The trip began quite pleasantly with a pre-ride on the Koksijde course. This was definitely the best part of the weekend! The course started off on a paved straightaway, as most courses do, then onto a twisty wet grass section. Once past the pits, the fun began - two extended sand sections that dump you off at the bottom of a steep, deep sand runup. Most of the gals ran part of the first sand pit before they got off and ran for another couple of minutes to and through the second sand pit and up the runup. At the top of the runup, you could either run down in the deep sand or try and glide down on two wheels - if you could initially get the bike moving. Following the sand, we were treated to more twisty turns on wet mud/grass and then back to a sand/mud runup. And again back on the grass.
The last runup on the course was my favorite - well, actually it was the steep sandy descent at the top i most enjoyed. Similar to the first sand descent, if you got enough speed in the deep sand, it was rideable. But based on the oohs and aahs of the crowd at that section, i suppose not everyone got enough speed. I always make fun of those people who congregate at the most technical sections of a course in hopes that they will witness a boatload of carnage, but i must admit it's a lot more fun to watch than a pavement straightaway!
What put my preride experience over the top was the people interaction i had during the ride. I spent most of the pre-ride with my former Prune teammate Christelle Ferrier-Bruneau and her countrymate Nadia Triquet-Claude. It's always a lot more fun to check out the course with other people so you can compare lines and get a sense of the racing rhythms of the track. And considering both gals normally finish near the top of the field in World Cups, it's always an honor to ride with them!
(photo to left is of the Koksijde boardwalk along the sea)
And if that wasn't exciting enough, midway through the ride I got advice on how to tackle a section of the course from Christian Heule of Stevens Racing. And when I found myself gapped from the French gals while talking to Christian, I caught a draft from Erwin Vervecken who just happened to pass by and easily bridged the gap. Only in a European race!
Race day began with an excellent parking spot as the first vehicle as you enter the main road to the course. Every spectator and racer had to pass the Vanderkitten-Mobile to get to the race. Just after we parked, a pre-race battle in my mind ensued. I tried to ward off all my untoward symptoms of a concussion with overt thoughts of unabashed optimism and other warm, fuzzy nonsense. But just as i started to bring the effort up in my warmup, reality hit me like a ton of Belgian bricks - well, actually it felt more like a blunt iron rod with protruding jagged spikes jammed through my head and repeatedly twisted. I felt like a caged dog - one who wears a special collar that sends a jolt of electricity through his body every time he tries to cross the invisible fence.
Needless to say, the start of the race was less than ideal. My decent third row callup was completely wasted on me within the first ten seconds. And to make matters worse, in the middle of the first steep sand descent on the first lap, a gal crashed right into me. It only took a few seconds to disassemble her bike enough to free mine, but that was all it took to put me in last place. While keeping my effort level just at the point below the pain threshold where i would pass out, I continued on. That was definitely a delicate balancing art of sorts, one that I have no designs on perfecting!
For the remaining minutes, I passed a few people but not enough to make it a heroic effort by any means. After the race, I went back to the mobilehome, unwound for about ten minutes then headed out for the ten hour drive to France.
Most of the drive to Britannia was in the dark but what little we did see reminded me of just how beautiful that country is! The rustic little towns, spectacular castles that date back a trillion years, and the perfectly undulating countryside is enough to get me to visit France - even though its residents only speak three languages - french, french, and french.
Aside from the views, another benefit of cyclo-cross courses located in France is that you can usually count on hills! With a somewhat fixed upper limit on my effort level, i really enjoyed the few opportunities the course went uphill. Uphill riding means no sprints out of turns so i can be more effective at moderate output.
Again, my start was crap. I had a great callup - even had the highly coveted #1 race plate! But again within the first few seconds, I had to back off the pedals for fear of passing out. But i stayed tough while carefully minding my effort limit. And by the end of the race i even passed over ten riders.
The crowds were great! I even had groups of kids cheering for the "cat head", while others cheered for me because they remembered me from road season earlier in the year when i raced for a French Team. One of my former teammates, Celine, was also out there screaming my name. I was so thankful for all those cheers. A hearty cheering section can really help the morale when you're having a tough day!
Mo Bruno, one of my favorite cross riders, was also out there for a weekend of racing. She rode like a superstar! It was great to watch her fe-malehandle (there had to be a better word for this) the other riders!!
Oddly enough, a myspace friend of Vanderkitten saw me racing there and took photos which he sent back to Vanderkitten! (here they are!)
After another ten hour drive, I finally arrived home. That was a hard weekend of driving - even as a passenger. I don't know how Jonas did it. I go crazy if i have to drive a car for more than ten minutes!
Lucky for me, my next races aren't until 8-9 December (World Cup and Superprestige) so I (better) have plenty of time to recover from the knocks on my head. This trip will also be driving heavy. I think it's about twelve hours to Italy, then another fourteen to Veghel, Holland the following day! But at least my head will be into it this time around - literally.
Thanks for reading!