Monday, 30 January 2012

The World Championships in pictures and video.

Well I'm about to go to Paris to see my sister off, who kindly came and watched the race, so I dont have time to post a report, but I'll write it up either on the way there/back. In the meantime, enjoy some videos and photos of the race.
It was ridiculous. 61,000 people. A record crowd for CX.
30,000L of beer.
An atmosphere I will never forget.
During the practice laps I was re-doing a few tricky sections where most of the fans were. Won a few new supporters after getting the crowd to give me a slow clap to get me through, and it actually worked! People were saying I was getting a better reception than the leaders during the race!
This video is best watched without sound but you can see the crowd going crazy, thanks Dieter Meerts!
Then this one was a tricky sandy climb which I again had to redo a few times during practice. Michiel De Clerq filmed my last succesful attempt, you can hear the crowd go crazy in this one.

Kristof Mellemans took this photo in the sand:
Lydia Van de Meerssche took this photo down one of the flyovers:

Kris Claeye: The owner of the magnificent photo that is my title pic, took this photo of me right after nailing the sandy section in practice (just after that video)

And this one when I was thanking the crowd for their support.

I'll save a few pics for the actual write up, but it was the best thing I've ever done in my life, and something I'll likely never get to experience again; that is a big tick next to "represent Australia at something" on my bucket list.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Koksijde World Champs

I am lucky enough to be staying with the Japanese team in Koksijde in the week leading up to the World Championships. Japan isn’t quite a powerhouse when it comes to Cyclocross, however they are very competitive across each category, and certainly not just making up the numbers. They have a team of 7 riders, and about 8 staff members including mechanics, a photographer and assistants. 

We rode out to the course yesterday and immediately I was wondering what on earth I’ve gotten myself into. About 1/3 of the course was made up of sand dunes. That’s not to say I don’t like it, it’s simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen or ridden. For the somewhat less proficient riders such as myself, this means a lot of fairly exhausting running, and some treacherous descents. Things such as when to remount and how to shift your weight when riding the sand are completely new to me, but I am learning from watching the other riders, and speaking to Yannick and Keeichi who are more than happy to share advice. During official training the organisers had school groups visit to cheer on the riders. There would have been about 1000 students lining the exciting parts of the course, which was certainly a nice way to be welcomed to the World Championships. I stopped to take some photos with the children, and immediately was swarmed by them all trying to get my autograph. 

Yesterday the course had dried up a bit, and the channels in the sand were a little more defined, making the tricky sections a little easier to ride, but still very difficult to link up, without having to dismount. Watching the professionals ride these sections is truly amazing, and I’ll do my best to emulate their skills tomorrow. 

Japanese freelance photographer Sonoko Yakana has some amazing photos she's kindly allowed me to use. If you wish to use her photos, please contact her first.
I'll throw up a post of her photos next week, they're stunning. 

The aim is to beat 3 finishers, and finish on the same lap as a few quality riders in front of me. Not a ridiculous wish, but the sand will wreck havoc, so anything can happen. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Hoogerheide World Cup

This was the final round of the World Cup, in the Netherlands. We went out on the saturday to do some practice laps. It was bloody cold and the wind was howling. The course was good fun with a few fairly sloppy mud sections and a cool run up a steep climb before popping back onto the pavement. On my 3rd practice lap I somehow managed to lose my front wheel down a very easy descent, and smash into the fence lining the course. Index (shifting/braking) finger took most of it, followed by my jaw where I landed on top of the fence, then both knees and finally my calf when I landed on the fence support. Bloody embarrassing! Felt like I'd bent my finger around and broken it, but thankfully it was fine. Certainly hurt to walk though, and I cut myself under my jaw, I think the beard hair cushioned my blow. Not a great start! Anyway, hopped on the rollers that night to loosen it all up, and thankfully I packed some tiger balm plus to mask the pain.

