Quest for the Rainbow Stripes

Masters Cyclocross Worlds , Mol Belgium

I wrote this story almost a year ago about my journey to Belgium, but I only shared it with a few friends and clients. It’s now only a couple of weeks left again to the next Master’s Cyclo-Cross Worlds at the same place in Mol. I know a few of you are thinking about going or you have already decided to go and give it a shot, so I figured it might be a good time now to share my story publicly . I am not going for a number of reasons. You can read about in the story from last year and get the picture and understanding why… all the pieces of the puzzle are not simply there this time.

Last year ..4th place ,,,, racing a bike is a journey and just like life ” keep the balance and keep moving ”

Where to start , well I will get back to today’s actual start position later.

Where does it all start ? Well It starts when you are 10-11 years old and you discover that you have some talent in some sport and then it is up to you where you want to go. Nothing of this is of course possible without getting exposed to different sports and what’s even more critical is having a sound support system in place , parents , teams , clubs , friends , mentors and idols etc. There will be many many ups and downs along the way , bumps in the road as they say. Being at the right place at the right time and grabbing the opportunity when it presents itself is the trick that many misses . Not easy to do or see at the time , so listening and being open to experienced good people around you is key , but most importantly believe in yourself , develop a passion for sports.

To be a life long athlete there are no short cuts . Discipline and hard work pays off , but there is a lot more to it. It’s a life long puzzle that you are constantly putting together. When you keep doing something over and over again you get good or better at it. When you take the first lap on a CX course you might not feel that comfortable and make mistakes, after a few laps you have it dialed and all figured out , I wish everything else was that simple of course.

This applies with training for the most part too . Little different of course from year to year , month to month and week to week, but the over all picture you have dialed after doing it for awhile. Nutrition, travel and life in general gets fine tuned with years of experience and if you want to be good it has to be a life style and always open to new things along the way.

As a junior you want to progress,, become noticed and move to the top of your sport as quickly as possible . Be the best you can be and hopefully go to the Olympics or get a pro contract when it’s time . Now this is of course everyone’s dream , but dreams unfortunately does not always come true.

When you are passed that window many give it up and other things becomes more important and take over , you simply do not have the time to dedicate your time to sports 100% anymore.

It’s different in different parts of the world and there are always a group of Pro masters as I call them. Many are former pros or elite athletes who never gave it up completely and are still very competitive , but also athletes who started later in life show up.

Well this is why they have Masters racing and even Masters World Championships.

Now coming to Belgium to race the Masters CX Worlds I knew there are only 2-3 guys that can win the jersey in each category. No different from a local race in that sense.

You can go to this race for the experience or you can go after a result , for a few guys you can say both. In the back of my mind I planned on racing this race since the beginning of the year , but I did not want or could not plan financially this trip until I knew all the pieces to the puzzle fell in place this season.

So many things can happen in racing and you can not predict the future. I had an exceptional race season in CX this year leading up to the Worlds. To be honest I surprised myself some weekends racing even I have probably done several 1000 races in my career. My spring and summer was ok and I think not racing too much was the key ” balance ” but I had no idea how CX would turn out and I just took one weekend and week at the time. Very few bumps in the road and a lot of races felt very easy to win.

Two weeks before the worlds , my wife said ” you need to go to the Worlds” she is not the first one to say I have to race a race , when that’s pretty much all we do as a family. I said to her , we do not have the money for that trip. I wrote a letter that morning to clients , team mates and friends and that afternoon I signed up , booked my flight , rented a car , booked a place to stay and got my international UCI license. I was truly overwhelmed by the incredible ” support system ” by everyone around me . I had no idea that this was even possible.

I grew up in Europe and been there several times since I moved to the States. I have raced and ridden in Europe number of times , but never CX in Belgium. Travel can be stressful if you are not used to it and specially to a foreign country. This is an experience that is to your advantage if you have it. I think you know by now I am not going just for the experience , getting a result would be the main goal.

Timing of travel is key . You want to go there fit , rested and ready. The week prior to the travel sleep as much as you can , eat healthy and load up a ton on vitamin C. The biggest fear for an athlete is to get sick . The race will be over before they blow whistle if you even just have a runny nose. So boosting your immune system before you leave is money in the bank physically and mentally. I went on Monday ( race on Saturday) travel to Europe is usually overnight, so by the time you get to where you are staying in my case via London to Brussels and then rent a car and a 1.5 hour drive to Mol there was no sleep for 24 hours . The trick is just to fight it and stay up to about 9.00 pm local time and then finally call it a day. That night you will sleep like a rock , I did 14 hours. After that is just matter of adjusting to the local time each day a little and getting up normal time. Race day wake up is about 6.30 , so gradually get used to things. Sleeping is a major part to success and not a given when you travel.

Travel light , but bring everything you could possibly need. Yes ,cycling is big in Belgium, but this is the old world and there is not a bike shop every couple of miles selling Zipp wheels and fancy valve extensions. The bikes shops work on commuter and ebikes , the pro shops are far and few in between. Less stress if you have everything with you that you will need.

Food, bring some of your own ! Some staple stuff you eat every day. For me oatmeal, bread , almond butter , honey ,wheatgerm and chia seeds -:) some stuff is probably not legal to bring , but put it in your bike bag and this is something you do not want to run around and hunt down. Same goes for sports drinks , bars and gels. They do not sell GU here.

