Thursday, 27 December 2012

Heusden-Zolder WC, and a club race win - Sram and Zipp

 Heusden-Zolder was the location of my first ever World Cup last year. The race is held on Boxing Day and there's always a huge turnout with a jolly crowd. It's held around the Formula 1 course, and has a good mix of sand, mud, grass and tarmac. The fans are always in a good mood here, and there is heaps of support on course. The main feature is two steep descents which are in about 10-30cms of rutted mud. The first is long and slightly off camber, the second is shorter and steeper, with a dangerous deep section of mud at the bottom which sent many riders A over T (ass over tits for you non-anglophones). 

We set up with the Japanese team who arrived last week. Their crew is a little smaller this year, with Ayako Toyooka being the only rider returning with the photographer Sonoko Tanaka. Their sognieur Ranjit is a very generous bloke and let us use his heated truck as well as helping to hose down and lube up the bikes. Ayako is one of the most glamorous riders in the women's peloton, she's got an awesome diamanté studded helmet, and rocks a very cool pink leopard skin skinsuit, and matching bike! They have a blog they're running together, which features Sonoko's fantastic photography; check it out "Hime and Chuko in Muddy Paradise"

Lining up for the start, My nerves were a little more settled than usual. The gun went off, and we tore down the straight. I was near the back of bunch, but managed to stay clear of the carnage on the first corner. As we settled into the race, I was passed by a few of the better riders who had troubles early on, but managed to establish my position slipping onto the back of a French rider down the tarmac sections to conserve energy. 

You can see from the photos the look of relief on my face when I made it down each descent safely. I was just trying to remember the basics, pick the rut, ride the rut, don't change my line and go easy on the front brake. 

I rode them all quite well, but was absolutely blown away when I saw the video of Sven riding it.  Holy shit! What an absolute animal!

Last year I only rode for 36mins before being pulled. This year I rode for 49mins, a big improvement and only 3 laps down in 43rd. I'm really happy with the result, there were some really good riders at 3 laps down, and Im starting to feel really comfortable out on the bike. I had been having some troubles breathing but it doesn't seem to be an issue anymore. 
Thank you to Sonoko for letting me use her brilliant photos!
A Club Race Win:

This Sunday just passed I managed to score my first win outside Australia at a round of the Vlaamse Wieler Federatie's (Flemish Cycling Federation) Cyclocross Series. Being so close to Christmas, this race was referred to as KerstCross (Christmas Cross).This is club level racing, but as I've found out already, even on this level it's brutal and very competitive. In a nice change to the norm, we were able to rock up at 11.30 for a 12.45 start, and the course was only a 40min drive away. The inschrijving (rego) was in a little pub, you pay 12 euros, get a number and get 2 euros back when you return it.

 C and D grade raced before us, ensuring that the track would be significantly chewed up prior to our race. On the startline, Frank pointed out the rider (Nicky David) who had won every race he'd entered this season, so I made a mental note to stick with him. Whilst I didn't get the greatest start, I managed to muscle my way ahead of most of the riders ahead of the first turn. I held my ground down the muddy descent and before long there was just two of us off the front. Nicky and I attacked each other for most of the first half of the race. I was hopping the logs whilst he was running, but he was gaining ground on the muddy grass sections.

The descent had mud puddles as deep as my hubs, but you just had to lean back and keep your speed up. I was particularly thankful for the Zipp 303's, slicing through the mud noticably easier than my 'B' bike which just has standard profile rims. Jeroen and Roeland did a fantastic job of cleaning my bikes every second lap, meaning I could maximise time on the new TCX. After a hour racing in the muddiest race I've ever competed in, I crossed the line for my first Belgian Cyclocross win. It may not be a World Cup, it may not even be a UCI race, but it's something I'm pretty proud to be able to say I've done.

You don't see too many trophies these days, so I was really stoked when they presented this one to me
"Straight to the pool room!"
Plug of the week: Zipp and Sram
I've been lucky enough to be sponsored by Sram since July of this year, and I'm a huge fan of Sram Red. Its ridiculously light, and the shifting is crisp and precise even in the worst conditions. My new TCX comes with 2013 Red, and despite loving the old stuff, this new groupset is even better. The lever profile gives a slightly better grasp of the brakes, and the shifter action is also improved. The front derailleur is another highlight. Its angle changes depending on where it is located, minimising that annoying rub when you're in the big ring and a low gear on the back (which happens a bit in cross). Whilst we're not far off having disc brakes as mainstream, the Avid Shorty Ultimates are probably the best canti brakes money can buy. Nice modulation, plenty of power, and heaps of adjustment. I've also been using the Quarq power meter to monitor my training all year, a very handy tool!
Both bikes are running impeccably despite the punishment they've been put through, I'm very happy with the equipment.

Perhaps the most noticable feature on my new TCX is the very boutique Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular wheels. Weighing in at around 1350g, these wheels are by far the most amazing wheelset I've ridden. Glamour aside, these things slice through mud and sand beautifully, and are a welcome addition to the stable. Braking performance on carbon rims can be less than ideal in the wet, but I've found these to provide adequate power even in the muddiest conditions (it also helps to use the Zipp grey or Swiss Stop Yellow pads). I took a different carbon wheelset over last year, and took them off after the first ride, the braking surface was that bad it was terrifying, but the Zipps are superb. 

Next race is a Bpost Bank race in Loenhout on Friday.. It was awesome fun last year, so Im looking forward to it. With 20L of water per metre falling last night, "there will be mud."


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