By Alex Candelario
Editor’s note: He’s back. There, not here, that is. American cyclo-cross racer Alex Candelario returned to Belgium last week to continue his season of ‘cross racing where it matters. Candelario started his season in Europe, then came home to contest the U.S. national championships in December (where he finished 10th) and is now back in Belgium for the remainder of the season. He checked in on Tuesday with this latest account of the Belgian ‘cross chronicles.
On Christmas day, I left the comforts of family and the loved one to venture back to the snowy fields of Belgium. Landing in the dark (8:00 am), in a small snow storm, I was welcomed by a changed landscape that seemed to symbolize the coming winter months in this northern region of Europe, as well as a cyclo-cross season that was in full swing.
With the remarkable convenience of USA Cycling’s national championship in the middle of December, I’ve missed out on most of December’s better races. But thanks to the Boulder/Denver couriers, I’ve been given the opportunity to come back and catch the tail end of Belgium’s 10-race series that extends through January 1, as well as compete in the rest of January’s races.
I landed on a Tuesday and the very next day I found myself driving in Kurt’s (my Belgian compatriot and generous host) mobile home up north to Loenhout, a category 1 race in the middle of nowhere. But as usual, this nowhere place attracted about 10,000 spectators who didn’t seem to mind the 0-degree temperatures and the icy muddy fields. Over the next five days, the scene is much the same with large crowds and challenging courses, and while all the races I did were worthy of writing about, the Superprestige on New Year’s eve was definitely the highlight.
So how else would Belgians ring in the New Year other than attending a ‘cross race? Not only is it New Year’s eve and a Superprestige in Brussels, but it’s nine at night and some crazy lighting company has taken it upon themselves to light up the course via giant helium balloons. At distances, especially mid race distances, these balloons look like full moons rising over the horizon and it makes me feel artificial in this Euro-urban environment racing on a ‘cross machine.
Despite the urban setting, the organizers have done a remarkable job in designing the course, tying together two football (soccer) fields, one upper one, and one lower one with a combination of hilly streets, slimy mud sections, loose gravel, and oh, did I mention a subway overpass? That’s one of the things about racing in Belgium: There is always something new and challenging.
With a good start, but a rolled tubular in the first lap, I was relegated to 37th by Sven (Nijs), who seems to be gaining better form with each week and is the pick for the Belgian championships.
More than just attending the race, however, the amount of people who’ve shown up to this night time extravaganza speaks to the distinguished place that cycling has in the hearts of Belgians. It is truly amazing to be a part of it.
Thanks for reading.