US under-23 cyclo-crossers Morgan Schmitt and Adam McGrath are in Belgium preparing for the world championships, and posting diaries on the website of their sponsor Redline as they come to to terms with the reality of racing cross in cold, dark and wet European conditions. On Sunday, the duo lined up for the under-23 race at the Hofstade world cup.
"We arrived at the venue at 8:45, which so happened to be the time the sun came up enough to see the course (since Belgium is practically up near the North Pole)," writes Schmitt. "Our early arrival still didn't allow enough time for a good warm-up since we spent an hour or so listening to Flemish directions in our attempt to locate registration. It was raining on an off the whole morning and by the time we started, we could still see our breaths .. in other words, perfect Euro 'cross conditions!"
The notable feature of the Hofstade course was its sand traps. "It should be known as "the beach." That's all it's about. The question is can you, or can't you, ride sand?" writes McGrath. "Hofstade is known entirely for its sand because the rest of the course is a short, fast, cakewalk," says Schmitt. "The sand for the most part was dry and fluffy which provided very few predictable lines. The first and third sections of sand were rideable a majority of the time and the others were always a crap shoot."
A novelty for Schmitt was being able to watch the subsequent elite men's race on TV. "Watching it on TV is the best way to see the Elite race since its very hard to find a good viewing spot when 15,000 fans are lining the course," he writes. "It's so hard to get a front row viewing spot that most of the photographers stand IN the course. The TV coverage is also cool because you can compare how the pros excel at riding the same lines we struggled with just a couple of hours earlier."