BELGIAN NATIONAL CX CHAMPIONSHIPS
The following are excerpts from my new cycling journal I got for Christmas. I will be taking it with me on trips abroad and other such adventures. Expect shorthand, wishful thinking, and logical fallacies…
Friday 6th Jan
The four of hearts. Apparently, that’s my card. Sitting on the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, Aston, Danny & myself resorted to the most rudimental of card games called ‘guess the next card’. It’s amazing, if we ever meet I’ll teach you how it works. After just 3 cards were flipped and (incorrectly) guessed, I totally nailed it. It’s impossible I just got lucky, so cue suspicions from my peers over cheating. Thanks a lot, Lance.
Given the amount of amazing rides & adventures I am afforded in virtue of my obsession with bikes, I’ve told myself these entries must be limited to trips overseas and to big events. Smashing the granny out of Box Hill doesn’t count, sorry Surrey. Today is the day the three of us are heading to nice a little apartment in Brugge, our base for this long weekend, with the primary aim of watching the Belgian CX National Championships in Oostende on Sunday. We left Sussex at around lunchtime, and didn’t hang about heading to the ferry (thanks to Danny’s flapping about arriving as early as physically possible). The Beamer had our CX bikes on the roof, and despite the perpetual state of grey outside, we were optimistic about what lay ahead (pretty difficult to do when you’re in Dover).
After a good few hours on the road/on the ferry/on the other side of the road, we finally arrived in Brugge, and immediately found our first challenge to be navigating the 1-way system that dominates it. Top tip for that Brugge, don’t use Google Maps… the city will tell you where (you have) to go. Car parked outside of town to avoid paying for parking, we wandered around a seemingly empty Brugge for (what felt like) hours before finding a bar for our first Belgian draught. Yum yum. A few/many beers ensued, and here we are back at the apartment now, belly full of chips & spicy mayo, treating the honesty bar with a level of dishonesty even Alexander Vinokourov would find impressive. Despite the fact Danny just threw me into a table (ear-first, I kid you not), we’re pretty excited about spending the rest of the weekend as drunk as we are right now…
Saturday 7th Jan
Hungover… So very hungover… Today we hit the road/path/trail/field from Brugge to Ghent. The vibe was pretty mellow, and after having not smoked since NYE 2016 the 20+ fags I consumed last night had me sounding like Whoopi Goldberg. After some eggs & bacon with an Americano, we got moving.
It’s no wonder that Belgian riders are known to be hard as coffin nails. It was -2 when we set off and other than the smooth black stuff for the first 15km, whatever surface we rolled over was covered in ice & frozen puddles. Another top tip for you – some of these are deeper than they look, so despite the reassuring ‘crack’ they make when you ride over/through them, it’s definitely not worth it – particularly when you’re wearing cotton socks. Numb doesn’t even begin to describe it. I had previously assumed the 50km jaunt along the river to Ghent was to be a fairly nondescript affair, but the ice & off-road/field sections combined to ensure we were most attentive throughout – and by the time we came into Ghent at 4pm we felt pretty shattered!
So tired were we, that we settled on the first pub Danny found on Google. It turned out to be completely rammed, so we were amazed when a table of three vacated the moment we walked in. The cherry on top was that the table was right beside the fireplace – time to locate our toes and scorch our gloves (we literally all burned holes in our gloves). A great highlight of this particular Trappist pub was the 1.2L glasses of beer they served, and the requirement to deposit your shoe into a basket up by the ceiling that the barman would only retrieve for you once you’d finished them all. There was a distinctly ‘flamingo’ vibe about our posture when standing outside for smokes.
After a good many beers, and a number of arguments over the prettiest car ever made (it’s the Ferrari 250GT Lusso, by the way – either that or my E46 Touring), we rode over to the train station to head back home. The only notable aspect of the train journey was the ticket inspector who cared not for our joviality and made us pay the fare (the machine was broke mate, honest).
Back at the apartment now, and a quick shower and some clean clothes are all that stand between us and heading back out. This is a cycling holiday, right…?
Sunday 8th Jan
Rise & shine, it’s race day! Wait, that clock can’t be right….. it’s half past WHAT?! If you’re sleeping for under 6 hours and still getting up past midday, you’re doing it wrong (or right, I don’t even know, my brain is literally all over the floor). I’m going to start trying to write this as more of a ‘stream of consciousness’ type thing, as I’m well aware I keep omitting vast canyons of events/details. It’s really hard to use a pen when you’ve a Trappist Rochefort in your left hand and a Camel Blue in your right. My thinking behind this torrent of bodily abuse, in case you were wondering, is that the worse I behave, the quicker I’ll see gains when I get on the WattBike. Logical? No? No time to ponder, we need to get on the road – the men’s race is at 3pm and we’re pushing our luck to get to Oostende by then, and that’s without any breakfast! Danny & Aston had three punctures between them, which obviously needed sorting before we left. I used this time to decide which bobble hat to wear, because I have tubeless tyres and my bike was obviously ready to ride.
