Editor’s note: Dan Seaton has been literally crawling through the Belgian mud covering European cyclocross since 2008. Each week this season he’ll look ahead to the weekend’s races and answer your questions about ’cross on the other side of the Atlantic. Got a question for your favorite Euro star? Want to know the inside story about the legendary Flemish fields? Send your questions to email@example.com.
Back to the Dunes
This weekend marks what many consider to be the beginning of the build-up to cyclocross’ climactic Kerstperiode — Belgium’s race-packed holiday season. It’s also one of the most challenging European race weekends, with a supremely difficult third round of the World Cup in sandy Koksijde on Saturday, followed immediately by a 450km transfer to Gieten, in far northern Netherlands, for the fifth round of the Hansgrohe Superprestige.
The transfer is a particular challenge for women riders who race at 1:30 in Koksijde and have to be ready to go again at 10:45 the next morning, so — with no Superprestige overall title on the line — many will simply opt to skip Sunday’s much less important race and focus everything on success in the sand. On the other hand, perhaps the biggest name in women’s cyclocross, world champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank), will take the start in Gieten, kicking off her 2012-13 season on home soil.
Meanwhile, Saturday will be the third time in a year that elite cyclocross visits Koksijde, after both a World Cup and worlds were held there last season. Although the course has changed slightly from its world championship configuration, the race will be more or less the same, even though the sandy stretch formerly known as “X-dune” is now “Albert dune” in honor of the man who dominated the race there in January.
The final start list for Saturday’s race won’t be published until Friday afternoon, but it’s clear that among the men the story has not changed much since the last go-around in the sand. World champion and World Cup co-leader Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) remains a strong favorite to win, with an all-Belgian contingent led by Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor), who shares the World Cup lead with Albert. Among the women, the top favorites certainly include American World Cup leader Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Sanne Van Paassen (Rabobank), who trails Compton by just 10 points in the standings. Other riders to watch include the British duo of Helen Wyman (Kona) and Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea), who both have had outstanding results this season, and Belgian Sanne Cant (BKCP), who had a breakthrough third-place finish at last year’s world championships.
Following up on mud tires
My comments about good mud tires in my last column set off a minor flood of emails and messages from racers on both sides of the Atlantic admonishing me for neglecting to mention FMB’s Super Mud tire. Among those who praised the French tire maker’s offerings was Mark Legg, Katie Compton’s husband and mechanic, who pointed out that Katie rode FMB’s to a World Cup victory in muddy Plzen last month. Compton, he said, liked the tires so much that she bought them for herself even though sponsorship deals with other tire manufacturers were a possibility.
Katie and I selected FMB tires this year after testing a set last year. Katie test rode them and noticed an instant advantage with the handling and performance both on the road and off-road. They shed mud really well and once in the mud, she noticed they don’t have mid-corner tire slip; that extra mid-range traction suits Katie’s riding style. The pink latex sidewalls increase the life of the tires as they don’t suffer from mud and water rot that non-sealed cotton casings suffer from, even when they are sealed with Aquaseal, which also decreases the tire’s performance. We also noticed the pink sidewalls increase cornering performance as the tires don’t fold as easily compared to standard cotton casings. We particularly noticed this in Louisville when we were pre-riding the course on Friday on non-coated cotton casing tires versus the pink latex coated tires. This allows Katie to run a little less tire pressure for increased performance in the sand and still corner very hard without the tire folding.
For the world championships François Marie of FMB will make Katie a special set of custom tires with silk casings for extra suppleness and performance. We’ve been very fortunate to be working with the best custom tire craftsman in the world.
What does “een klien beetje” mean? What are some Flemish words that will help us understand the Sporza announcers?
—Robert in Massachusetts
Een klein beetje is “a little bit.” It’s the go-to answer anytime you ask someone, “Spreekt u Engels?” or “Do you speak English?” Anyone who has traveled in Flanders knows that the standard answer is frequently just modesty; the Flemish, including most of your favorite racers, are almost uniformly excellent English speakers.
But what are some other useful words? Well, let’s start with the sport itself, veldrijden, which is literally “field driving” is pretty easy to work out. So is its natural cousin, veldrit, the common word for a ‘cross race. You might also hear the word wedstrijd, which also means race, match, or game. And, of course, you can’t start the race without your fiets, (pronounced like “feets”), or your bike.
Out on the parcours, the course, you’ll want to look for the materiaalpost, the pit, the aankomst, the finish line, and challenging features like zand, sand, which is often found in a zandbak, sand pit, or, this weekend, on a duin, (pronounced like “down”) a dune. You also want to watch for any afdaling, descent, especially if it’s technisch, technical. But in a race like we had in Gavere last weekend its often the, klim, the climb, that proves decisive. That’s definitely the place where the démarrage, a borrowed word from French meaning attack or breakaway, might happen.
Cyclocross is best known for the modder, mud, and regen, rain, common in northwest Europe this time of year, but there’s also occasional sneeuw, which, not surprisingly, means snow.
During the race itself the most important moments might be the eerste en laatste ronde, the first and last laps. If you are close to the kop van de wedstrijd, head of the race, then you should make it to the laatste ronde without being gedubbeld, or lapped.
On a slechte dag, a bad or off day, you might find yourself going traag, or slow, when you want to be snel, fast. Then you might end up in the achtervolging, or chase.
Other common expressions you can listen for include jongens, boys or guys; klopt, beat; sterke, strong or powerful; and inspanning, effort. And if you’re on the sidelines cheering, the one word you have to know is komaan, which sounds exactly like what it means, come on.
A few that you hear a lot and are easy to confuse are moeilijk, difficult; makkelijk, easy or easily; and mogelijk, possible or possibly. (Note that that ‘ij’ doesn’t have a typical English “j” sound in it, it’s a compound vowel with a sound a little like the letter ‘y’ in English.) Another set that’s easy to confuse is helemaal, allemaal, and, maybe, heel veel. These sound a little like “hey-la mahl, a-la mahl, and hail vail” and mean, respectively, completely or altogether, all or everybody, and a lot.
That ought to get you started. If you want to learn more, one good resource — more conversationally oriented — is the now apparently defunct Laura Speaks Dutch podcast. It’s free and doesn’t take a lot of time to get through; it probably won’t teach you everything you need to know, but it might help you learn a few more useful words.