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It's all about the warming van

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Brian Matter signs his autograph for a fan.

Brian Matter signs his autograph for a fan. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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'Cross racing makes for some post-race mud to clean up.

'Cross racing makes for some post-race mud to clean up. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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After the race...

After the race... (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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The all-important warming van.

The all-important warming van. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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Number is pinned on and all ready to go.

Number is pinned on and all ready to go. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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Time for a post-race refreshment.

Time for a post-race refreshment. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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A view of the inside of the warming van.

A view of the inside of the warming van. (Image credit: Brian Matter)
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Troy Wells and Danny Summerhill inside the warming van.

Troy Wells and Danny Summerhill inside the warming van. (Image credit: Brian Matter)

The warming van is where it all goes down, and it is an integral part of cyclo-cross culture here in Belgium. Things start bright and early with the warming van when the mechanics jam pack as many bikes, wheels, trainers, and other equipment into the back of the van.

When the warming vans arrives at the race it is a mad dash to find the perfect parking spot. Usually we strategically park three vans together, and then in between the vans the mechanics set up. Tents with trainers, tents with food and tea, and tents with workstands and tools from our headquarters for the day.

Then the real action begins. The mechanics have prepped the warming van with a propane heater and a light connected to a generator. Then the riders arrive. There are three very small wooden benches in the van. One is nearer to the heater and on cold days, it's the spot to get. The pros usually show up to the warming van three hours before their race. We unwrap the tin foiled ham & cheese and have our pre-race meal.

Just about the same time Danny Summerhill comes rolling in after his race. The mood is instantly set. If Summerhill races fast, then the atmosphere is good. If Summerhill has a bad day, then it gets pretty grim until Troy Wells cranks some Beastie Boys on the iPhone. If Summerhill's hands are frozen, Wells will politely do an interview for him.

It gets hectic when the rest of the Under 23s arrive, and there are seven to 10 of us in a van all trying to change at the same time. Some guys are covered in freezing mud, a warning is shouted that the pants are coming down, and next thing you know someone's bare ass is in your face. The U23s get rushed out, a little silence, you try not to step your clean socks in wet mud, and the ceiling drips like a tropical rain forest from the condensation. Your clothes get wet, you hit your head, and someone spills your warm coffee. Some practical jokes are played, and then we head out for a lap or two.

After two laps, it's back to the van. Upon arrival we reflect on the course, the appropriate clothing for the race and the sensations in the legs. More practical jokes and then Fox and Els bring us some more tea or coffee and rub the legs and feet down with some warming cream. The smell is in the air. Race time is approaching. We start to pin on the numbers and put on racing suits.

Forty-five minutes before the race Geoff Proctor arrives with "Proctors Words of Wisdom" before he heads to the pits. Five minutes of pure motivational speech. This guy does a better job than Matt Foley. Forty minutes to go and we are suited up and headed for the trainers. The superfans are there in the thousands waiting to see who walks out of the van. Shouts of Ryan Trebon, Todd Wells, and Johnson, but this time around it's only Matter, Troy Wells, and Justin Lindine. We sign some autographs, and it makes them happy. Then its off to the races.

After the race, we are instantly back in the van. The heat has been off for an hour. The generators are packed. It's dark and cold. We beg for the heater to be turned on. The matches are soaked wet. We borrow a lighter from a smoking superfan. A little heat. The pain sets in. Fox yells, "let's go". We change. Throw our dirty clothes back in the race bag, and exit. The mechanics load the warming van with the mud soaked equipment as the riders are whisked away in another van through the raucous crowd.

Brian Matter
Team Gear Grinder