Belgian Diaries 2.0 | Winter is Here

It seemed like ages since I had been back in Oudenaarde. After adventures around France, it was nice to get back to familiar territory. And with only a few races left in my season, it was time to get refocused and down to business.

Winter is Here

The sun was bright as we drove across France on Monday morning. After a quick stop in Paris, we got home and unloaded the team car before relaxing at the house. Sunshine was replaced by gray skies and flurries on Tuesday morning which began to accumulate before the clock struck noon. There was to be no riding outside, but we did get outside and walked into town to get coffee beans. The rest of the afternoon was trainer time in the bike room, where the trainings were made and Netflix was watched.

The snow abetted on Wednesday, allowing our crew (Kerry, Emily, Becca, Lauren, & I) to ride to Ellezelles for waffles and pastries. The fresh blanket of snow over the rolling hills of Flanders were beautiful. It was a scenic jaunt over to the Wallonia region and we warmed ourselves inside the bakery with our tasty treats.

winter sunshine.

More snow on Thursday meant more trainer time. But Friday, we were not to be deterred. Becca, Lauren, and I loaded up the car and drove north to pre-ride the Hoogerheide track. The remnants of snowy precipitation were still covering the course. Save for a few minor changes, the track was unchanged and offered an opportunity to get some hot laps in without the heavy Jupiler-cigarette smoke-filled air. Ride done, it was time to get back to racing.

Kasteelcross Zonnebeke (43rd) (Strava)

As is tradition, the weather was cold, gray, and rainy on Saturday morning as we drove up to Zonnebeke, just outside Kortrijk. My buddy Greg had flown in for the weekend, which was nice to have a few more familiar voices along the track. The rain rolled in for the weekend leaving the track in a muddy mess. The ground was soft, tractor-pull conditions and it only took me a few laps to realize I would need to stretch my back after the race. To add to the muck, there were multiple ditches towards the end of the lap which were in themselves, DIY bike washes.

Off the line, I had a decent start, bumping elbows with Lars Boom as we made our way through the first few turns. I felt like I was in a good place and on a decent day as we passed the first pit. The course did not have many forced dismounts, save for some actual logs, which were hoppable. In preride, I pushed myself to hop the logs and was confident that I could do it in the race. What I forgot to account for through, was the rain between preride and race time.

calm in the storm. photo by: greg leeper

As we came into the barriers, I lined up to hop the logs. I pulled up to wheel tap the first one, and as I pushed my front wheel down to land, all I could feel was the bike start to go sideways. It was a pretty spectacular tumble, which made the live feed crash cam, and I was lucky to not hurt my bike or myself. Solidly at the back of the race, I remounted my steed and wiped myself off as I chased back to the rest of the pack.

Racing in muddy conditions is not forgiving for anyone. In many cases, it’s not just the fastest person that wins, but rather the person the can go fast AND make less mistakes than everyone else. You’re going to slide and crash, the only thing you can do is control what you can control and do your best to keep moving forward. I did well to get my head back in the game, but my poor start was about to get worse.

Coming into the ditches for the first time, there was a small curb with sandbags across it. The approach was on firm(er) ground and relatively high speed compared to the rest of the track. I flicked down through the gears as I had done in preride and went to hop the curb. And just as before, as I landed, the bike started to slide out from under me. I too hit the ground and slid with my bike, coming to a stop with the sound of a big crack.

I got up, frustratingly dusting myself off. I picked up my bike, bars rotated and hoods cock-eyed, and slowly remounted my bike to get to the pit. As I came through the pit lane, I think Kerry Shields and Jo Vande Velde (Cyclocross Custom) were a bit confused as to why I was coming in so late.

“Crashed twice,” was all I offered as I grabbed my clean bike.

Now, I was definitely at the back and mad about my misfortune. I kept pedaling hard, furiously trying to make up time to the group. In my haste, I continued to make mistakes and get tangled in the tape. I came past the pits again and Jo was at the fencing.

