When I last checked in I'd just had three races in four days, two of which were A races and the last one a B grade affair. I'd been feeling good in the second two, but was slightly anxious about picking up some kind of infectious disease from all the cow shit we had to ride through in the final one, at Gooik. Not only was there the common, or "garden" variety usually found in bovine-inhabited pastures throughout the world, but I believe we also waded through a stream of more or less pure effluent runoff at one point on the course. At least my nostrils would definitely have had me believe so, until they were muffled by her viscous saucy charms. I had a few days rest, but after a longer ride mid-week started to feel a bit lethargic and needed even more time lying down. As the following weekend of racing approached all I could think about was taking it easy and the prospect of two races in one weekend made me want to shut my eyes and pull the blanket over my head. So I did, for more or less two more days. I didn't feel any worse on the Sunday following, when I was due to race at Hamme-Zogge, but I now felt half-asleep too. I was obliged to start as I had arranged a contract with the race organiser in exchange for a modest sum of money, so I set about having a good few practice laps of the course, and a longer warm-up to facilitate my body's requirement to move.
Many of the courses lately have been muddy, like riding through uncooked chocolate brownie. Not quite as delicious, but similarly textured and featuring ingredients from the same source. Hamme-Zogge, as I had been told many times and witnessed courtesy of Youtube videos, is historically one of the sloppiest mud-fests of the season. However after a week of moderate winds and very little precipitation, this was certainly not the case. This lead to something I've not had to pay all that much attention to thus far in my 'cross season - I was forced to make a decision about tyres. It's either been dry or boggy so far, but this was something in between.
The ground was firm, but had a layer of fairly greasy matter on top which I had difficulty trusting. I felt like Goldilocks trying the bears' porridge when I rode a lap on Challenge Grifo's, the quintessential all-round tyre; then on Dugast Typhoons, quite similar but from a different brand; and finally my Limus mud tyres, which I've used for probably the last 8 races. The one thing I was sure of was that the traction was incredible on the mud tyres, but that it came at the cost of feeling like a was dragging a lawnmower behind me. I could run slightly lower pressure in the Typhoons, so I went with them for the start of the race.
I learned a good lesson at the startline of the A race in Dottignies on November 3rd. Everyone wears a thermal jacket and zippered tights to the start to stay warm, which they then remove just before the gun goes. Not just before it goes, but a respectable amount of time before. Well I don't have any with zips, so I just had my leg warmers on. If you've ever tried to remove leg warmers over the top of your shoes you'll know that I was in trouble attempting to do it at the startline with 2 minutes to go. I got my cue from Niels Albert right in front of me starting the chain of riderly disrobement, but while everyone else was clear of leg and ready to go seconds later, I was still struggling with a bike against my bum and a bunch of lycra strangling my ankles. I recruited the help of my neighbour, Japanese champ Yu Takanouchi, and a woman who was standing nearby. We got one off, followed shortly by the call for one minute to start. Not wanting to disturb my or other riders' concentration with unnecessary cursing, yet also not wishing to race with a baggy bunch of material hanging over my foot my heart skipped a beat as I finally wrenched it free, and about 20 seconds later we were off!
So this time around I had gone with the knee-warmer option, as I still don't have any zip-up tights and they are much easier to remove than full length leg-warmers. As we were wating in the holding pen before being called up I thought I'd get in early just in case they proved a little too tenacious for a smooth startline removal. I am accustomed to being the last to line up, but as the UCI points from our NZ national champs in July have come through the system, my 60 puts me ahead of several of the other riders who typically show up at these races. Subsequently I didn't have as much time as I thought. I'd got just one off just as my name was called up, so headed out to the crowd and cameras with one leg of warm dark wool and the other simple pale thigh.
The race start had me in a better than expected position, so after the initial lung-burning sprint and a few corners I thought that as usual I was at the back, only to find several very good riders come past me in my moment of daze. I set about sticking to them like I wanted my tyres to stick into the corners, and had a good majority of the first lap doing so.
Of course, there often comes a time when you just can't quite hold onto the wheel in front of you. While I felt like I should have been capable of staying where I was and didn't feel totally extinguished, I just couldn't go much faster that I currently was - I guess I was kind of still in a slumber after a week of laying low. I continued riding as best I could, and got some amazing support from the crowd - I spotted my first banner being waved about, which read something along the lines of "Alexander Revell - hair boss of cyclocross".
I was pulled with 5 laps to go out of 11 in total, so it had been a good effort for not feeling great and still having a bit of trouble with the speed and loose surface. The average speed for the hottest laps was 29/30km per hour, and Sven Nys was going at it at alone on the front like the rabid and unneutered neighbourhood dogs that used to come and terrorise the kids at my primary school in Wilton. I didn't stand a chance.
A couple of days later and I knew I had a cold, so again went to bed and drank my way through a bunch of lemons and several hundred grams of honey. I have come out the other side feeling great and even more motivated for the upcoming races - that is especially my first World Cup in Koksijde next weekend, Nov. 24th. Then another one the following Sunday Dec. 2nd in Roubaix, France.
In a recent development however, I'm not going to be the only kiwi racing in Koksijde, as Angus Edmond is making his way down from Denmark where he has been racing the local scene when not riding in a car sandwich in his day job as a courier. It will be a seriously difficult race, through what is almost just a huge sandpit, but expect to see Team NZ feature strongly - on the heads, torsos and upper lips of many supporters.