[Editor’s Note: And yet another “A Fan In” posts to file under “Better Late Than Never.” The races may be memories but the stories are still worth sharing.]
Another weekend and another World Cup. We head over the border to the Netherlands town of Hoogerheide, which means one thing … data roaming!
I like this course. Or should I say, I did, but I had been told of changes so I was looking forward, with some trepidation, to seeing what that was all about.
So, bike, train, car plus second car and a happy trail north of the border to the celubrious parking spot at the Jumbo supermarket car park. This is actually quite a big town with bars, banks, real estate agents and EVERYTHING, unlike some courses in the middle of nowhere (not including Diegem in that, obviously) so we head down the main street to the sports/cycling bar for coffee, which has loads of ex-team jerseys hanging from the ceiling and pride of place above the bar is Mathieu van der Poel’s signed Rainbows. Refreshed and awake we head to the course and The Guys have once again come up with a freebie ticket for me, so that’s 15E saved for coffee, beer and frites! I have to say that The Guys bear it well that I get carried away with the racing and photo taking and cheering that I sometimes forget to buy drinks. Sorry guys.
As we make our way on to the course the changes are immediately obvious. Where the public beer tent and stalls used to be there is just an empty paddock and an open clear view of the pits. However, it’s not until we pass over the course and past the podium that we can see the full extent. To be frank, it’s a building site with a new road junction and a huge roundabout, but rising in the middle of it is a glorious man-made flat-topped hill with the 44 (accounts may vary) concrete steps to the top. the riders must ride around this obstacle before climbing to the top and where the asphalt or landscaping has yet to be it is what some of the riders described as concrete sand and on the top is the energy sucking gloop. From a spectator point of view all we could see of the riders at the top was them pedaling like crazy and going slower than me riding a Velibe up to the Sacre Coeur!
Health and Safety folk in New Zealand would be having kittens, but they did put handrails on either side (built to code!)
I had been told that the big tree that is used as a 180 turn had been removed so you can imagine my relief when I saw it still in place and being utilised to the fullest once again.
The Juniors were getting underway and I was chomping at the bit to see the back of the hill, so arranging to meet up with TG’s later I made my way over to get a closer look. Jens Dekker leading the race was the first rider I saw tackle the steps. I have to say I thought something along the lines of ‘OMG what if someone missteps, slips and takes out everyone else to the bottom of all that concrete’ It doesn’t bear thinking about really and I don’t think anyone put a foot wrong all day. I guess they were also scared of the same thing and were extra attentive on that section. At the back of the hill is where the newly laid asphalt meets the slippiest mud in both directions. The suffer-faces coming off the top of the hill were a sight to behold! Jens Dekker started this season a with 2nd, 1st, 2nd, missed out on round 4 and 5, and ended it with a really strong performance, so much so that on this last World Cup race of the season he has managed to steal the White cossie off the shoulders of Jappe Jaspers by having equal points but more wins.
It is also brilliant to see Florian Vermeersch getting into his stride. I will be expecting even better from him next season when he figures out how to work his post growth-spurt body. Oh yes, what’s this? A Brit on the podium? Congratulations Thomas Pidcock. Maybe you could come over and race more than once in a season. Hopefully, we will see more of you next season.
Next race up and its the U23 men. Quinten Hermans has been having a wonderful season and still looks great in the Euro Champs blue kit, but in the World Cup races its Eli Iserbyt wearing the white and although QH made this course look easy (ish) there was nothing he could do to take the White. I apologise now to all the riders for the photos that I took. It seems that my camera really likes Eli whereas most of the others were blurry messes!
We decided to head to the campers in the half time break and whilst heading past the podium we hear an American accent behind us and YAY! Mr. CrossVegas is back in town! It was apparently time for another drink before getting to the vans and the lovely little restaurant on the corner was warm and dry with excellent service and amazing tolerance of all the folk tramping mud and sand through their lovely place. Thanks guys. In an earlier AFI someone left a comment that I didn’t seem to take enough notice of the support crews that work so hard to get the bikes and riders ready, so I am now on a mission to take their photos and sing their praises. If you know or are one of the unsung heroes that I manage to snap please do let me know. Firstly, I would like to say a whopping MERCI to the young man who was so diligently cleaning the crap off the Ridley of Quinten Hermans that is so beautifully decorated for the European Champion.