Come race day we rolled in and before I knew it I was lining up for my 3rd World Cup. As soon as the gun went, adrenalin kicked in and I completely forgot about the pain in my knees, calf and finger. I did what has worked for me in every other race and stayed out of trouble to move up when the front runners came down. Of course they did.
Danny Zelck

 Stayed with a few other riders for quite some time, keeping them in sight for a few laps. I passed Keiichi out on course, he wasn't having a good day unfortunately. Neither was Joachim Parbo (4x Danish Champ), who managed to flat and roll his tubular (met him after the race, really nice bloke!). Anyway I had a very solid race and the dutch/belgian fans were extremely supportive. Coincidentally, I was still racing when the front runners lapped me, this was pretty cool because not only did I get to ride directly behind them and witness first hand how incredibly talented they are, I also got plenty of TV time! Of course I made the most of this, and milked it for all it was worth. The crowd seemed to enjoy my burst of speed as I tried to stay with them, but it didn't last long. I ended up riding for 50 mins before being pulled off, at which point I was about 7-8 mins down. Not bad at all.
Danny Zelck
 The result on the stats sheet wasn't my best, 55th, but 3 laps down (7 laps ridden) is a vast improvement for me, as most of the other races have been 5 or even 6 laps down. I'm learning to ride this deep mud properly, and for once I didn't crash either! It's nothing astounding, but I'm very happy with the improvement and I hope I can continue this into next week. I'm racing the World Champs! Koksijde, lots and lots of sand. Can't wait, apparently 40,000 tickets have been pre sold. That doesn't include people who will purchase tickets on the day, it's going to be World Cup atmosphere times 4 or 5. Amazing.
Danny Zelck

Again thanks to my pit crew, Jeroen and Tom, Roeland and Rose for their superior organisation skillz, and all my fans for the cheers out on course, it's always cool hearing people scream your name! Post race dinner courtesy of Roeland's mum was pancakes, followed by poffertjes (mini dutch pancakes) for dessert. My kind of meal! (Sorry again Coach Jono)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Liévin World Cup and Supporter Cards

At every UCI race I've been to, people have come up asking for supporter cards for me to sign. I thought I should get some made, partially to take the piss, but it is a good way of showing who my sponsors are, and who I am, etc etc. Rose is very handy with this kind of stuff, and came up with these rippers in half a day or so.
This is the legit one.

Not so legit

For the ladies
The weekend past was World Cup #7 in Liévin, France. We drove the 1.45hrs from home on the saturday, and cut a few practice laps that afternoon. This course was probably the most enjoyable so far. Short punchy climbs and descents, relatively untechnical and quite dry, meant it was certain to be fast come Sunday. I was very thankful for a respite from the thick deep mud that I've battled through in the past few races. If a course could suit me over here, it would be this one. 
Steve Chainel (top 10 in the world or so) passed me and Yannick out on the course, as I crested a climb, and just continued accelerating at a ridiculous speed the entire way to the next descent. Its much easier to explain when you can actually see it, but this just reiterated how insanely fit the top guys are. And Stybar, Nys etc are a level above him! It was a humbling moment. 
After crashing in a Hotel F1 the night before, I got up early and had a hearty and nutritious breakfast of a foot long Chocolate Viennoiserie from the local bakery. Yum. (Dont tell coach Jono)

We headed out to the course the next day to find frost covering the entire track. Shit. Frost would undoubtably mean that after the juniors, u23 men and women race, the course would be very slick. I went round for a practice lap between races, and completely binned it riding round a fairly easy corner. No damage, just a bruised ego. Anyway, after handing out supporters cards, signing autographs, and warming up with the Japanese crew again (now made up of 3 riders), I was lining up to race my second world cup.

As has become a habit for me, I hung back at the start to make the most of the crash, which came as expected, and I moved up a few spots. I managed to ride the first lap with everyone still in sight, sitting about 63rd or so and from then on I rode my own race. My position kept improving however, despite managing to slide down one of the descents on my back. (I have no idea how it happened). The two crashes in one day rocked my confidence a bit, and I rode pretty cautiously the rest of the race. The french fans weren't quite as rowdy as the Belgians, and it took a bit to rev them all up, but by the 4th lap they were all yelling for "Australie!"
Dirk Van Hove is a Belgian who works with the Drapac team when they are in Europe. A very nice guy, who took some sweet pics too!

My last few laps I just enjoyed as best I could, and Dimitri Bruynsteen caught a snap of me popping over one the many little drops.

I was about to complete my 6th lap as I was pulled from the course, and I ended up in 53rd, not quite the last finisher either. The prize money is pretty good at world cup level, had I been able to sneak in to the top 50, I would have scored 300 euros! (It's 5000 euros for the win, maybe next year?) There's always Hoogeheide next weekend I suppose....

