[Editor’s Note: Before we dive head first into this year’s A Fan In … (AFI) series, we had some unfinished business to tidy up. Here’ is Cat Armour’s final dispatch from the 2015-2016 season. Stay, tuned, though, the 2016-2017 is but a breath away.]
I love this race.
Last year was my first time as, without private transport, it’s a bit of a bugger to get to. If you don’t know, this race is held on an old airfield. The landing strip today is a giant public carpark, the taxi lanes for the rider parking and the course is on half sand and half forest at the side of the airfield. Like the start of the Belgian season in Neerpelt this course winds its way through the carpet of pine needles. The only art installations here though are the gorgeous trees. Alas, some of them have had to be removed, but now you can see right across the lake from the beer tent!
I love this race.
End of season fun. No points, no trophy just a straight up race.
Sven’s last race.
The only changes to the course are mostly to allow some of the trees to have a year off, but the route is essentially the same.
After parking the car, we make our way to the course entrance. No freebies today, unfortunately. The Sven Bus is parked closest to the course entrance today. A little bit of respect for the ‘Old Men’ retiring today! the wide open expanse of the airfield mean that its a wee bit chilly and the wind is kicking up something fierce. Last year it was sunshine and shirtsleeves! Oh well!
There are 2 public beer tents here today – PARTY TIME!!!!!
Yes, there will probably be some alcohol consumed here! Which leads to my one criticism – where are the toilets?
We make our way to the Start/Finish line public beer tent for ritual caffeine intake. As luck would have it, the Newbies were just about to start so I nipped off down to see. As usual the girls have the 60+ numbers and are somewhere at the back, but at least they’re there (and they won’t be last over the line). Joined by The Guys we follow the Newbies on to the course. It was raining a little so it was good to get under the shelter of the big pines. We haven’t seen that many Newbies races this year as they start at Bloody Early O’Clock.
I’m getting to know the girls, well there are so few of them there are not too many names and faces to remember, but some come and go. I guess you have to fit it in around school and exams and stuff, but I hope in the not too distant future there will be too many to remember and they’ll have their own race. Having said that, today’s female winner, Laura Michels, is not a name I am familiar with, but she was mixing it with the guys so well that I missed her completely at the planks, but managed a snap in the sand on the last lap and she even got recognition on the podium.
This time last year I dropped my phone (honestly, I don’t do this very often!) in the woods and this lovely lady (whose name I have completely forgotten) got me to use her phone to find it. And the 2 lovely guys who found it and were on their way to hand it in but came back to give it back to me. Despite them all being Sven Nys fans I still have to say CX people are the best.
We zip back into the woods for the Juniors race where, at first, it seems like Jens Dekker isn’t having it all his own way. However, normal service is resumed by the end of the first lap. As we head back to the start area who should we run into but Papa Wellens. These 3 were getting into some serious gossip so I left them to it and went up to the finish line, where JD was doing some kind of Karate Kid thing as he crossed the line with his countryman Mitch Groot coming in second and Toon van den Bosch getting his boat-race in the podium pics!
By this time The Guys were ready to head for the campervans. Why they always want to do this while the U23’s are racing, I don’t know, but by this stage of the season I figure I have plenty of pics of Eli Iserbyt so missing a few more opportunities won’t hurt. So, after a “Hi, how are ya” to Roland Liboton, we head out to get our heads blown off in the full force of the gale now coming across the airfield. As they have been Sven fans since whenever I lost TGs by the Sven Scrum. Most of the women’s vans and cars were grouped together, but I did find Sanne Cant coming back from her practice to the BKCP-Enertherm enclave, where they had circled the wagons! The big question we ask from this photo is ‘Is Sanne growing her hair?’
Further along I find Suzie and Marc, who is patenting the ‘How to stop your awning from blowing away in highwind Hi-tec solution’ i.e., a large container of water on the poles, which the Team USA mechanics really should have been paying attention to! After passing Elle Anderson on the rollers I’m into the Telenet-Fidea vans where they have spared no expense on the decals for Eli Iserbyt!
