All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and as CJ has been training or racing most weekends he definitely needed time away from the bike…. So when his team East London Velo invited him as a reward to watch the UCI Cyclocross World Cup at Koksijde followed by a trip to Ghent for the Six Day Track event all over a weekend, he was happy to say yes for both of us as I would have to ride shotgun all the way to Belgium.
With a 6.30 a.m. departure on the Saturday morning from Woodford, East London with 13 other ELV members in a mini-bus, thankfully it wasn’t too long before we hit the Eurostar taking us to Calais with a 1.5 hour drive to Koksijde, the hosts of Round 3. The region previously paid two million euro’s to hold the World Championships in 2012 so our expectations as regards the all round event were high.
We arrived around mid-day during the under 23’s event which was won comfortably by Mathieu van der Poel and unfortunately too late for the Youth event scheduled early morning that saw our own Dan Tullett (Team Hargroves) take the spoils. We were informed that he fought from third to take the flag so looked forward to cheering on his team mate British champion Ian Field in the Elite event. After a partial walk around the superb circuit on a crisp day with a blue sky it was obvious that it was going to be everything that was promised. CJ was shocked to see that the race would even have the riders trying to hold their nerves on steep sand dunes and a straight that would not have looked out of place at the seaside.
Yes, this was going to be a true test of man and machine and with time to spare we wandered over to the paddock area wondering if access to the pits was available to see the racers and their mechanics at work. Thankfully the area was not sectioned off and the pit crew and racers had no problems with us watching and even handling the machinery. (CJ now has his eye on a Ridley with carbon wheels sporting what seemed to be the choice of most racers being Dugast tubulars).
Soon we spotted Niels Albert outside his motorhome and he was happy to pose for a few pics with fans as he spoke to his crew even though the tension was showing as he was about to face the World Champion Sven Nys, who from the flags around the circuit appeared to be the other darling of the Belgian crowd who were now in loud voices and drinking heavily from the beer tent.
A short walk soon saw us outside the sizeable motorhome of Sven Nys himself and by chance he came out for a scheduled press conference. Fans were now pushing to get a photo of the great man, but luckily CJ timed his move to perfection and was soon smiling for the camera before he headed off for a pre-race grilling.
Also, earlier in the year the World Championships were held in Louisville, Kentucky for the first (and possibly the last) time so CJ was also glad to meet the US champion Jonathan Page who like many were racing on a shoestring budget in comparison but were at least still at the races with minimum support. He was glad to speak some English and after changing in the front seat of a car posed for a picture and let CJ lift his cross bike in awe.
Anyway, soon the Women’s event would be under way and with it our very own Nikki Harris who was in with a good chance especially as Marianne Vos is still out. It looked like she was more than capable of a podium finish so we waited around the finish line in order to shout some encouragement. Before long it became obvious that she would be fighting for second place against the home favorite Sanne Cant as the American Katie Compton took a sizeable lead. Eventually she crossed the line in third place 1:23 behind the winner. In no time at all Harris was on the podium for the ceremony as the crowds now started to head back towards the main areas jockeying for the best positions in anticipation of the premier event.
Following the introduction of the participants over the P.A. system, the crowd was now in fever pitch as the race started with us waiting along the sand dune (see map highlighted in yellow) to see how the Elite’s would tackle this section. It was soon clear that running with your steed was the preferred method going North but in the return direction many of the racers held their nerve and cycled through the ruts with supreme skills.
CJ watched on in amazement as soon it became clear that Niels Albert was making an early break as the crowd shouted for Sven Nys to make up the ground and therefore secure a Belgian one-two on home soil. Alas, Nys appeared to be trapped in a four man group unable to escape even though from the large screen monitor we could see he was taking completely different lines to no avail.
We also cheered on Ian Field as he rode in middle of the field (no pun intended) and were surprised to hear so many English voices shouting him on as it was apparent many Brits had made the crossing. Jonathan Page also found the circuit tough and I guess it may be a while before an American male graces the podium as often as Katie Compton.
Legend has it that Nys is one of the strongest finishers in the business, so the crowd after forty minutes of the one hour race were still optimistic as they shouted him on as the gap against Albert grew to a point that second place appeared the only hope.
Riding the sand dunes he also made mistakes in not being decisive on when to dismount as fatigue now started to play its part in the race. His main rivals in the group Francis Mourey and Philipp Walslebon would have expected a strong finish but noted that he was not able to go into the ‘zone’ and on the final laps they easily kept him in check as he drifted between second and fourth position.
Soon Albert neared the finish line for victory in front of the home fans and with a cool dismount he ran a few metres before hopping back on to cross the line with no rivals even yet to enter the final straight. Further back the crowds urged Nys on but there was now the possibility that he would not even make the podium as we watched the monitor.
Mourey after spending most of his time on Nys and Walslebon’s wheels mounted a strong attack and try as they may the Frenchman held his nerve to the line. Nys could only watch as he guarded fourth position crossing the line a near minute behind the race winner. Ian Field took 26th place and the American Jonathan Page 31st. Video of Final Lap
The Belgians were happy enough and now in loud voices as they streamed across the circuit making their exit even though the race was still active. CJ thought the event was thrilling and would go back to Koksijde in a heartbeat as well as looking forward to the live stream of Round 4 from Namur, but next we were heading for a near 1.5 hour drive to Ghent for food and a deserved rest.
We arrived at Kuipke Stadium about 12.30 p.m. to a sparse crowd on the last day of the six day event which has graced the likes of Eddy Merckx and Bradley Wiggins over the years. CJ was a little bemused as was myself coming to the action on the last day and also not having much if any track knowledge. However, one of his coaches Will McFarlane explained the tactics as well as how the scoring was appointed after the sprints so we were soon able settle down and watch the action.
Now unlike the track events in the UK, the crowd could walk into the centre of the track and grab a beer just metres from the riders as the DJ pumped the crowd into a frenzy with everything from the Prodigy to Sean Paul…. Yes, this was going to be fun and CJ could bop away and fidget to his hearts content.
The racers were obviously tired after the last five days but who could tell as they were as committed as ever and soon the arena was full to capacity with beer flowing from all quarters. Yes, if you are getting married and into your cycling then I’d recommend this City for a stag do over Barcelona anytime.
Each event was thrilling but the highlight for CJ was the racing behind the Derny bikes as he’d never seen anything of the like, though I wouldn’t mind one myself making light work of pedaling. The victors overall were Jasper de Buyst + Leif Lampater of Topsport Vlaanderen and the last hour was a party atmosphere in the velodrome which felt full of character and history before we drifted back out into the cold at 6.00 p.m. with a near four hour journey back to the start of it all.
Many thanks to East London Velo and Tom Mclaren, who drove the mini-bus like a pro’ plus giving CJ the opportunity to get more out of cycling than just being on the bike.
Ciao for now…