I have written about this trip in two parts on the Spoke magazine blog (one and two) so will now jump forward to slightly closer to the present and my final week in Belgium.
Returning to Belgium after the high of the trip to America - meeting so many great people and getting to be part of an amazing and historic event - was somewhat of an anti-climax, and although the snow had temporarily cleared it was still cold and a bit miserable. As I had decided to return to New Zealand some time previously it was all I could do not to think about the magnificent summer that everyone was raving about back home in Wellington. Up until this point I had been sufficiently distracted by all of the racing, living in a different country and the novelty of the Belgian fans and their reaction to my moustache so as to not get down about the summer I had swapped for the coldest winter I've ever experienced. But now, seeing the end of my season approaching I couldn't contain it any longer, I missed the warmth of the sun.
I decided to make my final race the penultimate Superprestige in Hoogstraten, on Feb 10. I was due to leave for NZ the following weekend, and had arranged to meet and visit some friends in Holland and Germany over the days between, so wanted to have a good last sprint around in the mud or ice with my extended cyclocross family before bidding farewell. In the end it didn't quite work out to be the best time - I couldn't find the GPS so although I was fine for heading to Hoogstraten, I had to track back and forth a fair bit when I got there as I looked for the arrows in the street pointing me in the right direction. Snow had fallen overnight and the temperature was hovering just above freezing, so it was an awful combination of wetness and sloppy mud with occasional patches of frosty terrain. Due to my problems of navigation and time management I didn't manage to fit in a pre-ride of the course. This is generally considered essential, as it is really the only way to work out what tyre selection and then tyre pressure you are going to use in the race. And it allows for practising tricky sections. Most of all it just makes sense to have some idea of what you are going to be racing on. I ended up relying on a combination of advice from other riders, my experience after a 6-month season, and my general relaxed demeanor to get me and my bike to the start line in a state of more-or-less appropriate readiness.
I had a good start, and for the first while was riding alongside a few riders who I am generally quite far behind. This didn't last long though, and the first moderately tricky section of ruts caught me out and spat me off to the side and into the barrier tape. By the time I had extricated myself and my handlebars from the tape I was at the back, and the subsequent discovery that my front brake was largely disconnected as I accelerated down into the next descent caused me some small amount of discomfort. Once I had that back together it wasn't long until I dropped my chain, twice in a short space of time, slipping off just like my hopes of a combative and successful final endeavour in the mud of Belgium. Although this was a bit disappointing, I could never forget how amazing the whole time has been and how every race has really been a new and great experience for me, with lessons to be learned in every case.
|Photo: Peter Schepens|
Whether it goes well or not, it feels like a nice finale to book-end my time racing cyclocross in Europe and dovetail into the coming cyclocross season in NZ, due to start in about June.