Saturday, 29 December 2012

Azencross B Post Bank Trophee - FMB Tubulars

Yesterday's race was a B Post Bank Trophee round in Loenhout. I raced this race last year, and its renowned for having rowdy crowds (due to a break in football season at this time, all the soccer fans rock up and get out of control). Last year it was an absolute mudfest and with record rainfall for December, it was even filthier. 
The big news of the day was an angry Sven Nys stopping mid race to speak to a spectator who'd thrown beer at him every lap. He was pretty level headed and just had a few words, but it looked like the guy copped a beating from other spectators and fair enough! 
Last year I had a few B level Belgians and some other foreigners to race against, but lining up on the start line it was pretty obvious I'd most likely be alone out the back. The other riders were either put off by the poor weather or saving themselves for Bredene the next day. 
There was a massive crash as soon as we hit the the mud section. There was a huge pile up behind him and everyone was off their bike and running. The mud section lasted about 1km and involved about 20cm of sticky mud. Exhausting on the legs. Last year I had to run it all, but thanks to a combination of improved fitness and a superb set of tubular tyres, I was able to ride it all. 
There was even a bmx style set of rollers on the course.
Despite this, I was alone after the first lap. The crowd were insane though, the volume of cheers was second only to the world champs in Koksijde. I played it up, and once I'd figured I was on my last lap before being pulled, I made sure to put on a show for the crowd. Sonoko has generously allowed me to use some of her fantastic photos and you can see just how much fun I had out there.
In the end, I was the last finisher in 36th, but three laps down instead of the five from last year. Not a great result, but not too bad either. 

A bloke I've met through Dirty Deeds, Paul has started importing FMB tubulars into Australia. I was frantically trying to organize tubs before I left, and on the Comptons advice I went for a set of FMB Super Muds. I can see why they were recommended to me, I've never ridden anything like them. In an ideal world, I'd have a set of their SSC's as well (their intermediate tread) for slightly less muddy conditions, but I could only fit two wheelsets in my luggage, so chose to prepare myself for the worst of the Belgian mud. They've been fantastic so far. Tread aside, the other feature which stands out is the coating on the sidewall. Dugasts are great, but the sidewalls rot if you don't paint a protective coating on them, and you have to reapply it during the season. The FMBs come standard with a coating, no hassles, no worries. They aren't cheap, but they've make a world of difference to my ride and I'm sure they've saved me from a few spills this season! If you're keen to get a set for the road or cross bike (Boonen uses FMBs....enough said), shoot Paul an email at paul@supple.com.au 





I have Saturday off, before the last race of my Kerst Periode and my first ever race in the Superprestige Series, a night race in Diegem on Sunday. I'll be doing everything possible to finish on the lead lap!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Heusden-Zolder WC, and a club race win - Sram and Zipp

 Heusden-Zolder was the location of my first ever World Cup last year. The race is held on Boxing Day and there's always a huge turnout with a jolly crowd. It's held around the Formula 1 course, and has a good mix of sand, mud, grass and tarmac. The fans are always in a good mood here, and there is heaps of support on course. The main feature is two steep descents which are in about 10-30cms of rutted mud. The first is long and slightly off camber, the second is shorter and steeper, with a dangerous deep section of mud at the bottom which sent many riders A over T (ass over tits for you non-anglophones). 

We set up with the Japanese team who arrived last week. Their crew is a little smaller this year, with Ayako Toyooka being the only rider returning with the photographer Sonoko Tanaka. Their sognieur Ranjit is a very generous bloke and let us use his heated truck as well as helping to hose down and lube up the bikes. Ayako is one of the most glamorous riders in the women's peloton, she's got an awesome diamanté studded helmet, and rocks a very cool pink leopard skin skinsuit, and matching bike! They have a blog they're running together, which features Sonoko's fantastic photography; check it out "Hime and Chuko in Muddy Paradise"


Lining up for the start, My nerves were a little more settled than usual. The gun went off, and we tore down the straight. I was near the back of bunch, but managed to stay clear of the carnage on the first corner. As we settled into the race, I was passed by a few of the better riders who had troubles early on, but managed to establish my position slipping onto the back of a French rider down the tarmac sections to conserve energy. 