We set off on what turned out to be the bleakest, most miserable & boring 25km I think I’ve ridden in a very long time. We remarked we were actually still quite drunk when we left Brugge, but unfortunately this did not last as we sobered up to the mist hanging over the canal we were riding along. As Belgium became increasingly industrial (and crappy) as we neared the coast, we stopped at the only interesting landmark of the journey, a shattered old crane eerily parked/abandoned next to a huge reservoir. We mainly stopped here because Danny decided only now to tell us he had some Mini Eggs in his backpack, apparently on the basis that we would be more grateful for it now than we would’ve been any earlier. Possibly true, but nonetheless quite irritating. After scoffing the eggs and clambering all over the crane to see if we could switch it on (we couldn’t), we cracked on to Oostende.
We arrived at the race and outside of it, the town was pretty grey & miserable (recurring theme here). We managed to get there for around 2.45pm, so just enough time to get some breakfast (Braadwurst) and a nutritious drink (Jupiler Pils 7%) before running to one of the barriers to catch the race around halfway round the first lap. You could head the boards rattling as the star of the show neared our position, and out of nowhere there he was: Wout van Aert, a wall of muscle, terminator himself. The air of dominance exuded him as he flew past, with a face as devoid of emotions as our ride to the race. His gap after 3 minutes racing was easily 10 seconds, and we watched as a number of (visibly annoyed) fans shook their heads in disappointment. The truth is, until Wooty transfers fully to a road-racing team, no Belgian will ever come close. We had arrived at the Wout van Aert show, and we proceeded to watch the decimation from a number of parts of the track. The best of these was on the beach, watching as the riders hurtled down the ramp of a (purpose-built) bridge at around 50kmh, straight into a deep sand trap that nobody dared brake on. You can work out the rest without me telling you – but a lot of people fell off. Wout didn’t.
Wooty stormed to victory, fan-favourite (and a man to whom my heart belongs) Kevin Pauwels broke away on the final lap, and the podium was rounded out by Laurens Sweeck. I kind of wished we hadn’t gone so hard on the juice on Saturday night, as the crowd was merry & jovial and all we could think about was food & laying down. As night fell after the race, we rolled into town and found ourselves in a pub. Again. Just going to have a ‘hair of the dog’ and get some food.
So it’s 8pm and I’m quite pissed. We’ve just been recapping some of Danny’s finest lines from the trip, which we’d narrowed down to our two favourites; the random proclamation on the outbound ferry that “I absolutely love sea walls”, or the more alarming “guys look at that really pretty horse” during yesterday’s jaunt to Ghent. Whilst we were talking, a rather large plush polar bear that was sat facing our table next to the fireplace had somehow gotten to the bar without any of us noticing. We could only assume he had moved himself, and whilst we were debating this we looked over to find he had completely gone. We were either really drunk, or that polar bear got barred. We’ll never know.
After some sodding around on the bikes in town (rain + smooth tiled surfaces = super long skids) waiting for our departure, we had a (free) train ride back to Brugge. We only had one thing in mind to round off this most Flandrian of trips – moules frites! We found a place on the main square (conventionally a bad shout) and enjoyed some exceptionally expensive, though exceptionally tasty, food.
After the way we’ve behaved this weekend, we decided to call it fairly early. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pissed as a fart, I’m just not quite as ludicrously out of it as I have been before today. Lenny D Ice – We Are I.E. is the final track of the night, and we roll into bed with our bellies full and our minds at ease. Just before doing this, we smoked our last cigarettes of the trip, and hopefully for a long time beyond that. Out with a bang etc. Time to get training when I get home…
Ollie Gray - HuntBikeWheels | TheRiderFirm Customer Service Manager.
Note from Tom Marchment - Hunt Co-Founder; we love Ollie and he's way cooler than me with his tats and always on the drops riding attitude, but I have to write the boring bit about how, whilst we're mad enough to employ him, we obviously don't promote smoking or climbing around on random cranes to try and start them. Views and antics recounted in Ollie's Journal, might make me chuckle, but they are his own and not those of HuntBikeWheels | TheRiderFirm Oh and I even had to edit the dodgiest bits out!