By Alex Candelario , VeloNews correspondent
At the sixth round of the cyclo-cross World Cup series in Pontchateau, France, some eerie bunkers from WWII served as powerful memories that I won’t soon forget. Another powerful memory I’ll take home from the January 21 event is one of the toughest cyclo-cross courses I’ve ever raced on.
The course was set in a river basin, and someone saw to it that we were to traverse up and down the side of the river valley a number of times just to make things interesting. It worked. With a number of power climbs, fast descents, and off-camber, muddy turns, my last Euro’ race of the season was a good one.
Normally, it’s a fast course and the steep grunt climbs aren’t a major factor, but we were lucky enough to get a big storm just in time for the race. Those short climbs became a pretty major factor.
Italian Daniele Pontoni was the only one staying on his bike up one of the “grunters” that led into the second pit area. The toughest part about doing this is not staying on the bike, but making it go faster then someone running with theirs. That’s one of things about cyclo-cross — you always have to be asking yourself: “Would it be faster to run this, or power it out?” It seems that in the end, it was faster to run. At least it was for Richard Groenendaal, who took another victory.
Even though it was raining, it was nice to escape the frigid temperatures that have settled into Northern Europe. But in leaving behind the cold, we also left behind a large population of fans. The last round of the World Cup was significantly less attended than what I’ve become accustomed to in the north.
Nonetheless, as an American cyclo-cross racer there are always shouts and cheers of surprise from fans. Most of the time, they can’t believe that an American is racing, and when they do, they usually yell “Allez Lance!” or “Allez LeMond!”
While cyclo-cross requires more focus than any other endeavor I know of (you’re suffering beyond all hell and one lapse in focus will leave you on your butt in the mud), hearing these names always seems to penetrate my mind.
Not that I hold myself in the same regard, but because it reminds me that I’m a part of an American legacy, a legacy which has come in search of the ultimate competition in the sport of cycling. I do feel a part of something more significant, and it always makes me dig deep for that little extra effort. This time that extra effort wasn’t enough, and I ended up being doubled by Groenendaal, settling for 37th.
As my first full (well, almost) Euro-cross season has come to an end, I can’t help but think back and reminisce (I can hear the sighs). Even though most of it seems dominated by “learning experiences” (you know what I mean), there were other things that have made my first season successful. Such as finding support just to do races, or learning the pre-race cyclo-cross routine that is crucial to having a good race. And trust me, there is no one to help with these things, you must figure them out for yourself.
Most importantly, however, I have lived and traveled in a culture other than my own, and this has always been a goal in cycling for me. I look forward to next year and wish all the boys and girls headed to Tabor good luck!
Before the tears begin, I would like to give a shout-out to my sponsors who help make racing possible (I know it’s cheesy, but it has to be done). Thanks to Boulder/Denver Couriers, Trek, Time, Giro, Smith, Kurt and family (Belgians who helped), and my three friends who spend all day racking up the “hits” on VeloNews.com, so it looks like someone other than my girlfriend and mom are reading.
Thanks for reading!