You can see from the photos the look of relief on my face when I made it down each descent safely. I was just trying to remember the basics, pick the rut, ride the rut, don't change my line and go easy on the front brake. 

I rode them all quite well, but was absolutely blown away when I saw the video of Sven riding it.  Holy shit! What an absolute animal!

Last year I only rode for 36mins before being pulled. This year I rode for 49mins, a big improvement and only 3 laps down in 43rd. I'm really happy with the result, there were some really good riders at 3 laps down, and Im starting to feel really comfortable out on the bike. I had been having some troubles breathing but it doesn't seem to be an issue anymore. 
Thank you to Sonoko for letting me use her brilliant photos!
A Club Race Win:

This Sunday just passed I managed to score my first win outside Australia at a round of the Vlaamse Wieler Federatie's (Flemish Cycling Federation) Cyclocross Series. Being so close to Christmas, this race was referred to as KerstCross (Christmas Cross).This is club level racing, but as I've found out already, even on this level it's brutal and very competitive. In a nice change to the norm, we were able to rock up at 11.30 for a 12.45 start, and the course was only a 40min drive away. The inschrijving (rego) was in a little pub, you pay 12 euros, get a number and get 2 euros back when you return it.


 C and D grade raced before us, ensuring that the track would be significantly chewed up prior to our race. On the startline, Frank pointed out the rider (Nicky David) who had won every race he'd entered this season, so I made a mental note to stick with him. Whilst I didn't get the greatest start, I managed to muscle my way ahead of most of the riders ahead of the first turn. I held my ground down the muddy descent and before long there was just two of us off the front. Nicky and I attacked each other for most of the first half of the race. I was hopping the logs whilst he was running, but he was gaining ground on the muddy grass sections.

The descent had mud puddles as deep as my hubs, but you just had to lean back and keep your speed up. I was particularly thankful for the Zipp 303's, slicing through the mud noticably easier than my 'B' bike which just has standard profile rims. Jeroen and Roeland did a fantastic job of cleaning my bikes every second lap, meaning I could maximise time on the new TCX. After a hour racing in the muddiest race I've ever competed in, I crossed the line for my first Belgian Cyclocross win. It may not be a World Cup, it may not even be a UCI race, but it's something I'm pretty proud to be able to say I've done.

You don't see too many trophies these days, so I was really stoked when they presented this one to me
"Straight to the pool room!"
Plug of the week: Zipp and Sram
I've been lucky enough to be sponsored by Sram since July of this year, and I'm a huge fan of Sram Red. Its ridiculously light, and the shifting is crisp and precise even in the worst conditions. My new TCX comes with 2013 Red, and despite loving the old stuff, this new groupset is even better. The lever profile gives a slightly better grasp of the brakes, and the shifter action is also improved. The front derailleur is another highlight. Its angle changes depending on where it is located, minimising that annoying rub when you're in the big ring and a low gear on the back (which happens a bit in cross). Whilst we're not far off having disc brakes as mainstream, the Avid Shorty Ultimates are probably the best canti brakes money can buy. Nice modulation, plenty of power, and heaps of adjustment. I've also been using the Quarq power meter to monitor my training all year, a very handy tool!
Both bikes are running impeccably despite the punishment they've been put through, I'm very happy with the equipment.


Perhaps the most noticable feature on my new TCX is the very boutique Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular wheels. Weighing in at around 1350g, these wheels are by far the most amazing wheelset I've ridden. Glamour aside, these things slice through mud and sand beautifully, and are a welcome addition to the stable. Braking performance on carbon rims can be less than ideal in the wet, but I've found these to provide adequate power even in the muddiest conditions (it also helps to use the Zipp grey or Swiss Stop Yellow pads). I took a different carbon wheelset over last year, and took them off after the first ride, the braking surface was that bad it was terrifying, but the Zipps are superb. 


Next race is a Bpost Bank race in Loenhout on Friday.. It was awesome fun last year, so Im looking forward to it. With 20L of water per metre falling last night, "there will be mud."

