I did my fourth cross race today, and it was by far the muddiest. The race was forty-five minutes north west of Brussels in the small town of Balegem. The past week here have been below freezing for the whole day so the ground has been rock hard. However yesterday warmed up to about fifty degrees and it rained last night, so that made for some sloppy conditions today.
I wasn’t the only American in the junior field today, I was joined by eight of some of Americas best, who are here getting European experience with Geoff Proctors “Euro Cross Camp“, which is spending the Christmas break in Belgium. I arrived a little late to the race so didn’t have time to pre-ride the whole course, but saw about half. I meet the other Americans before hand and talked a little about Belgium racing.
The course was insane! It started out on a step paved hill before turning right onto a slick single-track section. Here it snaked about and went down three very step, fast, and slick docents(very dangerous). Due to the weather of the previous day, the ground was a gaping mud pit. The mud is so thick that it sticks to everything. After riding 100 meters in it your tires are clogged and you have no traction. This would hurt me later only having one bike. The race then went though some grass fields before tuning onto a gravel then paved road, which hooked back into the starting hill.
The call-up for starting position was “random”, but some how all the Americans started in the back. Never the less the raced started and started fast. The opening lap was a nut house, there were tons of riders jammed onto a tight single track, and we at the back often found ourselves standing not even moving waiting for the bottle neck to sort out. The decents were treacherous, every lap multiple people crashed and a few were escorted away by ambulance. I was slowly moving up and by the time we had finished one lap I was 7th out of the 9 Americans.
On the second lap things were no different it was still a slip and slide. The two American that I passed both crashed on the second lap and pulled out of the race. I had some close calls and managed to keep the bike up right. I kept moving up and started feeling comfortable on the sketchy course. I can feel that my cross skills are getting better, but still have along ladder to climb.
With two laps to go I passed another American and was riding well. My bike on the other hand was another story. Going into the final lap I passed two more Americans, but one had been in the leading group and crashed hard. About half a lap to go my bike had seen enough, somehow the chain got stuck in between the cassette and wheel. I stopped and started yanking on the chain to try and get it un-jammed, but it was in there pretty good. I struggled with it for a minute or two, then a man watching came out and helped. He also struggled and after fettling with it for another minute he got it working, but while we were yanking on the chain the two Americans that I had passed over took me. I mounted the bike, but my problems were not over yet. Because I only have one cross bike the mud/grass/leaf combo had clogged my brakes to the point where my wheels wouldn’t spin, so I stopped and quickly tried to clear out all the sludge from the brakes and critical areas. It helped, but the wheels were still slugging along. I made it to the finish with my bike five pounds heavier and wheels hardly spinning, but everyone else with one bike was experiencing the same.
I finished 39th and finished 6th out of the Americans and had a good time. Each race I do I like it even more. I better stop racing so I don’t go cross crazy and my dad will have to buy me another bike. Just joking dad, but another bike would help.
I’m going to Prague, Czech on the 25th for five days with my host family I will take lots of pictures and keep you posted.
Belgium Cyclocross: cold, mud, pain, beer, fries.