Belgian Diaries 2.0 | Het Laatste Ronde

Back from Denmark, my focus turned from playing tourist and back to bike racer. On our trip to the Nordic land we decided to leave our bikes at home for ease of travel. And while our trip was not totally devoid of exercise, we did a few hour-long runs after all, getting back on the bike on Tuesday felt somewhat foreign. Fortunately for me, my last races of the season were familiar to me and I was keen to test 2019 Tyler on the same track one year down the line.

Parkcross Maldegem (36th) (Strava)

As is tradition, the weather was cold, wet, and dreary on Wednesday, a big change from the 2018 edition of the race in Maldegem. Located near Bruges, Maldegem is a small town that is home to a Canadian memorial for the contributions their soldiers during WWII. It is also home to “Wednesday Worlds” where the new World Champions have the opportunity to show off their new stripes and take a shot at notching their first win in the rainbow bands.

The course itself remained mostly unchanged from 2018. The track itself is mostly flat and is a tale of two halves: the first marked by multiple sandpits and Belgian dirt mounds. The second flat, flowing singletrack through the woods and open grass. Though the course was unchanged, the weather was completely different. Whereas the weather was clear and crisp the year prior, on and off rain left the course greasy and slick today. But, weather be damned, the course was too damn fun, and I was stoked to get back to racing!

I assumed my spot on the fourth row of the grid and watched as photographers snapped photos of Wout and Mathieu side by side. The rain continued to sprinkle down as we sprinted off the line. I had a good start and was aggressive, taking any openings that I saw in front of me. As we hit the first sand pit, I dismounted and shouldered to avoid the chaos as bikes and bodies went everywhere. Making the u-turn through the sand, I momentarily hesitated as I saw Wout right next to me.

“Do I force my way in front of the former World Champ?” I thought

Yes, yes I do. But don’t worry, it only took two more turns until he passed me back.

mud & sand = yum. photo by: kurt van houdt

I was having a good day, putting myself in a good group and not settling for where I was. I was getting close to finishing on the lead lap, my goal for the whole European campaign. But try as I may, my periodic checks at the TV screen informed me that my time on course would be short. I worked harder on the last lap to avoid being passed by MVDP, and exited the course with 2 laps to go.

While I was a bit disappointed with myself and how I raced in the middle of the race, I was happy that I could put a good ride together after a week off the bike. With just one more race left, it was time to go all in!

Check out Kerry Werner’s Vlog below!

DVV Trofee – Krawatencross Lille (43rd) (Strava)

We took some time on Thursday and Friday to do some exploring. Last season, I felt like I never really got to play tourist, but was determined to do better this trip. We went to Brugge and pedaled around the medieval city. It wasn’t a race day, so the sun was out and it turned out to be a perfect day for exploring. On Friday, we pedaled along the Schelde to Ghent. While we didn’t get to do much exploring due to a flat tire, we did get to have coffee with my friend and mechanic extraordinaire, Lieven. It was great to catch up with good friends and enjoy some good coffee at Bidon Bar.

The day had finally arrived, and we made our way east to the small town of Lille. The DVV Series race was another familiar course, having raced around the Belgian camping ground the year before. The track is fast, flat, and very sandy. Save for a few little hills, it’s definitely a power course and the sand requires a deft touch. The sun came and went, but I was excited to tackle my final race of the season. Some of my family, and my friends from Texas, the Lucidos, had also made their way to the race. No better way to end the season than being surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Texans in Belgium.

I had a brilliant start, moving into any empty space I could find in the bunch, or at least I thought I was moving up. In the moment, I always think that I’m right at the head of affairs, but when I catch the replay, I am usually still 20 to 30 wheels back. Perception versus reality… I digress.

I was off to a good start, but as we made the first left turn onto the dirt, things came to a screeching halt behind a crash. I was able to wiggle my way around and get back on the gas. The accordion compressed again as we made our way through the serpentine corners in the sand. If one person botched the line or the rut, it meant everyone behind was running. Passing pit one, I could finally open up the throttle and did well to tag onto the group in front of me. All was going well and I felt like I was on a good day, but as we came around for the second lap, the mistakes started to creep in.

With a little bit more space, I set my sights on riding more of the course than I had on the previous lap. And while my intentions were good, the technical sections exposed my lack of expertise in the sand. Mistakes were made and the seconds started to add up. Where I had previously been solidly in the middle of the pack, I was now solidly towards the back. Eventually I got caught by a group of three. We did battle for two laps, and going into the final lap of our day, I put in a dig to break free. I was able to minimize the mistakes on my last trip around the course, and successfully preserve my streak of Not Last Place finishes.

Check out Kerry Werner’s Vlog below!

I’ve had a few weeks now to digest my experience in Europe and the season as a whole. If I may be self-critical, the year started hot and I held myself to higher expectations in the results department, as a result. But this was a mistake, as I carried the same emphasis on results with me across the pond. I felt like I had leveled up, and that my experience would translate to the first page of the results page. But the crucible of European cyclocross takes no consideration of hopes and dreams. Racing against the best in the world, my weaknesses were exposed and my mental strength was tested. There were more than a few times where I would have been happy to call it a season, to pack it up and just eat waffles at the local bakery. But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had quit. Too many people have invested their time, their effort, and, some of them, their dollars into my dreams. Giving up at the first sign of difficulty would be an extreme disservice in my mind.

The off season is young, and it remains to be seen how this season will affect my progression. I hope it’s for the better. But what I do know is that this season has been more than I could have hoped for. From new friends to new sponsors, there is much to be thankful for outside the tape. I’m grateful for their support and I’m excited to see what’s in store in 2019-2020.

Thank you for following along! I appreciate anyone who has taken time to read these chronicles, and if you have feedback please don’t hesitate to share in the comments section below!

Yours in the Love of Cross,