The Hallowed turf of Flanders was somewhere I have always wanted to go experience, not just from a racing point of view but also to experience the scene of cyclocross in its homeland. So, a few weeks ago with my team Magspeed Racing we headed over to Belgium for a long weekend to tick this one off the bucket list.
Going into the weekend I was very unsure what I was letting myself in for. Pondering if I would be getting lapped by Mini Van Der Poel after 30 mins or would I be able to compete. I was leaning towards the first option and how it seems to be a national sport I thought the standard would be very high. What also didn’t help my confidence was going into the weekend I came down with a nasty bit of flu which defiantly effected my prep and training the week before was a big no.
We headed out on the Friday evening and stayed the night just the other side of the channel ready for a early start on the Saturday morning to go race in Lichterveld. To wake up to snow on the ground and negative temperatures did not animate me as I knew we were in for a cold one. The race was put on by Cycling Vlandren. With the cold weather, the course was frozen solid and had been ridden previously so had some very scary Scalextric style frozen ruts to fire you towards the barriers at warp speed. Which made for a good alarm clock for some recon laps.
One of the first things that was evident when we arrived at the race was the standard of the event a regional race. In the UK we would not have a closed road with 2 Cafés setup and also water taps setup in the pits if you need them. The course itself was also incredibly well marked out with wooden stakes and mesh instead of the plastic posts and tape we have become accustomed to.
The racing categories are also different in Europe. Seniors (23-35 Years old) are split into 3 levels, A, B and C depending on your level and ranking. This is a nice feature as it allows for some closer racing and meant my fear of being lapped by a Wout went away. Age categories are also a little smaller like you would have at a masters World champs, with 5 year gaps between categories.
Entry was a lot easier than I was expecting. We were able to enter on the day both days, which only took a handwritten form and a quick bit of Google Translate to get us over the line. One thing we did have to do before we left is get permission from British Cycling to go race in Belgium, which was a 1-line email to organise. Entry was also not too costly at around 15-20 euros plus a bit of extra cash as a deposit for your race number/transponder.
We based ourselves in Ghent in a hotel on the outskirts of the city, conveniently located to get on the road nice and easily, while still being able to go into the city in the evening and get dinner and do some touristing. At the end of the day, it was a holiday and not all about the racing, so a few Leffe’s were sunk.
I would recommend anyone who fancies giving it a go, to go race in Belgium. Everyone was so welcoming and the cost and logistics were nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. I hope to head back next season a few times to see how it differs from the dryer racing in Oct to the proper Mud of Dec/Jan.