blog entries

Making cycling CX-y

Guess what - another Belgium based cycling blog!! 

No apologies though as every time I go back there's always something brilliant to write about. This time around though we felt it was time to see if the cyclo cross scene was every bit as exciting as the Flemish commentators make is sound on and so bought ourselves some tickets for Koppenbergcross. We were not dissapointed - when the Belgians want to so a cycling event they do it really, really well.

Young fans, resplendent in team merchandise, queuing for autogrpahs and pictures. Check

Large, noisy, knowledgable crowd. Check

Beer and Frites. Double Check

Brilliant event organisation and iconic 'venue'. Check

Loads of British racers in evidence(more than 20 across all the race), as well as a fair few Brit fans. Check

Rockstar/God-like superstar ellciting cheers, screams and fans galore. Check, check, check for Sven

As with any big cycling event in Flanders the crowds are out early and are quickly into a celebratory mood - the bars and cafes in Oudenaarde's square were doing a brisk, mostly alcohol based trade at 10am but the wee tots were already tearing up the Koppenberg so we soon headed for the real action.

Koppenbergcross is obviously mostly an off road event but the start finish straight is on the main Oudenaarde-Kluisbergen road making for a pleasant traffic free stroll in. Not quite Wembley Way but definitely more of a thrill as all the team buses are lined up, merchandise stalls already doing brisk trade and even a few of the Elite women are around at this early hour. If autograph hunting is your thing then you can fill your boots at this type of event!

The course itself is tough going even in the relatively dry conditions witnessed this year, with much of it on the hillside to either side of the cobbled climb of the Koppenberg itself. For the non VIP's (whose £150/head tent is near the finish line) the hillside is the place to be - and not only because most of the 6 beer tents are here. 2 hours before the Elite women's race starts the climbs and descent are pretty much 2 or 3 deep as the typically knowledgeable locals watch the U23 men's race as well as the Elite Men and Women doing warm up laps.

I started my own, very small ripple of excitement as Ian Field hove into view resplendent in his UK Champs top but it was nothing compared to the effect Sven Nys has on a Belgian crowd. Just as the pros do warm up laps so too the crowd takes a while to get up to steam, and although the noise audibly lifts it's nothing compared to the roars when the race is under way.

What did amaze me was quite how many warm up laps some of the Elite riders did and they certainly weren't holding back. At the top of the main climb there's a sharp left hand bend and we were inches from Sven as he overcooked this corner and hit a post into the mid lap pit lane. Still, practice makes perfect and I'm sure he didn't make the same mistake in race conditions.

The racing itself is absolutely brilliant with really high quality fields packed with CX superstars and future stars.  Home grown riders dominate but in Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris, the UK has two of the strongest women riders who both initially headed the field. Helen crashed early and faded to 8th with Nikki battling for fifth, definitely not what they were hoping for but the next opportunity is never far off for cyclo-cross riders.

What all this means is that there's pretty much non stop action all day on the course so your 10 Euro entry price is damn good value for money. Of course, getting there is going to cost you a bit but the Belgians do this kind of stuff so well that it's more than worth the effort.

For the first time ever the UK gets it’s chance to host an event of this stature as the World Cup visits Milton Keynes on the 29th November.  Here’s hoping we make it as big, loud and beautiful as the Flandrians do!!