The top-notch Belgian cyclo-cross scene has had its share of colourful figures in the past, such as a team of Zimbabwean ‘cross riders in a TV-show as an example of the folkloric side of the winter sport. This year the fans and media have been drawn to Alexander Revell, a 27-year-old New Zealander who saved some money and is currently living his dream to take part in top-level cyclo-cross races. And what makes Revell stand out amongst his fellow competitors is his rather sizable moustache, an element of style uncommon in pro cycling which has become his trademark.
"It's just a novelty. There's no rider who has it. I'm not looking like the others," Revell told Cyclingnews before the start of the Koppenbergcross in Melden, near Oudenaarde, in Belgium. Revell used to have a full beard but when trimming it he took away a bit too much and opted instead for a moustache. "Luckily my girlfriend liked it."
Revell started doing cyclo-cross two years ago and having watched the Belgian races on the internet he was amazed by the huge crowds and the special atmosphere. The man with a composer's degree then decided to try and spend a full winter in Belgium to take part in the biggest races. He's residing with American Greg Germer, a former pro cyclist who raced in Belgium between 2004 and 2007 and now runs the guesthouse ‘The Chainstay' in Oudenaarde.
Revell's support system started out rather Spartan as at an earlier 'cross race in Ruddervoorde he was warming-up next to a van while his girlfriend read a book. Revell had one bike and no assistance whatsoever. Back then, however, he already realized that his noteworthy appearance could help him live his dream. "I noticed they're not supporting all the riders but when I ride by they start shouting. It's positive, though, and I'm enjoying it," Revell said of the Belgian 'cross fans. The sometimes not-so-sober Belgian crowd can be boorish at times but that doesn't seem to be the case for Revell.
Less than a month later Revell was followed by Belgian TV, had several news articles in Belgian newspapers and it resulted in a lot of support. At the Koppenbergcross, Revell was in the company of a crew with a truck and merchandising tent, plus had spare bikes and a mechanic in the pit. In the merchandising tent Revell had t-shirts and caps for sale with the recognizable moustache printed on it.
"Things turned around quite a bit," Revell grinned. "After Ruddervoorde I started getting some start money. The organizers actually care about. I never thought that I would get money for my racing. It's awesome. It makes it possible to be here."
While he's garnered increasing recognition at the races, Revell's hoping to build his sporting ability at the sport's marquee events. Revell finished as runner-up in the New Zealand 'cross championships, but he's been pulled from every pro race he has taken part in thus far on the continent.
"I'm not expecting to win, learning was my main goal," said Revell. "My long term goal is to finish a race in the same lap as the leaders. That's not easy as they pull riders once they ride outside 80% of the leader's time. The crowds are always amazing, though. They encourage me. That helps me to gain back morale because it's not fun to finish last every time."
The most important thing for Revell is to enjoy his cyclo-cross time in Belgium. "It's all new to me. Hopefully in the future it'll be more about my racing than about my looks."
That leads Revell to talk about his other goals this winter besides enjoying the fact that he's living his dream and trying to finish a race in the same lap as the big guns: taking part in the cyclo-cross world championships which are being held in Louisville, Kentucky, USA in early February.
"The fundraising through my blog is going well. The aim is to gather enough money to get there. Hopefully it'll work out. I still have to look into airline tickets and how to get my stuff there but there's enough time left. Also, I don't want to throw all my money in it. There's got to be something left to make a living after the 'cross season."
For now, Revell appreciates the run of affairs so far.
"I've landed on my feet here. I'm very lucky. I'm on with a good thing with it [the moustache]. I'll keep it."