Editor’s Note: Here’s the final installment of Cat Armour’s fantastic AFI series. Thanks so much to Cat for this feature. We loved it every week. If you have a moment, give her a follow on Twitter @meowclank and say hi.]
Looong drive to the coast, but it turns out to be quicker than the train/tram option, although finding a parking space posed some questions. However, we find ourselves a seafront berth with beach and cafe and everything is good 🙂 A quick walk through the dunes and The Guys pull out another free ticket for me! YAY! If I had had to pay for every race I’ve been to this season, well, it would add up to rather a lot!
Having been a bit miserable after Hoogstraten it would appear my calculations were a bit off and Kevin is still 3rd in the Superprestige standings despite the difficulties, so SUPERYAY! Still in it and after the fantastic win here last season I am brimming with hope 🙂
The Guys went straight for a beer, but I had to go and find the beer tent for a coffee (in my mind that makes sense!) so sorry, Roland Liboton for not stopping to chat, but somethings just have to take presidence! Having found my coffee I managed to lose The Guys (although I have visions of them hiding behind the beerstall saying “has she gone yet?” and coming out when they see me head off).
So now to recce the course. Despite Middelkerke being a seaside town and the course being set amongst the dunes, there is plenty of mud to go around. Being a side-of-the-nose tapping smug bastard with the gumboots last week my brain had a sense of karma this week and I went back to the hiking boots. Big mistake! Some parts of the course were off limits to non-gummy wearers this day – the back side of the hill and the entrance to the second sand pit particularly. As a cyclocross bonus the high-rise apartment blocks along the sea front were not being much of a wind-break! The course itself has not really changed and the new 180 rules have largely been given a thorough ignoring except for an extra post and a bit of tape. If I’d thought about it I could’ve done a last year/this year comparative photo, but hey…
As we get there the Juniors are already on course and by the time I get sorted with my coffee Jens Dekker is out on his own again, as he has for most of the second half of the season. Where will the challenge come from next season? I can’t wait to find out. I hope that the Belgian boys, Florian Vermeersch and Jappe Jaspers, will find their stride, but also that we might see a bit more of the French boys who did so well at Zolder, both times. Or can the young Brits, male and female, come over and play more than once? Here’s hoping.
After seeing the Juniors head up the steps out of the sand pit I head into the centre of the course and up the hill. (I swear there was a pancake and waffel stand here last year, but I can’t find it 🙁 There goes second breakfast!) The top mud is getting a little gentle rain on it and is starting to get really slippy. In various places the organisers have laid large metal sheets for the spectators over the deepest bits of mud, however these should have a BEWARE sign on too as the more mud gets on them the more treacherous they become. From the top of the hill though there is a fantastic view of the pits and start/finish plus the hairpin section. Of course, it helps if you are more than 1m 64 tall, but the baby Nikon has a swivel screen 🙂
Time to make my way to the straight for the start of the U23s, but this is easier said than done. The little hilly bit at the beginning of the lap is very popular with the spectators and there is a little bridge linking access. Unfortunately, some people have set up their seats for the day making it single file, but with people wanting to pass in both directions! DOH! Even so I make it to the podium in time for the Juniors (crappy photos though, sadly). Making up the podium today behind Jens and Florian was Toon Vandenbosch, swapping places with Seppe Rombouts from last week.
If you’d said at the start of the season that the U23 new boy, Eli Iserbyt, would be winning all over the place you would probably been given some odd looks, not least by Eli himself, but those rainbow bands are not on his shirt by accident, Just in case anyone was in any doubt, off he goes again with the beautiful blue Euro kit of Quinten Hermans on his tail and not for the first time this season there’s a Young Telenet Fidea podium whitewash and 3 pretty Ridleys in the winners enclosure! During the race the rain started and I had to get the yellow ‘Kevin’ poncho on. Unfortunately, in my ineptitude at getting dressed something had to give and it was my camera that bore the brunt. Thank you to the lady next to me who saved it from lingering in the mud for too long!
As we all turned to go from the finish to the podium, the little wooden bridge dropped about 5cm rather suddenly, which was a bit of a worry, but no one else seemed to be at all concerned. This is Belgium.
I made my way back to the beer tent where the party was going well and the DJ’s turning Like Mike and Dmitri Vegas up to number 10. Getting back in the air again I get a call from The Guys who are already at the rider camper-vans. There is no way I am going to make that before the women’s race from where I am, so I get out a cheese roll and watch the men practice through the sand, said “Hi” to a few K-Pauw Sups and then the women were being called to the start.
For the first couple of laps I am by the first sand section between a couple of umbrellas that I am trying to surreptitiously use, but there are actually people shorter than me and I am in danger of losing an eye!. So I head over to the nastiest of off-cambers around the hill and its all slip-slidey just getting there.
