This was my second Christmas in Belgium and among my peer group there is no question that cyclocross racing has the lead roll during the holiday time of year not Santa. The cyclocross race promoters in Belgium take full advantage of general population being on holidays and cram in as many races as possible over this short period of time. This is generally known as the Holy Week of Cross but has grown to the point that it is essentially now two weeks of racing consisting of two world cups and seven other major professional races.
Most racers pick and choose a little since racing competitively at all nine races is pretty much impossible. I went with a schedule of six races which still created a two week muddy whirlwind. This whirlwind started off with the Namur World Cup on December 18th.
I had never raced at Namur before and everyone said it was a brutal course with huge climbs, sketchy descents and lots of running. This was a pretty accurate description. A couple of the descents had really steep drop ins with huge ruts. The only way to ride these was to grit your teeth, let go of the brakes and just hold on. Pretty fun in my opinion but there is no way course features like this would fly in North America. The race itself didn’t go that well, I was likely still fatigued from my hard training camp in Mallorca and the course showed me no mercy.
The Diegem Superprestige was next up on December 23rd. It is a urban night race in Brussels and was one of my favorite races last year. This year had an equally electric atmosphere and we essentially raced through a drunken dance party. I rode reasonably well and for the first time since pneumonia in early November I felt that I could put out some power push. Things fell apart on the last couple laps with a series of crashes but I managed to make the lead lap and got to finish the race without being lapped or pulled. A cross race is typically about ten laps and now with the 80% rule which means you can be pulled once you are around four minutes behind the leader simple getting to finish a race against the worlds best is pretty tough. This was the first time I had managed to finish on the lead lap in Belgium.
At the Chainstay we celebrated Christmas on December 24th. It is hard being away from friends and family over the holidays but everyone staying at the house is in the same boat and we made the best of it with a nice dinner and gift exchange.
The Zolder World Cup was on the 26th and I was confident I could make the top 50 and pick up 300 euros prize money. I spent most of the race riding with my house mate Jeremy Durrin and the Japanese national champ which all the belgian fans called Sushi. I felt pretty good but just wasn’t going fast enough and we finished just outside the top 50.
After Zolder the Christmas race block became a muddy blur. With races on weird days of the week like Tuesday and Wednesday I lost all sense of what day it was. It was either a race day or a bike maintenance day. The ice and snow from last year was replaced with unseasonably warm and weather making the courses very muddy. On race day each of my bikes were typically pressure washed around ten times. This works great for getting the surface mud off but it drives dirty water and grit into every moving part. My “rest days” were typically spent doing laundry and working on bikes. Everything from bearing and cable replacement to new bar tape.
Having so many cyclocross races in such a short period of time does create a unique opportunity to experiment. I wanted to get good results at the World Cups, which I failed to do, and all the other races I was racing for fun and experience so I didn’t care much about the end result. I had been struggling with my starts so at Bredene I went super hard off the gun and was in the top ten after the first corner. I get gotten ridden through by twenty five people but it showed me that I could start well. I also managed to make the lead lap at Bredene which was encouraging. At GP. Sven Nys I tried varying my pace during the lap, resting on the easy sections and really pushing hard when it made a big difference. This strategy actually worked pretty well and I finished 29th which got me in the money and was my first top 30 this season in Europe. I think I learned a fair amount from the Holy Week of Cross and now the focus is World Championships at the end of the month.