Very untypical European cyclocross
weather: bright and clear but well below freezing. Zeddam
is a beautiful town close to the Rhine River and small
enough to be omitted from some European maps.
Yesterday, I had only a short walk
from the parking lot to the venue but today, the walk is
at least two kilometers and the crowds huge even though we
are about two hours away from the first event. People are
bundling up: theyíre prepared with boots, heavy jackets
and, of course, their national flags.
Yesterday, I was able to easily stand
right next to the tape and watch the junior and U23 men.
Today will be much different but Iíve figured out the
course and Iíll be able to find unobstructed viewpoints.
Yesterday, the US Team acquitted
themselves quite well in the junior field with U.S.
National champion Bjorn Sealander doing especially well.
He started in the front line and was one of the last of
the good riders to hook up to the lead group. At one
time, he was in the top four but slipped a little on the
This was an extremely tough course
made even more difficult by the frozen ground that was
rock hard. As a result, even though the course didnít look
slippery, it was. To help, pallet loads of bags of sawdust
were spread out over the course although Iím not sure how
much this helped.
The course was more or less typical
of a World Cup course with infield, set up bridges, double
sided pits and a maze of tape. The bridges arenít
designed to make it difficult for riders; rather, the
bridges allow spectators to cross the course without
actually walking on the course. With the course maze in
the infield and the bridges, the course is very spectator
The course started and finished on a
paved road and then made it way up to the main infield
(this is where the larger beer tents are located). The
course then dropped down a treacherous, serpentine,
off-camber descent that became fast at the end. The
riders then made a couple of u-turns and then faced a long
set of stairs. When conditions were right, you could
watch the riders descend and then see them run up the
The good riders looked completely out
of control on the descent with one leg out being used as
an outrigger. Lesser riders came down looking smooth with
their brakes locked-up and squealing. Fortunately there
are no points for form in cyclocross.
After the stairs, the riders climbed
on a paved road up to the windmill and back through the
infield to the start/finish. I think the Elite riders
were doing six minute laps that would translate into eight
minute laps for the best in the US and probably 12 minute
laps for my 65+ age group (that is, if we made it down the
descent in one piece and could run up the stairs without
having a heart attack).
Probably, the most notable thing
about European courses is the lack of the traditional
American plank-like barriers. After watching the Masters
Worlds, a local race, a World Cup and the Championships, I
didnít see one traditional American barrier.
In the U23 race, the U.S. team had
their troubles never getting anyone into the front group.
Troy Wells came through last on the first lap with blood
running down his face after a bad crash. The fans gave
him a big cheer every time he came around. It took a lot
of courage for him to finish. At the back, it was a race
between the all-black Zimbabwe team and the American
team. Many were lapped.
Thereís plenty of coverage on the
womenís and Elite menís races. The womenís race started
off really hard with three women taking a huge lead right
from the start. The disparity between the lead women and
the rest of field was the largest of the four events.
We all know about the Elite men.
Jonathan Page was the last rider to hook up to the lead
group. He dangled a few feet off the back of the train
but got on and looked reasonably comfortable. Eventually
he came around off of the lead group but it looked like he
crashed. Still finishing 10th is remarkable.
The Belgium riders looked unworried about the French rider
and Sven Nijs looked very comfortable sitting in fourth
until the final lap when he crashed into a pole on the
descent. The French rider put up a great battle and at
one point he opened a small gap and the crowd went quiet.
What about the equipment? Carbon
fiber wheels were almost universal except the Zimbabwe
team had normal alloy wheels. The most common pedals were
Shimano SPD remembering that Shimano sponsors many of the
Belgium riders. It looked like Crank Brothers Eggbeater
and Time Attacks split the difference.
Spooky Brakes or brakes of this type
were the dominant brakes although I saw one of the women
on the French team riding mountain bike v-brakes with
travel agent adaptor! It was encouraging to hear brakes
squealing on the descent that shows that sometimes there
just isnít anything you can do to stop the squealing.
Dugast tubulars were universal with a
few Tufos found on some of the teams. The interesting
thing was that all four levels of Tufos were seen
including the least expensive Pro line that most U.S.
riders would use only for training. There were also a
fair number of riders using diamond tread tires including
the U23 Belgium national champion. This reminded me of
what the owner of Tufo Tires told me: ďGood riders donít
need aggressive tread designs. Riders should learn to
ride efficiently and not rely on tread patterns.Ē
The eye opener for this American is
the eventís ambience. The crowds were huge and noisy.
Cowbells, of course but horns, trumpets and other noise
making devices were popular. You knew when the lead
riders were approaching by the level of the noise.
No European cyclocross race would be
without a beer tent Ė big beer tents with loud music.
Beer was about $2.50 a cup and you had to be 16 to drink
although I donít see how anyone could keep track.
American music like Take Me Home Country Road and Cotton
Eye Joe were very popular and everyone knew the words but
me. The common food was frites (known to us as French
fries even though they originated in Belgium). No ketchup
though. People eat them plain or with mayonnaise and you
had to pay extra for the mayonnaise. Just like U.S.
football fans, most of the fans werenít athletes: they
smoked, ate bad food and drank. They had fun.
I overheard one American woman
complaining that the outdoor porta-potties just werenít
fair. Really it was: they had them to themselves.
Instead the men got to use four-sided, open air urinals.
It was a very efficient system but thousands would have
been arrested in the U.S. for public urination.