I had to go quite a bit further to get to the Marlux-Napoleon Games vans, but when I got there there was nothing to see, not even any bikes in stands or Papa & Mama Pauwels sheltering from the wind 🙁 So I head back towards the course and The Guys and we go to the sand section for the end of the U23 race (that’s where the stripey beer tent is!) and we find that Daan Soete has taken this particular bull by the horns and is doing a bit of an Eli! Yep, he really was that far ahead with Quinten Hermans and Adam Toupalik having yet another battle for 2nd and 3rd places whilst Daan Hoeyberghs finished 4th just ahead of the 3 way battle with the Dutch pair of Martijn Budding and Joris Nieuwenhuis. The new world champ was having a quiet day back in 9th. Whilst watching the race I get a nudge in the back from one of The Guys pointing out a certain person by the pits!
A quick caffeine top up was required from the stripey tent while The Guys picked out their spot for the afternoon. Then I’m off for a wander while the men practice. I head round the lake to the ‘wiggly’ bit where the sand meets the trees and some of the K-Pauw Sups have got there before me, although I haven’t seen the full contingent today. The Sven fans are out in force today, of course, and being lined up for a totally spontaneous cheer for the cameras!
Now it’s time to wait for the Women’s Race and I’ve headed into the woods and the lovely sweeping corners around the trees. And it’s Loes Sels leading out the first lap, but Sanne Cant is not far behind and Ellen van Loy is having a great ride too. Maud Kaptheijns is putting her head down though. Its great to see Sanne van Paassen getting stuck in on her last race in the company of countrywoman Sophie de Boer and Elle Anderson. By the end of the 3rd lap Sanne Cant is back at the front of things, as she has been for most of the Belgian domestic season. We so hope that she and her team can get the balance right next year to give her a greater chance of bringing home the rainbows. In the mean time, Maud is on a charge and Ellen drifting backwards. I quickly make my way to the podium in time to see Katrien Thijs and Sanne van Paassen receive their retirement gifts. Sorry to see you both hang up your bikes, but I hope we will still see you around. Also its great to see Loes Sels and her girls on the podium at the close of the season and with Maud Kaptheijns filling the 3rd spot (I am also hoping that Maud will get her racing right for rainbows.)
A quick check in with The Guys and I’m off back to the woods for the Men’s Race where I found a whole bunch of familiar faces (although I still don’t actually know anyone’s names).
As they came through for the first lap, Kevin was down in the field a bit, but I’ve no idea why. The Sven Noise was following the man around the course, especially as he went to front for a bit, but the Kevin took the bull by the horns, headed to the front and off he went. Wout stuck with him for a lap, but gave up the chase with 2 laps to go. Big apologies for a whole load of crap pics as we were running between one corner, a bit of straight and the planks and shouting KOMAAAAN KEVIIIN so taking photos was a bit of an impediment, which i gave up on by the last lap!
I am sure you all saw the video of the retiring Sven’s crossing the line together so just to reiterate
and we all had a very good day. At the podium it was a bit of a crush with all the Sven fans waiting for their hero, but there was a small matter of the podium first and we got to sing the Kevin Songs (I might elaborate on this another time) and had a good laugh with the Tom Meeusen supporters. It must’ve been a bit strange for Wout to stand on that second step again.
I got out of the crush after that to let the Sven fans say goodbye to their idol and managed to find a token in my pocket, which I thought best used for a shot of Cactus juice! This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as we had been invited for drinks at the Sweeck bus where I was given another shot and was well on the way to being more drunk that I have been in many years! Laurens was bearing his broken wrist and the photos with the fans very well indeed. A smile is never too far from his face.
And as if to really draw a line under the season I dropped my phone on the concrete, which duly smashed beyond hope. I will never drink alcohol again! (yeah, right!)
So sad to end the season, but there will be another so “Laat de zon in je hart” over the summer and maybe I’ll see you at the races next season.
Cross Is Coming.
Big THANKS to all the people who have made this year so wonderful:-
The Kevin and Tim Pauwels Supporters Club who have made this stranger from NZ welcome.
The suppliers of the freebies including the family of Florian Vermeersch
All the people who have allowed our, sometimes creative, parking
Niels Albert, who, I am convinced spots me pointing my camera his way, but doesn’t flinch!
Last, but certainly not least
The Guys – Herman & Rudi with cameos from Dirk, Paul, Jos, Eric & the other Herman