[Editor’s note: Here is the first installment from Cat Armour for the 2016-2017 cyclocross season. Follow her on Twitter @meowclank and see her full galleries at www.flickr.com/photos/110401720@N03/albums/with/72157670843124514.]
The one thing we have all been waiting for since the end of last season has come.
CROSS IS HERE
YES, INDEEDY, IT SURE IS.
And what a way to kick-off the 2016-17 season is with an oldie, but a goody. Yes, in Belgium, the first big CX event of the year is on that iconic hill, The Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen. That’s right, one steep-as hill with cobbles thrown in for good measure and, if you’re having some trouble, you can ask for a bit of divine intervention in the chapel at the top. This is the first of a new series from a new sponsor in the form of Belgian DIY specialist store, Brico, so naturally, they felt compelled to build a couple of ramps, ‘cos, you know, why not?
Just to fill in the gap, I haven’t been completely idle since Kevin’s triumph in Oostmalle. I have enjoyed the fun and games of apartment hunting, apartment finding, apartment moving, transferring money internationally, officially registering my life in Belgium, studying how Belgium works and starting my 4th (yes, you read that right) course in Dutch language. Oh and job hunting! There were a few high points like Spring Classics, Ardennes Classics, Cobbled Classics, Post-Tour Derny Crit, Schaal Sels as well as getting to know Antwerp, trying to make friends and successfully finding the man who fixes bikes for free.
All this means that I now live a good distance from Geraardsbergen. Fortunately, Belgian trains aren’t nearly as bad as we might make out (although I reserve the right to whinges-a-plenty for any future rail buggerations) and it is a fairly simple journey, although a tad lengthy. I was not aware of any shuttle buses put on by the organisers to get from the station to the course so it was a foot slog to finish the journey with. Of course, if you want to see a cross race on top of a massive steep hill then you will have to ascend said berg. My fellow train travelers and I went straight for the steep part as that’s the most direct route to the top. However, having wheezed and sweated out way to the first cobbled road, we found our way blocked and a chirpy volunteer directed us back DOWN the bastard hill! Fortunately, this was down the less steep roadway and, I’m guessing, he was going to be saying that a lot.
After having our achievements of getting up there so readily dismissed, we trudged on down to find a less helpful volunteer more interested in his phone than directing us to the entrance. Yeah, don’t worry mate, there’s only so many directions to go, We’ll figure it out. The entrance we found was at the bottom of the steeeeeeeep drop off!
We could hear the Newbies were underway so waited to see them come down, but it appeared that the organisers had had second thoughts, or the riders plain refused to ride it. Either way we were waiting in vain. After figuring this out I headed up the cobbles to check out the course. I couldn’t find any map or rider list, but it’s their first event so hopefully we might get something next time. Unfortunately, I was stopped in my tracks by barriers across the road where the riders head into the woods.
Once all the newbies had passed a few of us made a dash under the tapes to get to the part that wrapped around the pub. It’s got to be pretty convenient for the organisers to have a pub slap-bang in the middle of the course. That’s one less beer tent and a whole bunch of portaloos right there!
I made my way through the early crowds past the chapel to the summit lookout and WOW!
The Belgian gods said
‘Let there be CX in the higher places’, and LO! There f***ing was!
You can’t help but smile like an idiot when you see all the tapes and ramps laid out before you. I am afraid I actually missed what was happening in the race!
As with most things, if you don’t use it you forget how and today my CX brain is getting a dust-off after months off work (yeah, yeah, add your own jokes here) so now I’m trying to dig out from their hidey-holes the names to the faces that were so familiar at the end of last season.
Heading down into the belly of the beast I find a bunch of Corne van Kessel fans and wait by the pits as the women make their practice laps. Last year my ‘winner picking’ came from the first rider I see on the course (scientific) and today that person was Sanne Cant.
Another big YAY ME because I managed to replace the phone that I damaged beyond repair on the concrete at Oostmalle with the exact same model! (Luddite) And you know what that means? LIVE TWEETING! And, what’s more I still have the old battery as a back-up! (Boy Scout)
So, what about the racing?
Off I go to find the Startbox and the Junior boys are all ready and waiting to be called. This is where there are a heap of new faces and names coming through, but this time Toon Vandebosch, who got himself on the podium at Oostmalle, is leading the way today without Jens Dekker and Mitch Groot to spoil the party this time.
Thymen Arensman did a good job of pushing him, but fell off the pace in the last lap and Young Telenet-Fidea Andreas Goeman filled the last podium spot. Alas, there are apparently still not enough girls in this category to run another race, but maybe they are all waiting for next week at Vorselaar. Sorry, no podium pics as I was up the hill again, (Doh!) but I did get to see the men practicing (no U23 race today). My only mistake with this was that one of the pissoirs by the church had a bit of a leak – STINKY!
