My World Cup Campaign Kicks Off
Hey, my lack of blogs and reports are due to me being a busy bike rider over the past few days!
I'll start at the beginning...
After the dissapointment of the Superprestige in Ruddervoorde next up was the Kermiscross in Ardooie, a midweek UCI C2 event that gave me a chance to quickly turn things around.
I had ridden the event a couple of seasons ago on one of my smaller but frequent trips to Belgium when I was just dipping my toe into the European cross scene to get a gauge if I could make it in the rough-and-tumble world of Belgian cross.
It's a really cool smaller event which still has a lot of the top guys there without the mid-pack racers who will do or die on the first turn to try and make it onto the back of the lead group who I am usually gridded with.
I was looking forward to an opportunity to race without these guys around me and seeing how I compared on more of a level playing field with the top guys.
I got a really good start and was just off the back of the lead group after a couple of laps in around 17th position, I rode sensibly and managed to claw my way back up to the leading group, it contained Stybar, Nys and Alberts (the big three).
I had literally just got onto the back when there was a big crash in the middle of the 18 man group blocking the entire course.
I had to wait patiently as the riders picked themselves up and I could only stand and watch as the lead group fragmented ahead of me. I found myself working well in a group of five chasers but I knew we would never get back to the leaders now and started to think about my result within the group.
We were racing for 12th which would have been another top 15 for my goals chart on my bedroom wall which I wake up to every morning.
I really dug in towards the end of the race and stretched the guys I was with eventually working them over in the final gallop for the line.
Although it was a smaller mid-week race 12th was another top 15 for the CV, I went home a happy boy and looking forward to the World Cup just three days later in Aigle, Switzerland.
World Cup, Round One
Nine hours in a car is never fun but it had to be done. We arrived in Aigle late on the Friday night and got straight to bed, I was pretty tired from the Ardooie race still so went training on the World cup course late Saturday afternoon.
It was a real tricky affair with lots of off-camber sections, however there weren't many places to move up and with my sixth row gridding I was going to have to be super aggressive at the start to stand any chance of getting my goal of top 30.
My initial start was good however the inevitable first corner crash soon had me back nearer my sixth row starting position.
The first half a lap I didn't make any new friends, pushing my way past on the inside of corners and being very 'Belgian' in the process, however it was working and I was moving up well.
On my fourth lap I posted the 17th fastest fourth lap, : showing I had the race pace to be further forward - however I was stuck in a group that were content to sit on me and jump me before the technical sections where perhaps I would have been able to spring across to the next group.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated and wasting energy trying to get back past these riders and eventually my lap times fell away with me eventually coming in 34th. I was disappointed not to have made it into the top 30 however I knew deep down that my legs were certainly good enough for that goal.
Straight after the race it was into the car again for another monster journey, this time six to Rimini in Italy.
Training with Jamie
We were going to stay with ex pro and all round sound chap Jamie Burrow. Jamie is setting up a hotel in Riccione with bike tours being a big part of the new setup.
He was our tour guide for the week's training, although - in his own words - he hadn't been riding much and was 'unfit', his class on the bike shines through; it's at times like this you realise how much raw talent has to play in the world of cycling.
The weather and training roads made getting in a big block of training super easy; three to four hours nearly every day, with sprint efforts and motorpacing is never easy but was made a lot more enjoyable here.
Without this big block of training my form would just have gradually dwindled over the next few weeks due to the number of races coming up in quick succession, something like four in eight days.
The great food, nice drink and stupidly hot women in Italy made the week fly past and soon it was time for another numb bum ride in the car to Plzen, Czech republic for World Cup, Round Two.
World Cup, Round Two
I rode Plzen last year and really enjoyed the course, however this year without the moisture in the air, the course was a real powerhouse one hour of full effort which doesn't really suit my punchy on/off riding style.
Once again my grid placing was shocking, however I was wide awake at the start and took every opportunity that presented itself to me, I was 23rd going through the first pit.
Although I didnt feel like I had gone that deep to overtake so many riders after a few laps I realized that a heavy week's training and a super fast start weren't a good combo.
All race I was desperatly trying to hold onto my top 30 position, however the UCI clearly didnt want a Brit in the top 30 and made the race one lap too long in my opinion... one hour and eight minutes is a long time to be near your max breathing and heart rate.
I wouldn't mind if the new race length ruling was adopted by all race officials because then you could pace for the extra length, however this year my races have now varied from 55 minutes to nearly 70 minutes - quite a difference!
I came in 31st again, disappointed, but knew I could have been top 30. The main point was the gap to the winner which was respectable, and I had ridden as best I could.
Both World cups were about picking up the valuable UCI points which are so hard to come by racing in mainland Europe.
My gridding would now be better at the races back in Belgium and hopefully I could show again how good I am with a good starting position.
The following day was another numb bum day: eight and a half hours in the car back to Oudenaarde in Belgium, my base for the winter.
Nacht Van Woerden
Tuesday was race day again at Nacht Van Woerden, a night race in Holland.
Anyone who says being a full time bike rider is easy and not a proper job should now be clear: a 9.45pm race start is never going to be easy but after all the build up of fatigue from racing and the monster travelling I was starting to feel pretty second-hand.
On the start line I could quickly tell by looking around at riders faces which ones had ridden both World Cups and who hadn't!
Many guys who were down to ride, but had ridden the World Cups, hadn't turned up here - obviously turning down the good start money they had been offered.
The course is really fun and lit pretty well with not many dark spots on the tight and techcnical circuit.
With the Fun Fair blaring europop out, the race got underway. My World Cup results had paid off and I was rewarded with a second row start, of which I took full advantage and was lying fifth into the first turn.
I maintained this position quite comfortably over the first lap but then slipped back to around 10th just on the back of the lead group.
My legs were good though and mid-race when the race started to fragment I found myself alone in sixth place, chasing hard for fifth.
It was a UCI C2 event so the points went down to 10th.
I couldn't believe how I was riding with so much fatigue in my body, to say I was trying to make up time in the corners was an understatement.
However I managed to keep the bike on two wheels until the finish, taking sixth place.
This was by far away my best result in Europe - ever.
The hard work is really paying off this winter, : that result now being my fourth top 15 placing of the season - so far.
The main problem of night racing is the late finish, the adrenaline still pumping at 10.45pm as you cross the line is never going to be good for a solid night's sleep.
We arrived home at 02:00 am and I didn't get to sleep until 03:30 am. All that for around a 100 quid profit isn't a great pay day, but as you may have worked out by this point, I don't do it for the money, I simply love 'cross!
Next up is a double weekend of Zonhoven Superprestige on the Sunday, and the infamous Koppenberg GVA on the Monday.
Between now and then I will however mostly be sleeping!
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