Despite making the trip into another country just to help me, I didnt end up changing bikes whilst out on the course. But I am still exceptionally grateful for Tom and Jeroen's help in the pits. Rose and Roeland again were outstanding and have given me the full professional experience whilst over here.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Otegem CX UCI C2

So I may have been a little way off in suggesting that because the Belgian Nats were the day before, this race would be easier. I couldnt have been more wrong. The course was good fun, but an absolute slogfest. Thick soupy mud covered the second half of the course, the rest consisted of slippery grass, tarmac and some stairs. Despite having had 3 races already, I hadn't had a barrier until today. Interesting.... Anyway, we found our car spot next to Yannick and Niels Albert's massive campervan.

This race is generally an affair put on for the National Champ to show off his new kit. The organisers were keen to get riders to race, and as such I recieved 65 euros just to start, pretty cool! I was also informed I would recieve a meat platter afterwards, I thought it was just meat, but it was an actual meat grill, which should come in handy over the next month.

The race started as many do, and I did my best Steven Bradbury of hanging back and waiting for a crash to move up a few positions. The inevitable happened, and I gained a few spots, but unfortunately it was Yannick who came down, puncturing his tubular. Soon enough the other riders past me, and I was out the back, keeping the tailenders in sight for a few laps.
Rita (from the race where I got 2nd) was taking some photos today too...

Luckily for me, the 80% rule didnt apply here, and I got lapped by the leaders with one lap to go (for them). By this stage my race was over anyway, so I decided to play up for the crowd a bit, much to their enjoyment. I took a shot of liquer (Baileys or something?) from a spectator and nearly vommed straight after, but they went mental! Then as Albert passed me, I chased after him and caught him up on a little hill. The crowd went insane, and poor Albert thought someone was actually catching him, until he saw it was just the hack who he lapped.
Mario Dalschaert snapped an excellent picture of this moment...
I may have been the last finisher (there were quite a few DNF's), but I had an absolute blast playing up for the crowd, and I wasnt a ridiculous way behind, considering the small but quality field.

Thanks again for everyones support. World Cup Lievin is up next!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

First Belgian Podium!

Yesterday was a non-UCI CX race held by the VWF (Flemish Cycling Federation). It was closer to the Dirty Deeds races in size than the World Cup I raced a few weeks ago.

The course featured muddy singletrack climbs and descents in a little forest, followed by a muddy slog through grass, with two grassy  climbs (one of which needed to be ran) and a tarmac straight to te finish line. As I hadn't raced with them before, I was one of the last called up. In a field of 26 riders I was about 20th on the grid. It may've been a smaller race but there were still plenty of elbows as I fought through everyone to the front.

After the second lap I moved into 5th, riding with 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I managed to drop them on the climbs, however 1st was a fair way in front at this stage.
Check out the grass in my rear wheel!

I stayed on the TCX Advanced the whole way, and managed to roll through and record my first podium in Belgium!
Beautiful post race phlegm

I'm very happy with the result, and hoping to do another of these races before I go home. After a little google search I found out the bloke that won, has won 37 of these races before, and used to be on a fairly strong CX team. A win would have been nice, but it makes me feel a little better about coming through after him!
Sven after his first CX race.
Tomorrow is the UCI C2 race in Otegem. It's the day after all the National Champs so maybe I can record a half decent result as a few riders might be taking it easy. Right now it's time to prep the bikes... Oh and that bloke Yannick who gave me the pointers about tyre pressure nabbed silver in the German u23 Nationals. Nice!
Yannick is now the German u23 silver medallist!

Again massive thanks to Roeland and Rose for getting me out to the course, and helping out before, during and after the race!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Thank you all!

Undertaking a trip of this kind is an expensive and time consuming excercise, which requires the help and support of both sponsors and pit crew, as well as people who have helped out before I left. This post is a big thank you for everyone who has helped make this trip possible.