From a thing of beauty to the mulit-coloured Thijs Aerts wearing the Belgian champ colours with the blue Belgian leggings and Telenet-Fidea colours! That might well be Mama Aerts. Maybe they should all have there names or initials on their jackets like football club people. (Dear ‘Murcans, that’s soccer to you.)
With the principle of ‘what goes in must come out’ in relation to human bodily functions, The Guy’s wandered off to find a pissoir while I found the hidey holes of Sophie de Boer and Maud Kaptheijns. Now, I knew that CXHairs rider contributor, Amanda Nauman, was here somewhere, but was having no luck finding the USA team. Just as I was about to give up I noticed a few people coming out of a side road so I took a turn down it and could see from a distance that there were indeed a few campervans present. The Guy’s tagged along behind and YAY we found them, but where was Amanda? Well, in the car getting changed into race kit, obviously! In the mean time, her lovely friend, David, gave us a tour around the beautiful Niner bike she would be riding, which all made perfectly sound sense at the time, but don’t ask me to repeat it now!
A quick look around the rest of the USA section and a “Hi, How are ya?” to Mr Katie Compton and Amanda was race-ready for photo posing and a quick chat. I wish now that I had listened to the CXHairs podcast with her before I met her then maybe I wouldn’t sound like a complete idiot, but why change the habit of a lifetime! Now, that I have listened to the podcast I have so many more questions! Maybe next time, Amanda and I promise not to talk incessantly while you are trying to focus on your race! After telling me they wanted to meet Amanda, when I turned round to introduce them The Guys had wandered off without me! Oh well, I am always doing that to them so I guess I deserved it.
Back to the racing and I head to the start for the Women’s Race. The Thalita de Jong fans were in fine fettle with many signs, banners and flags (yes, we are in The Netherlands). I’m not sure about the significance of purple though. As you will all, no doubt, have seen the race on TV or video I won’t worry too much about that except to say how great was it to see Sophie de Boer prove that she is not just a pretty face? The big battle this day was between the graceful, experience of Nikki Harris and the raw power of Thalita de Jong. On this day strength won out over smooth changes. When Thalita gets that right she will be very, very good indeed. I, for one,would like to see a CXHairs #LIKEAVOS video of this battle. Do you agree?
The prize for the most consistantly good rider of the season, the World Cup and the White Jersey, cannot be taken from Sanne Cant. Sometimes I think the White jersey and the Rainbows should be swapped as I feel it’s much more impressive to win and win and win than to get one race right, but maybe I’ll feel differently next week at Zolder!
Whilst out on the course I was stopped from going in to the trees! Shades of Texas? It’s only a little wooded area, but you have to respect the signs. Also, Lisa Jacobs can be happy that I am a crap photographer that missed her taking in the full effect of the surprisingly deep puddle at the bottom of the hill!
I slipped and slid my way back to the top of the course for the Men’s Race where The Guys were hanging by the beer stall and I had time to get some frites, although the queue was long and the cooking slow – it’s been a long season for them too! Many of the Kevin Pauwels supporters had come over this way too so we kind of made the top entrance and exit to the woods a bit of a “Kevin Corner!” Of course, I did have to take a stroll over to the pits where the crews were working hard with the jet washers and dry cloths to make their charges as efficient as possible, bur also the DS’s giving out information and instructions and YAY! GPON in the bag! From a distance with the superzoom and from behind, but there is no mistakking Niels.
Mathieu didn’t want to play today so just went off from the start and didn’t look back. Wout’s driekleur socks were a hit too, but we were getting excited about Kevin coming back to him and Woohoo! Podium! Many people are betting the MvdP-WvA-KP result for next week, so is this the real dress rehearsal? And Sven was looking on.
It seemed that Kevin is getting way too comfy on that bottom step as he also nailed the 3rd place in the World Cup behind Wout and Mini Lars. Got to get that back sorted out so he van win back the White Cossie next year.
There’s a hot chocolate calling my name from the cafe down the main street and then back to the car to change shoes and head back to Belgium. I wouldn’t mind the data roaming so much if there was a strong signal, but the racing was good, the weather held, I met new people and Kevin made the podium. Not a bad day, eh?
now it’s all on to the BIG WEEKEND IN ZOLDER. Oh yes, I will be there!