The one cyclo-cross race that is through city streets, through soccer fields, and is part of the historic Kersteperiod, is Diegem.
The first time I set eyes on this track was four years ago, in a Bend Endurance Academy van. My role model at the time, Colin Dunlap, showed me Sven Nys rip through the streets and mud at amazing speeds. I remember this so well because it was my first time ever seeing European cyclo-cross. It was incredible, I had seen the American pros, but I was used to watching the local pros thinking that was top level skill. Watching this made me realize how great one truly has to become to be the best.
Going into Diegem, I knew I would see skinny alleyways, cobbled roads, and mud. What I was not expecting was ice, frozen ruts, and climbs. The course does have a lot of road sections for a typical European cyclo-cross course. Today's frozen conditions made it that much more dicey.
The first lap of pre-ride this morning was ice filled, snow covered, and slow. There were a few paved corners on the course that I took cautiously and was concerned about racing on. Not to mention the off-road frozen ruts that make you feel as if your tires are tearing as soon as they roll over the top. One thing that did excite all 125 lbs of me was the long cobbled climb on the back side of the course.
In previous races, during this block, I have struggled with my starts. Typically I find myself in the 40s place-wise by the first turn. Today I took a more assertive, no-elbows-from-the-Belgians-type approach. For the most part, I would say it worked. Though I did slightly bump into a few kids, I was able to come around the first corner in the 30s rather than 40s.
The course changed every lap, as did the lines, and where it was possible to ride vs. run. For instance, near the end of the lap, there was a deep mud section that for the first lap or two was solid enough that it forced you to get off and run. However, the last two laps, it had melted enough to where it became rideable with a lot of speed carried into it.
At the end of the race I was content with my 26th place. Although that does not sound too spectacular, I have been steadily moving up as this block goes on.
Learning happens fast over here, yet there is still a lot to learn to be at the top level. I am looking forward to the next race on Tuesday in Loenhout. I hope to bring the progression even higher then.