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sint Niklaas - Kerstperiode - 4Shaw and Adidas Eyewear

Yesterday was the beginning of the famous Kerstperiod, where there's pretty much a UCI race every second day for 2 weeks. I've chosen a few to do and a few to skip, and the first one was in Sint Niklaas. It's a UCI C2 classified race, so all the big hitters were there, and Lars Boom made a return (no doubt for a hefty start fee). I even managed to secure some start money. 
The Sint Niklaas course is a really pretty park with a lake in the middle. The course wound its way through slick grassy flats, a dark forest, some sharp ups and downs, around an athletics track, and along a sandy beach. It was only 20mins away from our place for a change, which meant we could sleep in and rock up just in time for a practice lap. 
I got called up reasonably early, but once again lost my position pretty quickly in the race, in 2nd last on the first lap. I stuck to the riders in front, including a couple of Canadians and Alex the kiwi. 
After the first few laps I was able to come around a couple of riders in the sand, which I was able to ride relatively smoothly, whilst many others were running. I kept the pace on, and came around Alex and a Belgian rider, by this stage the others had a fair gap. There was plenty of support out on course, I think people are remembering me from last year again, and Roeland's step sister's family were there cheering loudly from the sidelines. 
Cheer squad for the day
 By the time we had 4 laps to go, I was desperate for them to pull me and stop the pain. My calves were cramping when running up the stairs and my vision was clouding over. 
We kept on going though, with no sign of being lapped. I was unlucky enough to just miss out on finishing on the leap lap (an aim of mine for this year), as Sven and the gentleman at the front were about 30 seconds behind as we entered the aths track to the finish. Regardless, I really enjoyed the race, and after a whole hours worth of racing, I'm really happy with my progress, as it seems like the improvement is evident. I finished in 37th, from 40 finishers (apparently there were about 8 riders who pulled out). A great day out, and I got to cool down by riding home, a nice change. 

Lars Boom was world champion when I first started taking an interest in Cyclocross. Despite the fact he's not Belgian, he had some awesome hair hanging out the back of his helmet, and of course rode a Giant. After his CX success, he's changed over to the road, where he's surely earning a packet and doing pretty well. He still races Cx occasionally though. I've never asked for a signature or a photograph, but he was pretty much a hero when I was younger, so I introduced myself and asked for a photo. He was actually really friendly (unlike most of the other top guys), and was happy to have a shot and a quick chat. 



Plug of the day:
You may notice I was rocking the 4shaw polka dot socks for the first time over here. Prior I'd been using the white corporate socks, as they're considered "euro," but the polka dots have already gained me plenty of attention. I've been riding 4shaw all year. Some people may think socks are socks, but the 4shaw range is ridiculously cool and comfortable, and would make perfect Christmas gifts for a cyclist. (Hint hint). Available at Northside Wheelers, iRide Bikes and St Kilda Cycles in Melbourne. Give them a like on Facebook too (4Shaw), you'll be kept up to date with all the new designs that are coming out. I'm loving the merino's over here!

I've also been riding Adidas Eyewear since the middle of the year, and their sunnies have become some of my favorite accessories to take out on the bike. Having used oakleys for a few years, I tried a friend's Evil Eye Half Rim Pro's and fell in love. The fit is firm on my big head and the lenses enhance the colors out on the road or the trail. I've also been lucky enough to have a second pair of riding glasses, in the Supernova pro. Again, a quality pair of sunnies. These ones use a single lens, with a big field of vision. I like using these ones on my big road training rides, the fit is a little more relaxed. 
A billboard at this years Ausbike:
Adidas have a pretty sweet catalogue of casual sunnies too. Off the bike, I wear the Torontos.

The guys at iRide Bikes in Melbourne CBD have a full range (as do others no doubt). Check em out!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Scheldecross, club racing, Sports2 Nutrtion.

Sorry for the delay between posts, I had intended on posting a link to my write up for Roubaix, but got distracted and ultimately forgot. I wrote a piece on the Cycling Tips website detailing my trip and covering the race. There are some excellent photos on there, its well worth a flick through.
http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2012/12/lewis-rattray-cyclocross-diaries-back-in-belgium/

A nutrition sponsor from last year, Sports2 has kindly returned to support my CX season again. Rudi has kitted me out with some of their awesome new gels, protein/recovery powder, hydration powder and oxivit multivitamins. This is top quality nutrition! Thanks Rudi!


