Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let the Cross Begin!


Around noon I headed out to see my first cyclocross race. It was overcast and chilly so I wore an extra layer. On the way out it sprinkled a bit but never rained. The rain would have been better for cross but I was content to ride in the dry.

I got out near Erpe Mere and headed toward where I saw the signs earlier in the week. Along the way I spotted these guys.

Not sure what was going on there but I waved and carried on. I got to the signs and continued on. After a bit I realized they weren’t actually leading me anywhere.

I saw a road bike parked outside a bar so I stopped. They had a cross race on the TV and there was a guy wearing a Quick Step hat-good signs. The bartender ushered me outside and pointed me in the right direction.

Along the way I chatted with some other riders. I asked them about the race.

“Cyclocross?” I asked pointing in the direction I was going.
“Uh” he replied.
I repeated myself thinking maybe he didn’t hear me.
“Ah, see-klo-cross! Yes, that way!” he said.

A few minutes later I was getting close. I started to see parking for the race and people walking on the side of the road.

Ten euro later I was in like sin. I put on my shoes and jacket then followed the crowds.

Shortly after I started seeing these vans I had heard about with riders on the sides. This one is Bart Wellen’s.

I went to the Start/Finish knowing I’d have time to come back.

This was going to be amazing. They had the full setup. There was the frites truck, the bratwurst trailer, a waffle stand, and of course...

I peeked my head inside to see a scene straight out of the Alabama State Fair. It was a large tent filled with tables, a bar, and lots of cross fans. There was even country music playing!

I bought a list of the riders and headed over to the course.

Just in case the other beer tent wasn’t enough, they had one in the middle of the course.

I should say a thing or two about the fans at this event. The first thing that comes to mind is your average NASCAR fan, minus the 4X4 truck. The average fan here comes complete with a hat or jacket stating who they support, jeans, and of course a Jupiler (Belgian equivalent of PBR).

Don’t forget the flag…

I continue to walk around the course. I stop off at the pit area.

There aren’t many bike exchanges being made since it’s dry out. I keep walking. At certain points they have crossings guarded by race volunteers.

Walking around in my kit with my road bike arouses suspicion. The fans look at me as if I’m wearing a pink leotard. They all give me a twice over. Next time I’ll lock my bike up and pack some jeans. Even then I don’t think I’ll fool them.

I come to a bar on another part of the course. It’s called the “Cross Saloon” and well…

I keep walking around the course expecting to get to the end but I never do. It stretches on and on, up hills, down hills and through the woods. Eventually I head back to the team area where the riders are warming up.

The scene is more laid back than at a road race. There aren’t as many people crowded around the riders and no one is begging for autographs.

The PROs have some really sweet bikes. A lot of them are riding Stevens and most of them are on Dura Ace.

It’s not just the big names that have their own vans. The other guys have their own vans and trailers too, they just aren’t as nice.

I walk around a bit more before heading back to the Start/Finish. It’s frites time!

Minutes later the race begins.

I begin walking around the course. After the first lap Niels Albert is ahead by at least 30 seconds!

I come to a massive hill and watch the guys come up it for a while.

No one is even getting close to Albert. I find another hill to watch them come up. On the speakers I hear “laatste ronde” meaning “last lap.” I’ve yet to get a good pick of Albert so I focus. Here he comes!

The PowerShot saves the day! After that I got a few more good ones.

This guy had the vampire pain face.

This guy was my favorite. He always had the smiling pain face.

A few more of the guys came through and then the race was over. I trekked back to the Start/Finish. The bike washes were already in progress.

I put my cycling shoes back on and headed out. On the way out I noticed Lorenzo Messine’s trailer. I need to get one of these.

I got home an hour later. Belgium’s been good to me.

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