Every year there are so many great moments during the cyclo-cross season. I meet so many great people in incredible countries it’s hard to pick out the best moments. This year I’ve been on a lot of journeys, both real and philosophical, and learnt a massive amount, but I think I’ve managed to pick out my favourite points. Hope you enjoy the read.
10. It’s not always just about bike riding or racing; there are some perks to the job too. Sometimes you get to do fun things like have a personal guided tour around the Tour of Flanders museum by the one and only Freddy Maertens; a fascinating man and bike riding legend. This was all in the name of ‘publicity’ for a TV company.
A separate but equally good off the bike time comes at the Gazette Van Antwerpen trophy presentation. It has to rock in the top 10 as it is always a spectacle with all the top riders there. So it’ll have to share a spot this year with Freddy. Last year they had a guy doing trials stunts on the stage, this year they had gymnasts doing some wild acrobatics. Paired with the fact that at the event I can wear nice shoes, I’m sure you’d totally understand why together they are my first coolest moment for this season.
9. This season there has been some particularly rubbish weather with a good six weeks in a row of snow here in Belgium. I was lucky enough to be able to go down to the Mpire training camp in Riccione where thankfully the weather held out for us. While we were down there we went on the local Rowa Bike shop training ride which was wicked. We did 130km in the sunshine and I even managed to make some of them suffer which is always a good moment in anyone’s season. So 9th place goes to half-wheeling in sunny Italy.
8. As an athlete you often have the most amazing sponsors and I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for all of them. Although I’ve had many nutrition sponsors before, I have never had any of it explained in person by a nutrition expert like I got this year when I went to visit CNP in Manchester. They also showed me around the whole factory where everything is made, tested and recorded. As sad as it may seem, I went back a second time with the Horizon Fitness Racing Team girls. Once again I came away having learnt a million more things. Definitely deserving a place in the top 10.
7. At the beginning of the season a group of us piled into our small estate car/tardis and went on a road trip to the Alps. We stayed at the top of Les Deux Alpes, about 25kms uphill from Bourg d’Osians. Apart from the spectacular views and sunshine, every day the training was amazing, if not a little more than savage. I particularly enjoyed the hill sprint up Alpe d’Huez......NOT. For this training ride alone and the peak power records achieved, it fits nicely in 6th spot.
6. Doing what I do you get to meet some really cool people from fans to many people’s heroes, such as Freddy Maertens. There are also incredibly creative people; Joonas, a media guy from Kona is no exception. This year in Hoogerheide he came to do some filming for Kona. Not only was he a very cool ex-free rider, who gave us a beating at ten pin bowling, he also made amazing mini films with brilliant camera work and wicked features. Very inspiring stuff.
5. Every time I win the Nationals it feels as good as the last, a feeling I get to remember every time I put the kit on to train and race. Purely for the fact that no one would recognise me now after 6 years of being the champion if I wore other kit, winning the Nationals comes in the middle of the list.
4. Despite not winning the Superprestige at Aspere-Gavere, it rocks in as the second most memorable moment from my 'cross season. I know now that I could have won the race and made a couple of silly mistakes, but I have to make the mistakes to learn from them. More importantly, I overcame my Gavere demons. Four years previously I had crashed out of the race and ended up with stitches in my face and since then had hated it, even though I knew deep down it could be good for me. Well this year it was. So despite not being a win its still totally deserves a place so high up in the list. Plus how could I forget the marshal who told me “You’re obviously not a very good bike rider or you’d have a motor home. Only people with a motor home can park near the showers and near the course. You can stay here in the public parking.” Classic... idiot!
3. In the past it has been really difficult to watch more than two minutes of highlights of women’s cyclo-cross races. This year Belgian TV showed at least half of both the Aigle and Pilsen World Cups before the men’s events. In the past I’ve always watched the guys race, seen how fast they ride and assumed the women are almost as fast. Being able to watch the majority of the race on TV I saw what Stef had been telling me for a long time. The girls at the front of the race weren’t that much faster or technically better than me, with a good start I too could be there with them. It was definitely a moment of revelation. That week I was 3rd at Nacht Van Woerden, 2nd at Zonhoven and won Koppenberg. It was probably the biggest turning point in my career to date. Although now I am gutted there wasn’t any footage of Oostmalle this weekend as it truly was a spectacular five-up battle till the line.
2. This amazing week took me onto the European Championships. On paper third place is... well the same as last year, so surely it doesn’t merit a mention. However it rocks in at number 2 because it was part of the very steep learning curve I have been on this year. I know I have a healthy level of respect for a number of my competitors but you never know what they think of you. So when the Dutch girls both said in the press conference that I was their main competition in the race I was truly flattered. More importantly I had become ‘one of them’ and combined with my new winning ways I was starting to believe it myself.
1. It has to be winning the Koppenberg, without a shadow of a doubt. Not only was it amazing because it was my first win in Belgium after 6 years of trying, but it’s in my home town and to any Belgian it’s huge! It felt amazing. Even now when I look at the cobble on my mantel piece I can’t help but smile.
A special thanks has to go out to everyone who makes it possible for me to compete at the highest level, from all my sponsors to my very special husband, I’m truly grateful for everything they do for me. Cheers guys and here’s to next season.