Last weekend was a UCI C1 race called the Antwerp Scheldecross. C1 is the highest classification below the World Cups, but it's a little less stressful as there isn't any need for attending managers meetings the day before etc.
The weather that week had been pretty atrocious, but thankfully the rain stayed away for the race. It was bloody freezing though! I'm sure it was below zero. The course was right on the shore of the river, with some long sandy sections, a stair run up, a short climb and some barriers.


I wasn't the only foreigner racing on the day, there was also a Greek rider who had raced a superprestige race last year, and a U23 Hungarian rider racing on a domestic Belgian team. Due to my 45 UCI points, I wasn't called up as one of the last riders for a change, but with all the heavy hitters I was still in the latter part of the start grid. The gun went off, and my first few pedal strokes had me holding my position, before the screeching of brakes on carbon rims rattled me and I began to lose places.

By the start of the sandy section I was around 5th last, and somehow my rear brake cable had popped out, most likely after being bumped by someone elses bike when throwing it on my shoulder. I rode as best I could with only a front brake, but by the time I swapped bikes, the riders in front had a sizable gap. The course suited me as much as one of these courses can, there were no ridiculous descents, but just not quite enough riding. I raced my own race, trying to keep the gap to the riders in front consistent, and occaisionally being able to gain time on them. The course wound past the beer tent, and I started playing up for the crowd, getting plenty of cheers both at the beer tent and in the sand. My antics even got me some TV time!
video
I actually achieved my best result in terms of time before being pulled. I raced for 50mins of the 1 hour race, ending up just 2 laps down in 37th, beating the Hungarian and Greek riders. I would have liked to be closer to the other riders, but it's relatively reassuring.

This weekend we headed out to a club level race, about an hour from home. Set around some grassy farmland where there were cabbage, leek and other vegetables growing. The course was almost dead flat, with the thickest stickiest mud imaginable. There was a 300m section of the stuff which was rideable, but just about quicker to run. The course was actually pretty good, plenty of corners, a sand section, a barrier and heaps and heaps of mud. The FMB Super Muds were in their element, shedding most of it. I didn't really know what to expect in terms of the field, but figured I should be able to mix it up with the front runners. This kind of race is perfect practice for me, as I'm just too bloody nice on the bike. I need to learn to be a little bit more assertive and hold or improve my position particularly from the start, which is a weak spot for me. 

There were 20 odd riders in A grade with me, and another 50 or so in the other grades that started with us. The first 3 rows were called up, and I hopped into the 4th row when the grid was opened up. Off the start I was sitting in about 10th position and had to fight my way past plenty of young guns who were not keen to let me past! They had their elbows out and they'd cut me off, but it's not different to the World Cup races when you're in the thick of it, so the practice is worthwhile.

After the second lap I was able to catch the 3 front runners, and we gradually managed to drop 2 of them after a number of laps. A rider's Dad was there yelling enthusiastically for his son, riding in front of me, and as I rounded a corner on the outside I noticed he was pushing the bunting inwards, trying to force me into the thickest mud! I guess you'll always have crazy sport parents, be it on the footy oval in Australia or a cross race in Belgium!


By the time there was two of us, we both had stints on the front. He got away from me in the first half of the laps, accelerating out of the corners exceptionally well, and I'd catch him in the second helf, managing to hop the barrier and power through the straights a little faster. In the end he pipped me by 20m or so. I'm still chasing an elusive win! It's something I'd love to be able to say I've done; won a CX race in Belgium, but hopefully it's only a matter of time.
They had a doping control after the race, which was pretty interesting as I've never done one before. I had stage fright though and couldn't pee with some guy staring at me, so we had to wait a while before I could try again. It was all very formal and proper, the novelty soon wore off, but I can see why it needs to be done.
I've got a very busy few weeks coming up. I'll be racing Sint-Niklaas on Wednesday, and haven't yet made my mind up regarding Namur. I'm leaning towards racing on the Saturday instead, giving me some more time to recover for the Heusden Zolder World Cup, which is only 3 days later. Namur is a mental course, and I'm thinking I'd rather conserve some energy to have a good race on a course that suits my abilities.

Over the next 10 days I'll have the following:
Sint Niklaas
Club race
Heusden Zolder
Club race
Superprestige Diegem

Busy times ahead!