It was time to break out the packed lunch and head for the start of the women’s race and, wouldn’t you know it, it started to rain! For some reason the Belgian Weather Gods always seem to schedule the worst of the day’s weather for this time and the women always seem to get the worst conditions. Hardy lot they are though and this won’t dampen their collective spirit (pissed me off a bit though!) On the plus side, I managed to catch a long-range GPON! Haven’t lost my touch!
It’s great to see all the women having a chat whilst warming up for the start. It must help take the edge off the nerves. It worked out well for Ellen van Loy who snagged the holeshot. Looks like she’s got a new hairdo under the helmet too! Despite the steepness of the hill, this is a fast course and this is the first time I get a chance to see the new UCI rules applied
The duration of events must be as close as possible to:
– 40 minutes for the under 23 women’s events
– 40 minutes for junior men’s events
– 50 minutes for under 23 men’s events
– 60 minutes for the elite men’s events and for events in which elite and men under23 ride together.
During elite women’s events and for events in which women elite and women under 23 ride together, the duration must be between 40 and 50 minutes.
This was shaping up to be quite a battle with Sanne Cant, Maud Kaptheijns, Laura Verdonschot and Karen Verhestraeten taking turns on the front and, not to be forgotten, ex-World Champ Joyce Vanderbeken was riding a fantastic race. It was also brilliant to see Githa Michiels, back from her mountain bike adventures in Rio, getting some cheers too. Then Maud had a mighty big mishap coming off the ramp by the pits right in front of me! I still can’t tell you though if she came off because of the tyre or if the tyre came off because of the fall, but she went flying and her front tyre was sadly parted from its wheel. This left Maud with some running to do and trying in vain to get back with new boss, Bart Wellens, shouting encouragement.
Karen lost some ground around lap 3, but Jolien Verscheuren, still a crowd favourite, was coming back into contention and closing the gap on the front group. I then headed back up the hill, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but I always seem to get stuck behind the slowest people on Earth when I’m trying to get somewhere quickly and only made it to the edge of the wood in time to see Junior (I suppose she will count as U23) Tine Rombouts making her way on the cobbles. By the time I saw the front of the race again Karen was dropped and Jolien had bridged to Sanne and Laura and coming down the hill behind the pub it was now Jolien leading on the final lap. You would never count Sanne Cant out when there’s a 3-way race to the line and the World Number 1 would have her prize in a sprint with Jolien and Laura running out of gas at the end.
Pretty much as soon as Sanne crossed the line everyone around me on the backside of the hill started to run to get their places at the bottom of that steep drop I mentioned waaaay back at the beginning for the Men’s Race.
By this time the weather had turned nice again and it was about 28c on the Muur so I found some of the wandering Kevin Pauwels Supporters Club and we made Kevin Korner (poetic license) at the first grassy hairpin ready for the last race of the day. Apologies to Twitter folk who may have expected me to live-tweet, but, despite my new phone and extra battery preparations, I had forgotten to buy extra data and ran out shortly before the race started! Also sorry if you wanted photos of the big drop with actual riders on it, but I stayed by the pit area mostly for the whole race as it was a great spot plus I could see the big screen (also I couldn’t figure out how to get to the drop without losing sight of the race like I did with the Women).
First time out to see Quinten Hermans with the elite riders and getting the holeshot. Will this be a season-long tussle coming with ‘Mini Lars’? Let’s hope so. We got an early KOMAAN KEVIN in and shouted encouragement to all the riders we could (‘cos we’re like that). Now, I’m pretty sure you, dear reader, will have seen the race on TV or, at the very least, on video so you will know that Wout didn’t have it all his own way. Michael Vanthourenhout really did push him right up to that last half lap, I’m really chuffed for Michael and so hope that he can keep this form going this season. He is looking a lot stronger. There doesn’t seem to be any instructions as to team order from the Marlux-Napoleon Games bosses so behind Wout it was Michael then Klaas then Kevin.
Another race day over, but there is no way I’m getting to the station in time for the 1725 train and the other K-Pauw sups who offered a lift, just weren’t going the same way, so I stuck around for the podium and then headed out to find a shop and café for a drink. Luckily, the burgers of Geraardsbergen had scheduled a Horse Fair in the market square so those of us bound for the station got some fabulous equine entertainment while we waited.
And, just in case the @nyvelocity guys ever read this – TRACTORSSSSSSSS!, ‘cos, you know, Belgian farmers…
Have fun y’all at CrossVegas and JingleCross (I expect to hear the KOMAAN KEVIIIIN’s on the livestream) and I’ll catch you when the Cyclocross Circus comes back in Belgium in Ronse.