Giant Bicycles
I have counted 26 quality bikes that I have owned in my life. Despite only being looked after by Giant this year, I have owned 21 Giants since I began racing. This is a brand I obviously have a great attachment to, so you can imagine my excitment when they were keen to look after me following my cross results. Their bikes absolutely rock, and the people who work at Giant are superb to deal with, both from a sponsored riders perspective, and a bike shop employee's perspective. I am riding the TCX 1 that I had already purchased, as well as the amazing TCX Advanced SL 1 which was built up specifically for me. The TCX 1 is the workhorse, with Shimano Ultegra drivetrain (my personal preference), whilst the Advanced is my all out race rig, I've never ridden anything like it. Decked out with a mix of Dura Ace, Ultegra and CX-70 parts, this thing weighs ~7.2kgs and goes like a rocket. My bikes run shimano components throughout, not only on my cross bikes, but also my roadie and MTB, I also use Shimano shoes, of course!
Rocking an XTC back in '04

My steeds

Schwalbe Rubber
Similarly to Giant, I have been riding Schwalbe rubber for quite some time prior to being looked after by them, and love their Racing Ralph on my MTB. They have a great range of CX tyres and have recently released the Ralph in a UCI legal 33c clincher and 32c tubular. I run these tyres on both my race bikes, and I also have a pair of CX Pro 30c's for when it gets really filthy. Very good quality, lightweight tyres and tubes.
Cheers for the pic Ben!

Sports2 Nutrition
Qoleum Sportscare
Rudi from Sports2 has given me a sweet package of nutrition and Qoleum Sportcare goodies. I had already heard of Qoleum, they make ideal chamois cream for when its wet outside (perfect for CX), as well as some of the best embrocation creams out there, again vital for Belgium's notorious winter. I hadn't heard of Sports2, however having tried their drink powders I will be seeing if someone can start distributing them to Australia. Their electrolyte drink has a really subtle flavour, and doesnt get caught in the back of your throat when you're gasping for air, something I've struggled with many other sports drinks, it also has the ever important potassium and magnesium to combat cramps that I often struggle with. Their recovery drink is also tasty, with the right amount of carbs:protein for optimum uptake and utilisation, it mixes easily too, perfect.

Roeland and Rose have been invaluable as both managers and generous hosts. As I've said before, this trip would be impossible and/or impossibly expensive without them. They're impeccable in their help and preperation of my races. I would also like to thank Stevo and Frank, as well as Tom and Joeri for their help in the pits with bike hand ups and cleaning, again this would be near impossible without their help. Mum and Dad have been very supportive since I started racing back when I was 13. Ive had a few oppurtunities to give it a proper crack, and they always have sound advice as to what I should do. Getting a degree down pat before heading overseas to race is a desicion I stand by, and Im thankful for their words of wisdom. And last but certainly not least, thanks to my girlfriend for allowing me to scoot out of the country for the summer!

Coach Jono has been invaluable in getting me back to (and quite possibly beyond) the form I had before my crash. Super nice guy, and incredibly intelligent, if anyone is looking for some coaching (of any cycling discipline), then look no further. My result at the tour of bright is a full credit to his work. 16th in A grade up Hotham after just 5 weeks back on the bike shocked me, and has left me wondering what possibilities I may have on the road down the track. Getting a coach was one of the best things I've done for my cycling, my only regret is not getting onto him sooner. So a massive thanks has to go to both him and his mentor Cam for their help over the past few months.

Ben from VeloLab did a superb job gluing both sets of tyres to my tubular wheels before I left. This is actually the first time Ive used tubs, being terrified of them rolling off, but there is no chance of that happening with these. Ben specialises in high end repairs and servicing, as well has Cannondale Headshock/Lefty servicing.

My employer St Kilda Cycles has also been extremely helpful this year, providing me with a workplace in which I could start late, maximising my training times during the morning. Vinny the boss has also been generously flexible, enabling me to swap shifts easily when I'm racing. D-man got me up 4 mornings a week nice and early during winter to go riding, no matter the weather, which contributed greatly to my form over our CX season. To all the guys at SKC, thank you for being understanding of me pulling out of work for the busy summer months, and thank you for helping hook me up with Giant Bicycles and Schwalbe.

The Dirty Deeds crew, together with Brunswick Cycling Club have provided me with an exceptional avenue of exposure and reignited my desire to reach a higher level in cycling when they started Melbourne's first official Cyclocross series in 2010. The races are awesome fun, the atmosphere is great, and it was even published on cyclingnews this year, gaining me plenty of attention as a worthy competitor in CX (locally anyway ;-)). I have now joined Brunswick as a member, and will hopefully compete in a few of their races over winter.

Gary from Riviera Cycles messaged me out of the blue asking for my address, and sent me a Belgian Care Package of a winter cap, booties and gloves. I'm very grateful of these now that its hovering around freezing. Cheers Gary!
Note the cap and gloves!
Finally a big thank you to all my friends for your support on facebook, it means a lot to know people are following my exploits. Cheers and Happy New Year!