In 2014, on my first trip to Europe to race ‘cross, I signed up for the Vlaamse Druivencross Overisje – The Race of Grapes. It was the day after GP Hasselt, and a non-series race (it’s not part of the Superprestige or DVV Verzekeringen Trofee series). I’d raced in Hasselt the day before, and it was was pretty tough. I had gotten my best European result to date (21st), but not before the fast and bumpy course did a number on my lower back. That’s what happens when you’re unaccustomed to racing at that level and blow up spectacularly with a few laps to go! Still, I was rolling with the punches. When I showed up and realized that all the rain leading into this Overijse was going to make it VERY running heavy (with a lot of it uphill), I decided to call it and take that day off. But that presented a question: what to do? I was at the venue and my mechanic was there too. Pay him the day rate and buy some beers! Hence, Overisje was the first race over in Europe that I got to actually spectate. Man, what an impression it left on me.
Fast forward to yesterday. This time I was returning with some top 15 European results, a new team and much more experience. This time through, I lined up on the front row. At this point the “front row shock” has worn off and I get to be a little more focused on what I’m doing. I’m not “WHAT AM I DOING?!” mode. I’m a little more settled into reality, such as it is.
This year’s course in Overijse went straight up a pretty gnarly climb, with a cobbled sector at the top. From there, it hits some swoopy-slidey corners, before heading into the woods for some technical stuff. After that, we droped down and headed back up a cobbled climb, then slip and slid our way onto more wet slippery cobbles, and finally some up and down trails. Let’s just leave this course as “difficult”. Yeah. Difficult.
The start was as hard as it should be, and I drifted back a bit to save some energy. Let’s be honest – I am not racing Wout or VDP, so sometimes you gotta pull your head outta your rear end and breathe. This tactic has played to my favor more than once, and often helps me to be a little more cool headed and avoid mistakes and crashes. Instead of fighting for every inch of course with 20 riders, I wait and fight them one at a time. This works pretty well on particularly hilly courses where riders in the front group are prone to blowing sky high with 5 laps to go and spiraling into what I call HELL.
On Lap three, I was in a good spot – around 12th place – and feeling good enough to start moving forward, when I lost my chain on a down hill before a steep ride up. I had to unkink my chain and replace it. I stayed cool but lost some spots and some time. What can you do? I rallied and kept focused, passing some 5 riders or so to make it back into 14th place at the finish.
All in all I would say it was a successful day of racing. I kept cool, calm and collected and raced my own race. I also played some tactical games and applied pressure to drop a few good riders. I would say that I raced a little too conservatively though. In the end I wasn’t completely empty and I think I underestimated my abilities a bit. Live and learn.
The next races I have are the two Christmas World Cups, Namur – on December 18th – and Zolder – on December 26th. I hope to make improvements on my rides from last year and be a little smarter with my efforts and go in with some knowledge of my depth of fitness. Let’s see how it goes!
December 18 – UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup Namur – Namur, BEL
December 26 – UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup Zolder – Zolder, BEL
January 8 – USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships – Hartford, CT
January 22 – UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup Hoogerheide – Hoogerheide, NED