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Cyclocross

A letter from Belgium: No place for the timid

Greetings, all, again,Not a whole lot of time to write when you're doing the Cyclo-cross Warped Tour. "Hellooooo, Surheisterveen ... thanks for coming to the show!" No, really, guys like Groenendaal are in the midst of a 1-3-3 block, as in seven races in nine days! Cyclo-cross stage racing, they call it over here. Tuesday, December 28 (race #3)The Hofstade World Cup was huge. Huge weather (as in Belgian "hard"); huge crowds (for weather that snotty); and huge for the impression it made on its participants. By that, I mean it was a day where you realize how far you've come and how far you've

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By Geoff Proctor

Wicks at the World Cup

Wicks at the World Cup

Photo: MMarcel Van Hoecke

Greetings, all, again,
Not a whole lot of time to write when you’re doing the Cyclo-cross Warped Tour. “Hellooooo, Surheisterveen … thanks for coming to the show!” No, really, guys like Groenendaal are in the midst of a 1-3-3 block, as in seven races in nine days! Cyclo-cross stage racing, they call it over here.

Tuesday, December 28 (race #3)
The Hofstade World Cup was huge. Huge weather (as in Belgian “hard”); huge crowds (for weather that snotty); and huge for the impression it made on its participants. By that, I mean it was a day where you realize how far you’ve come and how far you’ve got to go.

We didn’t do much in the juniors or espoirs. But in such moments when I see the guys not having the kind of race they want, I conjure up that great Teddy Roosevelt line about the valor of giving it a go: “His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Nope – no place for the timid. Uh-uh. By the time the pros raced, there was even the Belgie faithful standing in boot-deep water, a.k.a. in the lake, so they could get the best vantage point as the riders piloted the thin line to reach the beach.

A couple of moments stand out. The first was being reminded of how the top pros use the pit as a tool. Aside from Sven Nijs being unconquerable for the moment, it was cool to hear him staccato his pit crew lap after lap: “Twee en dertig” or “vier en dertig” he would shout, and, bingo, by the fourth lap, he settled on his tire width of choice for the conditions, the Dugast 34’s.

The second moment was seeing Ryan pass Jonathan with a lap and a half to go. It was a big moment for both riders, with Jonathan clearly not on a great day, and Ryan riding to 25th in his first World Cup.

Wednesday, December 29 (race #4)
I remembered how crazy this race was from last year. It’s a Gazet Van Antwerpen Series race, and it really brings out the crowds. But what’s most crazy is the damn’ pit situation. With a lap time of around six minutes and a split between pit one and pit two (a double) of maybe 2:15, there’s simply no chance to clean a bike in the first split. To top that, to get to the power washes, you have to barrel, bike in hand, through a major crowd crossing. Crazy layout!

The real story was Groenendaal’s move that got him DQ’d. Around the fourth lap he pegged this lapped rider straight into the yellow flag at the pit’s entry. Realizing he wasn’t going to get into the pit, he ran maybe five steps and then chucked his sweet Colnago over the median line, and then jumped over the course tape into the pit and got a bike change. Being the hard guy that he is, he finished second but was denied his place by the UCI commissaires. Things got very sticky for the promoter as the riders then refused to take the podium in Reechard’s absence. Even now, the promoter is saying he’s gonna make it up to the big G. Might be a good thing if Loenhout wants him back next year … they were quoting his prize/series losses to be something like 16,500 euro for the infraction! Hard core.

Our guys rode solidly. Jonathan really poured on the coals to overcome two punctures and get back inside the top 20. Inching his way back to his best form. It was fun to hear Barry, Erik and Ben in the car ride home rant about how pinballish it was out there, just bouncing off the sauced-up fan-club members from near and far. Espoir John Hanson inhaled some more experience, as did juniors Adam McGrath and Alex Howes.

Thursday, December 30 (race #5)
We did western Belgium to the top of Holland (almost to Groningen) in four hours to reach the mist-shrouded town of Surheisterveen. The boys felt right at home during the drive, as getting to many races in the States seems to take as long.

Another strong day for Mr. U.S. National Junior Champ, Bjorn Selander. Hey, the kid has another year as a junior and he’s getting some top finishes over here. In the World Cup the other day, he was 22nd, but also seventh for guys born in 1988. This is good. In Holland today, he placed fourth and Adam McGrath (12th) and Alex Howes (16th) also had good rides. Toby felt flat and Brady had moments of goodness, but I can’t say enough about these two nice guys (well, all the guys, really). They haven’t found their best form yet, but it’s coming … maybe just in time for world’s!

In the combined elite/espoir field, Ryan couldn’t get going, but Jeremy and Erik were looking better and better. I’m really liking these guys and their progress compared with last year at Euro Cross Camp I. Jeremy was seventh for U-23’s, in with some pretty strong company. Jesse managed to rake a stick into his drivetrain, shredding his rear derailleur a long, long ways from the pit, but he looked good and got some good training in nonetheless.

DeClercq in what may be his final Belgian 'cross

DeClercq in what may be his final Belgian ‘cross

Photo: Marcel Van Hoecke

So many stories…so little time. We’ll see Vantourenhout in Switzerland this weekend in new Rabobank kit. We almost lost a wheel driving home (Toby’s skewer had loosened and the wheel was doing the 140kph boogie up there for a good few minutes).

But here’s a good story to end on. As we drove out of the shower-room parking lot, I watched a compact figure in gray pants and black Gore-Tex jacket walk quietly and solitarily to claim his start money one last time. A quick wink of the eye and then the one they call Super Mario was gone, into the gray mist of north Holland on a late December day.

“Hey, ho, the wind and the rain.” – Feste the Clown, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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