shit pic—I will remember to sort the camera settings out before clicking the button, Amateur!

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Instead of the bike, here’s Katie. And her pounamu. © 2015 Cat Armour

Not much else was happening so I headed to the ticket booth and into the course proper. This is where I start to get a little downer because UCI events cost more than others and the club membership cards that usually qualify us for a discount mean nothing to these guys. It makes me sad.

Anyway, the junior race was getting underway and it was time to explore the course and see what changes from last year.

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Flyovers … and … © 2015 Cat Armour
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woods … and … so much fencing. © 2015 Cat Armour

The UCI, I’m told, at the riders request, have a new rule that hairpins where riders frequently came together and used the fence post to turn around are no longer allowed. This new rule snuck up on me. However, it has caused some changes to courses. At Ronse there was a much wider corner instead and at Valkenburg the off-cambers were now to be taken at speed before dismounting. Personally, I rather liked the scrum around the hairpins and the creative use of fence posts. It added to the down-to-earth charm of CX.

Last year's hairpins (top) are this year's triangles (bottom). © 2015 Cat Armour
Last year’s hairpins (top) are this year’s triangles (bottom). © 2015 Cat Armour

Jappe Jaspers zoomed off to a commanding lead again and again was being chased by Jens Dekker and Seppe Rombouts. These guys are showing themselves to be the strongest in the junior category and the mark for the season. This time Jaspers held out for the win and he’s bound to be a favourite with the young female fans. Just look at that face!

 

Jappe Jaspers in the World Cup leader's white jersey. © 2015 Cat Armour
Jappe Jaspers in the World Cup leader’s white jersey. © 2015 Cat Armour

I thought I’d hang around at the start/finish area to catch the U23s then I had to get an (overpriced) drink and ran into a bunch more K-Pauw fans, who were their usual chirpy selves. One day I will get to ride on the bus with these guys. In the meantime …

What’s all this then? An Italian leading? Going quietly about his work Gioele Bertolini was having the ride of his young life.

Gioele Bertolini and the casino. © 2015 Cat Armour
Gioele Bertolini and the casino. © 2015 Cat Armour

Probably one of those growth spurts or something, but for sure this was his best result outside of Italy. His palmares (I checked Wikipedia!) shows that this course works pretty well for him

2013 U23 17

2014 U23 5

2015 U23 1

And still only 20 years old. keep your eyes out for this guy. Lets hope he rides more CX and gives that mountain bike a rest. New kid on the block, Eli Iserbyt battled his way up to second place after Quentin Hermans fell off the pace and France’s Clement Russo came through for third, probably due to the very vocal French coach (I am not the only person to shout at the riders!)

YAY! One of the guys made it and met me by the U23 podium so off we headed to trawl the carpark, where the women were warming up and the guys were gone out practising. We ran in to a few vagrant Klaas supporters and thankfully, we learn today his problems are something in his blood and can be fixed. I was told by one rider that the drop-off at the far end of the course was particularly scary so we headed down there for a squizz and HOLY MOLY! You’d want a frigging ladder!

Sven stopped at the top and gave it a good long look before turning round to get a run-up (down?) and giving it a go. Kevin and Tom stopped and had a look. Were joined by a few others for a bit of a conflab about it and while they were looking and talking Wout just carried straight over like it was nothing! No fear these young ‘uns.

First Sven had a look. © 2015 Cat Armour
First Sven had a look. © 2015 Cat Armour
Then Kevin had a look at Sven. © 2015 Cat Armour
Then Kevin had a look at Sven. © 2015 Cat Armour
Then they had a meeting. © 2015 Cat Armour
Then they had a meeting. © 2015 Cat Armour

Off we headed back to the start line for the Women’s Race.

I decided not to go to the ‘bowl’ part of the course this time. You just can’t cover the whole course when there’s only 5 laps. After meeting some more Sven Nys supporters and seeing to my physical comfort, I greeted Papa Wellens like he knew me, but he evaded my camera!

As you will already know, because you saw the Women’s Race live! Eva Lechner got off to a flying start and was ripping up the course with Nikki Harris in tow and never looked back. (Yes, yes, I know another Italian mountain biker—there’s a story there!) I got my shouty voice back ‘Thank You’ to Ellen van Loy and Helen Wyman for riding round pretty much together. Can they tell if you shouted Ellen or Helen? Off to the big drop I wandered to see who was committing to the rut! More than once the inflatable cushion came in to play—Loes Sels, I’m looking at you! Lucky I’m such a crap photographer!

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Eva Lechner and Nikki Harris tackle the ruts. © 2015 Cat Armour
Eva Lechner and Nikki Harris tackle the ruts. © 2015 Cat Armour

Then NONONONONO Nikki Harris has a problem and there goes any chance of a tight finish. Eva is off on her own, but step up Katie Antonneau and last week’s winner Pavla Havlikova completes the podium. Sorry, guys I didn’t chase up to the podium for pics because I was already at the startline and sometimes you just have to stay with your mates.

Lechner one last peek before posting up for the win. © 2015 Cat Armour
Lechner one last peek before posting up for the win. © 2015 Cat Armour

A crowd forms, as usual, around the start line and this time for the men, but Where’s Niels? I swear my radar is working just fine and he should be here. My relief when, with one minute to go, he comes straight for me, but I fumble for my camera and only just got today’s GPON. That was close.

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GPONB: Gratuitous Pictures of Niels’ Back. © 2015 Cat Armour

So now Wout is in the all white skinsuit of the World Cup leader and it seems to glow. I do hope the inflatable washing machine people and wash powder people are scrambling to sponsor the kit unless, of course, their products don’t get your whites whiter than white!

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© 2015 Cat Armour

As you no doubt saw it all live on TV I’ll not bore you with the details and my camera battery ran out after 4 laps!

Lars was very impressive and not giving way for anything. Both Wout and Kevin said they just didn’t have the legs for the chase and, if my bad Dutch serves me correctly (or translator!) Sven bungled it. Me and the other K-Pauw-ers screeched like proverbial fishwives, but Kevin settled for 4th and looked like he’d given everything. Gianni may have ‘Vermeersched’ a little too rigorously and spent the best part of lap 3 without a chain.

Gianni Vermeersched his chain. © 2015 Cat Armour
Gianni Vermeersched his chain. © 2015 Cat Armour

It was a long time to get back to the top of the course and I lost my friends cos I just got stuck on the wrong side, but I did manage to regale my Twitter followers with podium pics from my phone.

Usually, at the end of a day like this I go home happy and satisfied. I have a little smile to myself as I leave mud on the floor of the train and allow myself to to feel smug that the folk getting on at Liege haven’t been having so much fun. Today, however, I just wanted to get home. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, but after the fiesta at Ronse, Valkenburg seems a bit of a stuffy and serious affair. I never quite feel at home here and there are no little extras. It’s not completely joyless, but it is all business. Will I go back to Valkenburg? Probably, but if I had to choose I’d pick Ronse every time.

Next week me and the guys head for the big bucket of sand that is Zonhoven. Last year Kevin got the win so I’ve my fingers crossed.

K’MAAN KEVIIIIIIN

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2 thoughts on “AFI Valkenburg

  1. Thanks so much for writing these “AFI” articles. The text and the photos both give a really vivid sense of the atmosphere at these races and of the differences between the three big series, from the more starchy World Cups to the homey Bpost Bank races. I especially love the photo of Sven contemplating the big drop.

  2. I really like your approach to covering the races… like Alan above, I also feel that you give a unique view to the Euro CX events, and give a real feel for the atmosphere. I love the description of the drop-off and seeing the big boys giving it a careful look before having a go.

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