The quirks of the Belgian Way

I’d like to say differently, but my run of luck hasn’t changed much this November. The Thursday before I headed to the GGEW City Cross Cup in Lorsch, Germany, I was out on a regular training ride when I slipped on some wet Belgian pavement coated in algae, and broke a rib. It was one of those unexpected, random falls. My wheel washed out, I didn’t have time to react and I belly flopped on the pavement. I could hear the snap, crackle, pop of something not right going on in my body, and immediately felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. It appears to be a re-break of the rib I injured last year. The cartilage between my ribs is bruised and inflamed, making everything in my chest more sensitive than a professional cyclo-crosser would like. Needless to say, my racing isn’t where I’d like it to be. I finished 7th in Lorsch, but I feel that I can do a lot better once I get things to line up correctly.

I have had several good training rides this last week, and have been posting some great watts, so the panic mode I felt creeping in has started to disappear. Meeting up with several old training partners, and an old mentor, has helped me get through this rough patch. My breathing is already getting easier and I’m starting to feel re-energized and more confident.

Next up, I’m heading to the World Cup in Koksijde, and then to a C1 in Switzerland - Internationales Radquer Hittnau. It’s a funny race combination, and makes for creative tire and wheel packing combinations. As most cyclo-cross fans will know Koksijde is a beachside Belgian town, legendary for its sandy course. All in, I’ll probably have to pack eight sets of wheels for the Koksijde/Hittnau trip to accommodate the various conditions. I’ll use my Shimano C35s at Koksijde, with the Challenge Chicane. In theory the 35s cut through the sand better and the Chicane’s file tread will clear out the sand, and still have a good sidewall tread for the other technical sections of the course.

Since the race in Switzerland will basically be a course through a cow field, I’ll line up some Shimano C24s with either the Grifo or the Limus. The Limus can get traction on anything so that’s probably going to be my best bet for Hittnau. Personally, I prefer the C24s to the C35s. I think the shallower rim gives you a better feel for the surface you are on than the deep-dish wheels, but they aren’t always practical on sandy or muddy tracks like Koksijde

All this prep for the next few races means my good friend and mechanic, Franky Van Haesebrouke, has had his hand full the last few days getting the bikes and wheels ready. It’s also been a ton of work for Cori and myself. We recently had an encounter in Niel, which proved why it’s so important to have good people like Franky and Cori in your corner.

When we returned from Germany, Franky took my bikes to his house to try and get them running a little smoother. He spent the night re-cabling them, and then brought them to the race I was doing in Niel the next day on Monday. I got to the course early to pick up my numbers and the elite-parking pass we needed to get into the team parking area. We drove to the race in separate cars, and as soon as they gave me only one pass for both cars I was worried we’d have a problem.

In Belgium, all the top guys arrive at the races in their mobile homes. At some events, if you don’t come in with your big vehicle and entourage, you aren’t treated well. It’s a quirk of racing here, the Belgian Way. Parking started off smoothly. We had glided through three checkpoints, and had gotten to the last check-in, which was about 100 meters before the team car area. One of the attendants waved us through, when all of a sudden a different parking worker, this one with a radio and earpiece, dove onto the hood of Franky’s van. Franky and the attendant start yelling at each other in Flemish. This is not the first time something like this has happened. The ‘Belgian Way’ is to respect the trailer size, not the rider. To avoid further conflict, we decided to start packing everything into one car.

As we were re-packing the van, the parking attendant with the earpiece and radio, apparently on some kind of parking lot power trip and still looking for trouble, continues to yell. Not getting the reaction he wanted, the guy starts to poke Franky in the chest. Franky, much to his credit kept his cool. At this point the VIPs are walking by, busses of fans are being trucked in, and I wanted to get going. I started walking back to my car, where my wife and kids were waiting, when the attendant grabbed me by the shoulder, which sent a burst of pain through my chest and ribs. I saw red at this point, and thankfully the ruckus the parking lot guy had caused drew the attention of the police, who attempted to sort out the situation. To make matters more surreal, the attendant starts screaming at the police, and then shoves one of the officers. The police looked like they might draw their guns before finally getting the guy under control.

The police ended up taking the guy's ID, and escorting him away. They were very professional; they apologized for me having to go through this, and then helped calm my kids down who were traumatized by the whole experience. At this point it would have been nice to head home, but bike racing is my job, and I had to get on with work. It was not an ideally timed adrenaline rush, and needless to say, between the broken rib and distraction in the parking lot I did not have my best finish.

The whole experience just made me think about the real heroes of the sport. The mechanics, the wives, the families, and the smaller racers who make up the bulk of the peloton, those are the real heroes of cyclo-cross.

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Jonathan Page is an American cyclo-cross pioneer. Page left the US to live in Belgium full time in 2007 after winning a silver medal at the 2007 World Cyclo-cross Championships. Page is a four time U.S. National Champion, a title that he currently holds. He currently races for his own team, which is sponsored by Fuji Bikes, Competitive Cyclist, Spy, Clif Bar, Lazer Helmets, Shimano, Challenge Handmade Tubulars, Somerville Sports, ENGVT, and the law firm of Prediletto, Halpin, Scharnikow and Nelson, P.S. You can find more about Jonathan on his website at (opens in new tab).