” be prepared ”

Belgium is damp and cold , bring clothing accordingly, you do not want to run around and look for a pair of gloves or rain jacket when you are there either. The only shopping that you want to do is groceries. Supermarkets are very similar to what we have in the states , so no problem there. Cook if you can , simple and easy, no need to go anywhere. Remember I was here to race , not being a tourist. The place I stayed in had everything you needed. Full kitchen and close by to the race. Very relaxed and on my own schedule, that always works the best.

Pre riding the course. I started on Wednesday. This is a course like no other. 1/2 the course is deep sand. Even a deep sand up and down hill. Not any unnecessary turns , just a natural flow through the woods and a big part of the beach. Fencing and nice solid wooden posts. You hit these they will not move , you will .

Riding deep fine sand is kind of threading a needle. You have to be gentle, precise , just the right amount of power and staying light on the bike and let it go where it wants to go. Be ready to jump off any second all at the same time. Forcing anything does not work. A fine line too big or too small of a gear , low tire pressure. I ran about 20-21 psi , spreads the tire out and wider contact surface in the sand. They did measure the tires at the start line. 33 mm maximum.

I rode 3-4 laps each day , nothing super hard except some sand section where there was no choice. Become one with the sand , each day my laps got better and more comfortable and gained that confidence. I could almost ride everything, but I always said to myself , what I can ride now might not be possible in the race , be prepared to run and a lot , fast and frequent.

I rode a little on the roads or paths along the canals around here each day besides on the course. About 2 hours each day. Legs felt good. Did nothing else but slept , ate , rode , stayed off my feet – made a few super market runs. Watched a lot of bad TV and just rested ( not always possible at home ) 100% on my own schedule,so really took advantage of this time leading up to the race.

Woke up feeling fresh race day , my place was across the street , so 10.00 am start , headed over there @ 8.00 am , learned a trick from my friend Robert Orange , he rented a camping spot by the start. Very close and convenient with nice clean indoor bathrooms , less stress !

Did 3 relatively easy laps as my warm up since we were the first race of the day. Cold and damp fog , about 0 degrees Celsius. Decided to stick with leg warmers , but otherwise standard kit , at least it was not raining.

Rolled up to the start , I knew a few Americans, but that’s it , some names I had raced with in Switzerland a few years ago . This is why this race is so different from we are used to. 7 rows in front of me and only 2 behind , no idea where the fast guys are , the only objective is to pass as many guys as fast as you can and hopefully see the front within 2 laps or so.

Start goes well and I felt like I moved up a little. As soon as we hit the first set of stairs it was total chaos. Bikes tangling and basically walking pace. Running and moving forward was the name of the game. Next , first sand section was the same , run and try to pass , short ride on the beach ( firm sand ) into a soft section with a cement barrier at the end , bumping and barging again. Back on the bike through a rutted sand section , rideable, but guys off their bikes left and right.

Then we get to the ups and downs , tight turns which was super slow again in traffic. If you were at the front here you can easily gain valuable time just by moving. Got through into the sand hill which I could almost ride to the top in practice , first lap I get off at the bottom and run in the super soft sand , no chance riding down. Guys falling off everywhere. Running down this hill turned out to be the fastest every lap anyway even there was no traffic.

By now there was some room to breath, but not for long. On to the beach which very few could ride again. Caught a bunch here , but could not pass , so opted to pit and get a clear line. Passed a few but this was the longest run on the course, about 150 m and super soft. Kind of a toss up if better to carry or push your bike. Slow either way.

That was it for the sand on lap one. I knew if you had the power to push now it was time to gain some ground. Caught a group and move into top 15 , no sitting on , this was not the race , got by everyone and now I could ride a little on my own until I caught the next group. The race now changed to more riding and less running at my own speed and the guys I was catching were a lot faster. I had to be careful not to try to ride too much though. Running was still faster at some places and jumping off at the right time to keep the momentum. ” keep moving ”

I now caught the group 8-5 and I got them pretty quick too , soon locked into 4th , but I could not see anyone in front of me , until the last lap I see 3rd place . I got very close to him on the sand hill , but I knew if I do not pass this guy by the pit it will be too late. Ran out of Real estate and time. A few secs off the podium. I had a great race , felt good , rode the sand ok and my running was not any slower than anyone else. Just wonder how the out come would have been if I had not lost about a min or so on the first lap , the top step was about 50 sec away at the end. I am not disappointed by any means , I felt prepared and every single detail leading up to the race was perfect. I would not have even been able to race if it had not been for the incredible support by everyone. This race refreshed my memory on many levels and I hope I can pass this experience down to many athletes who will need the mentoring to achieve their goals in the future.

I stayed the next day to watch the pro race called Zilvermeer CX , on the exact same course as I raced the day before. These guys are the best crossers in the world and some are sand specialists . It was nice to see , they rode very similar to what I had done ( just a little faster ) , a good feeling and confirmation that I did my best and could not have done anything different.

Will I go back and try again ? Absolutely if the pieces of the puzzle align again next year. If you are looking for a result you have to be 100% for this race , otherwise not worth going…. and I hope the improved the start protocol in the future.

Win or loose life goes on and we are the same good people we always were ” keep the balance and keep moving ”

Thank you for your incredible generosity and support.