I've won races all over Europe before and even in America, but a cyclo-cross victory in Belgium had always eluded me. It’s never bothered me as I see every race I take part in as part of my apprenticeship in the sport and I've always been confident my time will come. Belgian cyclo-cross is the school of hard knocks where you are always racing the world’s best riders, generally on some of the most challenging courses you can imagine.
What I didn't realise was how significant a win here would be. OK, so it’s an iconic race, the Koppenbergcross, but still, it changed a lot of things. For me personally, I caught the winning bug. Winning is a habit, and I'm sure the confidence from the Koppenberg led me to the 2nd win in Belgium two weeks later in Niel.
In terms of general perception, after a win in Belgium you suddenly become popular. Belgium is a unique country that I love very much. I've been based here for six years, and wouldn't swap that for anything. To really challenge in the sport you have to be here. There are only a few exceptions to that rule like Katie Compton and Hanka [Kupfernagel], but I know being here has made huge difference to my ability and routine. But in Belgium, everyone loves a winner. You can be second every week, all season long, but that doesn't get the huge respect Belgians give winners. Now winning isn't that easy when you have super talents all around you like [Marianne] Vos, Hanka, Daphny [van den Brand] and Katie. In fact, it’s really hard, but I now know that I can challenge these riders wheel for wheel.
Following the Koppenbergcross, I had over 300 well wishing emails. For me, that’s a lot, a very lot. I've always had great support at events, but that has been transformed now, which is really cool. The cheering fans at the courses have really got behind me and it was awesome to be able to back up their enthusiasm with a win in Niel. Niel is also a relatively new event for women and it’s great to be able to put on a good show for both the organisation and supporters in terrible conditions. We desperately need more organisers that are willing to run elite women’s races, so a big thank you should go out to them.
Another part of the new attention was some filming carried out with Trans World Sport. It was a really fun day. Firstly it was good to have a couple of Brits around for the day. But we filmed in two cool places. Firstly, the Koppenberg, which is my new favourite place in Belgium, actually make that the world. We rode part of the Tour of Flanders route as I tried to spin the race Niel out of my legs...not easy to do on those short sharp and sometimes cobbled climbs. Then we returned to Oudenaarde and filmed at the Tour of Flanders Museum. I've never been there before and it was fantastic to have a guided tour by Freddy Maertens himself. He’s a really interesting guy, and made the tour really fascinating.
We then took over the museum for interviews and I've got a few spy shots taken from behind the scenes. They should give a little glimpse of what you'll be able to see in the feature in a few weeks time. No pressure at all, but the guys wanted to use a backdrop of world cyclo-cross champions' jerseys. Pretty inspiring stuff when you are that close to the special jersey.
I also did a magazine article with Jonathan Page. A great guy and someone I look forward to training with some more over the winter. He’s nearly a neighbour of ours and we had a lot of fun playing in the sand at our local cross training ground. It’s great to see him back on form and leading major races in Belgium. I'm sure a big result is very close for him.
So what’s in store for me now? First I need to avoid the floods in Belgium. I normally perform a rain dance before every race, but I think my last one has taken things too far. Belgium is currently under water and we're guaranteed muddy races for a few weeks. I've gone straight into a heavy training block as I have the luxury of a weekend off. My focus is 100 percent on Koksijde and putting in a strong performance there on the toughest of courses. It’s going to be a first look at the 2012 World Championship course and uses large new parts of the famous sand dunes.
So for me its long miles, intervals and lots of off the bike work. I'll then be going down to Italy to train for a couple of weeks to make sure my condition is where it needs to be for the busy Christmas campaign.