With our first Aussie Cross season under our belts ……… some perfect timing for annual leave for Bec, it was time to take our first Cyclocross season to the next level ……. The best in the world level …… we pack our bags full of warm stuff and headed to Belgium the home of Cyclocross for our first winter of Cyclocross.

Going to Europe for CX Worlds and a block of racing prior was something we really wanted to do, but it was not a given, it would be a stretch to get there. We have many awesome supporters and are lucky to have a lot of awesome equipment & gear, but we are not professional Athletes, though we were going to race against the best professional athletes in the world, we would have to juggle holidays & finance, it would be a very large hit to the pocket, also on the back of the cost and time of our domestic season. We were very fortunate to receive some generous help from wonderful individuals via some crowdfunding by the lovely guys at Northcity cycles, which we are very thankful for. But the struggle to get there was real, up around 20k for us. This year none of our Elite men raced worlds, it’s sad not to have a full line up of Australians, Especially as the domestic season is flourishing but this is the reality of the situation. There is a push to get Cyclocross into the winter Olympics, which would hopefully give it some added funding at a national level, but at the moment there’s minimal funding and it’s a big struggle for Athletes to travel overseas to race with the best in the world.

The time between our season and heading to Europe was spent trying to learn as much as we could, our poor road bikes effectively made redundant & looking very sad at being stuck in the house gathering dust apart from the odd hit out at a Crit. We spent a lot of time on the beach, we tried to find mud, not so easy as there wasn’t much around, we worked on improve our running, mounting and dismounting, we even raced down, downhill MountainBike trails at speed on the cross bikes to force ourselves to ride the ruts. A very important skill in Cross, they often the fastest line, so if you cant ride them you lose a lot of ground, also if you cant ride them properly there a high chance you will promptly crash.

We left Australia in 40degs and literally jumped off the plane into our first Belgium winter race in zero deg a relatively warm one. Over the course of the following 6 weeks, we would easily double the number of Cross races we’d ever raced, racing in bumper fields packed with the best racers in the world, including two World cups and the World Championships. Basing ourselves in Belgium in the cycling hub of Oudenaade, staying at Hof ter Kammen, we were very fortunate to enlist the help of locals Christian and Frank as our crew for the racing, They old hats at helping Aussies and others on the Cross circuit including Lisa Jacobs having been her support crew over the past few during her journeys to Belgium for the Euro Cross season. Many many laughs were had, enough video footage taken to make a feature film ( we are working on it ), in amongst as all of us freezing our fingertips off. HOF ter KAMMEN by Christian, Hilde

The races are big, like road racing in Europe Cross is very big. Team race cars, camper vans, buses, & crew fill the surrounding streets & squares. Generally, thereis 3 support crew for each rider 2 mechanics and a swanny. Race circuits, often in the centres of villages are fenced off, tickets are bought and thousands of fans, many Bused in, kited out in rider supporter gear or crazy costumes flock in to see the racing. You’ll find, burger stands, hotdogs stands, Fitz and mayo stands, VIP areas, Beer lots of Beer, Oh and let’s not forget the Party tents, massive marquees complete with DJs, churning out an interesting mix of doof doof 80’s 90’s, actually any era really, remixes. They fill to the brink with people, any age goes, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs, the noise echoes across the race course. There’s speakers everywhere around the course along with big screens. It hard no to get sucked into the commentary when you are actually racing its that loud this ontop of all the crowd it really is crazy loud out there!

Starting every race on the back of the grid is the norm for Aussies this is due to lack of UCI points, Once that green light goes its a full-blown track sprint start, its a huge battle to get into the first corner, where it turns from road to narrow off-road & where passing becomes even harder. Its really rough out there and if you don’t stick your elbows out you will get shunted and lose a lot of ground, there can be some big crases, Every single racer in a fight to gain positions as the race strings out into a long snake of riders all going as fast as they can. Its often a case of gaining a few spots then losing a few, with mishaps and crashes common, all the work you did to get 5 or so riders can be gone in a flash! Basically, for us each race was simply a matter of go as fast as you can from start to finish, with the added element of a whole host of totally new trail and weather conditions added to the mix. We’ve been on a steep learning curve, we got some good mud, Euro mud unlike the mud we’ve raced in Oz, but by far the most testing conditions were the Ice and Snow. At one race we couldn’t work out why the juniors were going so slow, till we got on the course, the ground frozen solid and covered in Frozen ruts, our first experience of this and well not something we enjoyed at all. Mud and sand ruts they have some give as you drop into them and pop out at the other end, frozen ruts well if you can imagine forcing yourself to drop your wheels into Melbourne tram tracks at speed and turn a corner at the same time, it rather hard and really hard mentally to do, frozen ground really hurts when you hit it.

Along with the learning curve in conditions we learnt a lot else where;

  • A heck of a lot more about correct tyre pressure, mostly through a lot of trial and error, We learnt the importance of the additional bikes in the pits.
  • The importance of the additional bikes in the pits.
  • Being from Australia you can’t bring as much gear as you’d like, or actually need, and in your first year well frankly you don’t own as much gear as you need to be fully prepared for racing cross in Europe. Basically at least 2 of everything, even better to have 3, and with a range of choices for the various conditions you encounter.
  • 2 bikes really are a necessity, for some even more, the conditions playing a big role, along with mechanicals & flats, and that also you can use the pit as ashortcutt if you are quick enough with the change. (This rule may have changed nowjust how much cleaning is required, it is just ridiculous. Every one has a pressure washer, every thing is pressure washed the bikes the wheels the shoes your helmets your kit, socks.
  • Just how much cleaning is required, it is just ridiculous. Every one has a pressure washer, every thing is pressure washed the bikes the wheels the shoes your helmets your kit, socks. Thank you Christian and Frank!
  • The importance of having good clothing, thankfully our clothing supplier Velocio does a full range of gear, there winter collection quite little preventing us from freezing to death.

Just to name a few.

As the weeks went by and the number of races under our belts went up, as did our skill level and our race fitness. But as worlds approached and as to be expected everyone else’s race fitness also went up. It was a case of it doesn’t get any easier you just get faster …………