“Tyler, don’t pit! Your bike is broken!”

Yes, I was moving that slow through the mud. I tried to keep my focus, but it was pointless. My mind started to wander from the task at hand, concerned with what I would do at Sunday’s World Cup. I did make up some ground and pass a few riders, but I was checked out and waited for the officials to pull me. To add further insult to injury, I rode out of the race with a front flat.

When it rains, it pours, eh?

ugh. photo by: greg leeper

I was mad and took a few moments to pout as I walked back to the tents. There wasn’t much I could do but laugh at my misfortune. Getting mad wasn’t going to accomplish anything and it for sure would not be productive to solving the problems of a broken bike. I was more disappointed that I couldn’t ride to the best of my ability with my friends there. Lauren and Greg had traveled a long way, and to mentally quit the race was a disservice to their investment, in my mind.

UCI CX World Cup – Hoogerheide (65th) (Strava)

The conditions in Hoogerheide were a bit different from those on Friday. The snow had melted away and the additional rain created heavy, soul-sucking conditions. I took just a couple laps on course on my newly bandaged bike, to get a feel for tire pressure and the conditions. Despite the constant rain, I was excited for the race ahead.

Since it was the final World Cup of the season and the last race before Worlds, I assumed my spot at the back of the grid. I got into my pedal right away and started to push forward in the bunch when and where I found a gap. As we came to the first flyover, I had brief flashbacks to the 2018 edition where everyone behind 30th wheel had to walk up the flyover. Fortunately, the organizers had put in a wider ramp and we were able to summit the bridge with less walking.

The first lap wore on and I was sticking to my lines, zig zagging across the course for any type of green grass. I was feeling good and happy with my position, but as I crossed under the finish line, completing my first lap, I could feel I was in over my head. My excitement for the race meant I had gone a bit too hard in the opening round. But, since my time on course would be short on account of the MVDP Express, I had no choice but to keep pushing.

keep pushing. photo by john de jong

I pushed hard on the pedals through the bog-like conditions, running sections others attempted to ride. I found myself in battle with a few other riders, including Andrew Juliano (Rock Lobster). The competition was motivating and kept me focused on the racing, instead of my mind telling me to quit. Each lap, I would make a few mistakes or miss a rut, but battle back before the end of the lap. The constant pressure on the pedals started to take it’s toll and I started to lose a bit more time each section. While Andrew was long gone, I was able to win the race in my small group a bit further back and left the track with a smile on my face. I was far from where I want to be, in terms of results performance, but I knew that I had squeezed a lot out of myself on the day.

To Denmark for Danishes

Cleaned up after Hoogerheide, Lauren and I headed off to Copenhagen on Tuesday morning. The sun greeted us as we stepped off the plane and I was excited for a bit of time away from racing. We took time to explore Copenhagen and eat some amazing food! From authentic Mexican tacos (with ingredients imported from Mexico), to Danish smørrebrød (which I still can’t pronounce properly, but sounds like “smuhr-brot”), we headed off to Odense on Friday fueled for a weekend of spectating the World Championships.

The Danish seaside is simply stunning. Though gray and cold upon arrival, there was something beautiful about the slate skies and brooding sea. Moreover, the charm of the small town of Bogense (pronounced “Bow-n-suh”) was lovely and a fitting place for tourists to come and visit. The event as a whole was great and the racing was great each day; however, I’m not sure it was the most challenging track riders face all year. Yes, I was not racing and I didn’t ride a lap, but from the other side of the tape, the course did not appear to be as challenging as Namur or the sands of Koksijde. Either way, it was great to spend time with MORE Texas friends who came in for the weekend, and deserved winners were crowned each day. So, rather than make you read more of my words, check out the images in the gallery below.

Back to Belgium on Monday, it was time to snap out of vacation mode and back into racing. Wednesday Worlds were on the horizon, and so was the end of the season.

Yours in s’moresbread,