On the fourth day of CXmas we got the floodlights of DIEGEM.
Last year we stood in freeing cold ice and snow and despite my feet being frozen blocks I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. This year the weather is unseasonably warm and I still haven’t had to wear gumboots to a race. Last year also, I came by train and met up with The Guys by Niels Albert (yes, we used Niels as a PLACE to meet!) This year we drove right past Niels and headed for the top of the course by the beer tent straight away! Well, it was a late start and by the time we got to the course it was well past beer o’clock! In fact, by the time we got there Jappe Jaspers was well on the way to overwinning again and much of the spectatorship were about 4 or 5 sheets to the wind! (That’s nautical misspeak to say a bit squiffy with the intent on becoming totally plastered)
I like the top of this course. Here there are the planks, sand pit, upper pits and the little ring through the trees with the inflatable floodlights. Bonuses include the big screen, food and drink outlets canteen with nice indoor warm toilets. Negative – extremely loud beer tent with DJ going pretty much all day. Normally, I love this type of thing, but the music is so loud the best place to be to appreciate it is about 100m from the source!
The Guys set base camp here and although we met some people to talk to I was chomping at the bit to get a look at the course. Eventually I just had to make my apologies and headed off to the planks, around the pits and the sand to the woods at the back end where they have these wonderful little inflatable lights that, at night, look like they are floating in the trees. An oasis of quiet away from the crowds who have no doubt escaped their families for a chance to get pissed on Sunday afternoon in a very mild December afternoon.
The U23 were now underway so I waited in the woods for them to come through, this was a course for Quinten Hermans and maybe it was because he was trying so hard that Eli Iserbyt came a cropper at the planks. I didn’t know about this til I got back to the big screen, but, due to some course volunteers taking their job a little too seriously, I couldn’t get across the course until after the whole peloton had been through the 2nd lap, so I saw Eli way back but not why. When I got back to The Guys I asked what had happened and I’m sorry to say they were completely oblivious! Talking so much they hadn’t even seen the excessive replays of him flipping over the planks! Oh well, at least they were enjoying themselves. Golf claps for Quinten and beers all round.
Then I made the mistake of heading down in to the town. One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time and, at first, it was. There are quite a few bottlenecks on this course because it goes through the centre of the town. By the railway bridge may be the worst as the high barriers with advertising means that you cannot see any racing from there. The crossing to the most direct route to town centre is right on the corner with people coming up to the beer tent. Drunk people are not always patient and obviously this location has been an issue on other occasions. maybe a bridge over the bridge would be a solution? Further down is a pinch point caused by the tv camera on the pub corner allowing only one person at a time through, but of course people want to hang out outside the pub. Little things that make it difficult to get around.
Finally i found my way to the start/finish straight for the start of the women’s race and YAY! I ran in to Wei Yuet Wong, who is a fabulous photographer from Singapore and my first partner in crime in going to Belgian CX races in 2014. I think he got some better photos than me so check out his Flickr page too https://flic.kr/ps/qn8fu.
From the crush at the start I headed to the park and football pitch by the side of the road. Here was the muddy corner. Hard to believe that last year we were trying not to fall over on the ice here. Now, looking at the lap times afterwards I see that it was Ellen van Loy’s second lap which blew the rest of the field away. After that she was on her own and Helen Wyman and Sanne Cant were having their own race for a couple of laps until Eva Lechner managed to join them. Then it was all on for second and third spots. The rest I could only decipher from the course commentary, but YAY! Congratulation Ellen. Commiserations to Helen for missing out on the podium.
For me this is where it all went pear-shaped. I tried to get back up to the top, but I got caught in a couple of bottlenecks with a whole bunch of people who had been drinking for quite some time! My sense of humour evaporated quite quickly and I missed the end of the race. I thought I’d feel better after some food so queued up for extra tickets then for friets only to find I had half food tickets and half drink tickets! WTAF? Who the hell decided these should be different and not general refreshment tickets gets my vote for Customer Service Wanker of the year. I had to go away to a quiet place to get myself together so retreated to my inflatable lights away from the throbbing bass of the beer tent DJ and the throngs of people. This must’ve been the biggest crowd of the year by a long way. Eventually, after watching a few ‘planes go over from nearby Zaventem, I felt better and able to come back and thought that my crabbiness might actually be because of the hunger (!) so I did the queueing thing again and smothered my friets in ketchup. That was better!
The Guys were still talking and had been joined by a couple who were making a real VIP day of it with staying in a swanky hotel as well as the full VIP package. I would’ve chatted more, but I needed to pee and proceeded to queue again for 20 minutes for a warm, well-lit, indoor pee! Who said only the English know how to queue?
Time for the men’s race. Wout van Aert had apparently been sick, hence his poor show at Zolder, but one day later he lines up and everyone is expecting him to cruise this. Now, I know you saw the men’s race on TV or internet, no? Oh, that’ll be the sensible idea to give the Superprestige rights to a Belgium only pay per view channel, I remember now. So, long story short, the top guys, WvA, LvdH, MvdP and Kevin went straight to the front. They were joined by Tom Meeusen for a while and Sven lead the second group to join them for a while.
Wout went ahead, then Lars and MvdP working well as a team (ahem), Kevin took a few turns, then Wout had a chain problem just before the finish line and had to kick-push all the way to the lower pits and effectively giving the race up there despite a great fight back. This left a 3-way with Mathieu, Lars and Kevin. Tactics, tactics, tactics, a really scary and wreckless inside move by Mathieu on Kevin using the disc brakes to full effect, but hoping (or not caring) that Kevin could keep control and not take them both down, Lars getting in front of Kevin and then stepping off the bike in the mud effectively blocking. Quite a double team, I think you’ll agree, and you’ll probably agree that I might see things differently than others. Even so, Kevin was given the same time as Mathieu van der Poel after finally getting past Lars van der Haar on the finishing hill. Mario de Clerq did not look very happy.
We can only hope that they sort out the TV rights so that everyone will get a chance to see these Superprestige events and especially the women’s races. Even being on the course and with the big screen many of us were frustrated that the cameras seemed to be trying to find Sven when there was some fantastic racing going on at the front unseen.
Pretty much as soon as they crossed the line the DJ cranked up the volume (who knew it could go higher?). Thankfully, the houses round here can stand all the ‘planes going overhead so when the beat drops their windows are blown out! (do I sound like my mother?) We decided to keep the eardrums we have and pootled off to join the traffic queues a little disappointed despite the podium place, but no Niels sighting. I’ll have to give you a GPON from last year instead 🙂