We were lucky. We were staying at Hof Ter Kammen. I have mentioned this cyclist’s house before. It is clean, warm, friendly and comfortable. During our stay, the super friendly British Pro Gabby Day was there as well as a large contingent of cheerful Americans, so we had plenty of people to quiz about the up-coming races.
During our considerable amount of time in either a) the car or b) trying to fix the shower, we discussed the topic of postcards…
Once upon a time in the UK collecting stickers of football players was a time-consuming hobby. In Belgium in the year 2013, replace stickers for postcards and exchange footballers for cyclists, and voila, you have the cyclocross postcard phenomenon. Not only were we badgered for postcards ourselves, but our teamate Jack Clarkson, who was in Belgium for a longer stint, was being asked for cards of us too! He fobbed them off with some of his own.
The race in Bredene the day before had been a ‘small affair’ with one road closure and only print news coverage. The race in Diegem the next day was a whole different animal. Several streets were closed, TV cameras were mounted on cranes around the course and a whole host of floodlights had been wheeled in from somewhere. Sign-on was upgraded from a pub’s back room to a mock castle and the Frites stalls were out in force. During our getting changed, warming up and faffing we rarely had the car and the sloping patch of grass around it to ourselves as our disk-brake equipped bikes were proving something of an oddity. Silently, Belgian men would inspect our equipment . Look at us appraisingly, then go off to find someone famous. Occasionaly were were asked for a postcard. I would offer some Hope stickers but they were a poor subsitiute apparently.
The interest grew and by the time we were in the pens to be gridded, photographers were helping us remove our jackets so our kit could be seen whilst poking their lenses into our faces. What was most surprising was that during the race, some people were actually cheering for me. Overnight we had hit the cyclocross watching public’s radar…well, one or two of them!
Following the race and after adding layer upon layer, we squeezed through the swelling, beer soaked crowd to watch Jack in his race. By now big screens were broadcasting images through the afternoon gloom. Starting to tire of the constant pushing and crushing of the crowd, we made our way to the exit, only to be stopped by a small group of Brits who recognised Annie from Cafe racing in West Yorkshire and myself as having once ridden for a Leeds based shop Crosstrax. It was all getting a little surreal.
It was only later that evening that we heard of the excitement in the pits. Aparrently not only were our bikes a source of wonder, but so was the fact that there were females in the pit lane. Another super group of Yorkshire riders were also out representing, and the Belgians didn’t know what had hit them when Lucy and Michelle took their place amongst the jet washes!
“A war-zone” was Annie’s description of the Sven Nys GP in Baal. Picture the dirtiest great bog you’ve ever seen, add steep mud piles the size of sand dunes and a flight of stairs. Surround with a baying crowd and blare scarily loud Euro Pop out from the beer tents. An experience it certainly was. One I would endure again only on condition my tetanus shot was up to date.
In the car after a practice lap, Annie and I were trying to find the positives of the sport. This wasn’t helped when Jack screeched to a halt, a jibbering, filthy wreck having abandoned early and said “Don’t do it. Don’t start!” Nor were our misgivings apeased by the fan who looked darkly at Annie and said in a most threatening way “DO YOUR BEST”. The fans had payed to watch a spectacle. They expected value for money.