Sanne Cant is determined that this inaugural Super Prestige ladies Trophy in going to be hers in spades and, although Sophie de Boer goes to the front off the start its not long before Sanne Cant takes it from her and no one can come close to passing her in this mood. No one makes the off-camber look as easy as Sanne; she’s off the bike, straight for the fenceline and then running down the hill. Behind her, however, there are little battles going on between each other and the course. Sophie de Boer and Nikki Harris are going shoulder to shoulder on lap 2. They are joined by Jolien Verschueren for a bit until the course gets a dig in and Jolien is in the side barrier. SdB gets a gap in the sand and Jolien is ahead of Nikki until the off-camber strikes! Not the best day for Jolien it has to be said and its Sanne Cant, Sophie de Boer and Nikki Harris on the podium.
However, her 4th place is enough to keep her on the podium for the SuperPrestige Trophy behind Nikki Harris and, of course, Sanne Cant. Of course, Sanne hasn’t had it all her own way this season, but for sure she will have a few of those Hansgrohe showerheads on ebay this off-season. She’s also got a few kegs of Primus and bottles of Cactus Juice so if you get an invite from Sanne for a barbie this summer, GO. You might want to eat before you go though as there’s not likely much in the feeding trough!
I didn’t head to the podium as the ground was really slippy now and I had found myself a great spot by the barriers. Although not in sight of a big screen I am between Dutch, Belgian, French and German fans and we’re all watching other people trying to negotiate a particularly slick-as little hill and cheering every fall! After cheering all the slips, the guy next to me heads off to get a round of beers and guess what happens to him coming back! Yeah, karma is a thing and the beer spilt just adds to the mud!
Now the mens race is underway and we are flying blind relying completely on the course commentator and straight off it’s ‘What happened to Laurens Sweeck?’ Can you repeat that a bit slower? Drama, drama, drama! Laurens has no chain and is a long way back by the time he runs past me, Sven goes to the front and the crowd goes wild! Kevin is already getting familiar with the mud in a way he didn’t want, Mathieu gets a bit tied up on the steps and Gianni tries to decpitate himself on the the tapes by the planks and IT’S ONLY THE FIRST LAP! So Michael Vanthourenhout goes to the front and leads out lap 2 with Wout on his wheel and where there’s WvA there’s MvdP not far behind. But then Wout sticks his bike into a post and buggers his derailleur (technical term). No wasting time throwing a tanty or swearing though, he simply picks up his bike and will have to run about half a lap to the pits. By the time they come past me MvdP has put the hammer down with Michael a distant second with Tom Meeusen, Lars van der Haar, Sven, Corne van Kessel, Klaas and Toon Aerts in the front group. For those following the saga, Kevin has started the race with the disc brakes as has MvdP and Sven.
I move position to see the off-camber as, it being a left to right down slope most will be hanging on to the fence, but some of the men, like Kevin, dismount on the right so there’s a bike between them and the fence and so nothing to hold on to. I have to see how they cope. There may have been a BKCP team meeting, as we see MvdP taking the ‘Sanne-line’, staying left to the fence-line and leaving a clear run, whereas many others are staying right and cutting the corner, but staying in the worst of the slippy stuff (I refer you once again to Lisa Jacobs Mum http://ridehappy.com.au/journal/2016/1/14/lisas-mum-answers-your-cx-questions-the-mud-spectrum )
With 3 laps to go we are clapping MvdP, but Wout is coming back! After all that running, who but Wout would think he can still get back in this? Holy Shit! He passes Kevin, who’s inner child has had him sitting in the sand pit, but the team have called for aid and Rohan, sorry, Gianni and Michael have answered (LOTR reference). Sadly to no avail. As at Hoogstraten we see that overall podium is going, going, gone and LvdH is taking it over. What a difference a year makes. And sometime in the last 2 laps Kevin got the rid of the disc brakes! Wout passes Klaas, who lost his footing on the off-camber and then Toon and Lars and by the last lap he is breathing down Sven’s neck. In the meantime, Tom Meeusen is the only one who can still see MvdP on the finish straight, maybe due to Mathieu having a fall too. MvdP has picked up the rainbow camo Stevens to cross the line on and Tom is High-5 ing everyone in 2nd place and its Wout with the rainbow bands coming in 3rd.
Well, that’s the SuperPrestige wrapped up and the riders are all off to the casino for the Prize-Giving Gala. I couldn’t get close to the pits today so the best GPON I could get was his Sporza interview!
Finding The Guys we head back to the car and some bright spark had the good idea to clean our boots off in the surf! Yeah, that works!
On getting home it’s time for the Slotshow. Last year we were all on the ‘Bwah’ train with Kevin ‘Swag’ Pauwels https://youtu.be/rj3bQiAG3SE What would this year bring? I was hoping for a K-Pauw vs Michael V. Spanish pop lip-synch battle, but that was a wish too far. Instead we got the ‘lads’ taking the piss out of regular folk in a local gym. Oh, how we laughed…nearly!
Next up with have partytime at Oostmalle Sluitingprijs, end of the season and goodbye to the retiring riders, including the Svens. Can we get a little consolation?