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Into the Belgian 'Cross Freezer!
December 23rd 2010
Video: Vimeo from Kalmthout
Jack Clarkson reports on the latest European raid by British Cycling's Cyclo-Cross Junior Development Programme, a trip to the icy Kalmthout World Cup event in Belgium.
Jack in action at a recent Yorkshire Cyclo-Cross event
On Friday night, British Cycling's Simon Watts began the long drive south towards the tunnel picking up the riders on route. We were all very eager to get on with a hard weekend of preparation and racing, whilst also keeping an eye on keeping ourselves warm in the arctic conditions.
We crossed into Europe and spent the Friday night in the historic Belgian city of Gent, home to the Gent Six track meeting and a major centre for European cycle racing in general.
Hugo Robinson was the only member of the group not travelling with us - he'd gone into Europe early to ride the Fidea Classic in Antwerp on the Saturday before joining us later in the afternoon to pre-ride Sunday's course. By the way, Hugo put in a good ride at the Fidea event coming home in 8th place in a 31-strong Belgian-dominated field.
With freezing temperatures dominating Northern Europe, Belgium had not escaped the icy blast and we encountered a few problems on the Saturday getting to the event venue: after we left the hotel there was snow covering all lanes of the motorway and we soon realised it was going to be a longer journey than anticipated. But then the Belgians seem to know how to drive in the winter and don't come to a standstill as soon as the weather man says snow, and we eventually got there!
The weather's influence extended to the racing too: snow and ice were both big factors when we got out onto the course. With tight, twisty bends through woods and several flights of stairs along the way, it was a serious technical challenge.
One of the most unnerving parts of the course was the temporary steel bridge that had been erected for the event and which we had to ride over. I was running tubs with pressure around the 17 PSI mark to try to get as much grip as possible and I could feel the rims bottoming out on the entrance and exit to the bridge. And down the straights I could pretty much feel the valve going round!
We got Saturday's pre-ride of the course out of the way pretty much incident free, apart from a brief panic for Alistair Slater, who snapped his chain - but that was soon fixed by Nick and Tom, our mechanics.
Sunday morning arrived and most of our kit was sorted and we were ready to race. The only glitch was experienced by Joe Moses, who still had to adjust his tyre pressures. However, he'd left his valve extenders at home, something he only found out when he'd let a tub down too much. We were all keen to point out what p*** poor preparation this was.
But, to be honest, it's the sort of thing we've all encountered during this season and a reminder that attention to details like this is essential and a key part of the steep learning curve we're all on at the moment. Luckily for Joe, I was able to come to the rescue, lending him a front wheel for the event.
As ever, on race day time really flashes by. Before we knew it, we were on the start facing the dreaded traffic lights again. This time, when they changed to green I remembered to set off, but then took the whole length of the start straight to get my foot in the pedal! If you could remove starts from races, I might begin to have a bit of success!
Anyway, I began to panic a bit during the first few laps and the places I made once I got the foot in the pedal were being lost again in the corners and I kept dropping back to have a bit of a ding-dong with Joe. I gradually realised what I was doing wrong. I was losing the front wheel a lot on the corners, probably because I was down on the drops all the time.
Once the penny had dropped, I began to chill out and tried to think "smooth" for the rest of the race. I soon closed down Moses, but sprinting up a set of steps I knocked my chain off and struggled to get going again. I kept calm, propped up the bike, fixed the chain and away I went again.
Once again I passed Joe and slowly began picking people off. Before I knew it, Hugo Robinson was coming back to me and I had a target to chase. It was close, but Hugo just kept the edge, finishing about 20 seconds up on me.
Alistair Slater was top GB performer on the day - he had a very good ride and looked just as strong as the leaders, but they had that edge in every corner. Looking back, for me, the biggest thing I learnt was to not panic and to stay calm and concentrate on being smooth in the slippery and icy conditions. Now, if I could just find a way of getting that first lap out of the way!
Finally, I mustn't forget a big thank you to Mark at Pedalsport for his continued support and help he has given me, plus Simon and all the staff from British Cycling who organise and help on the trips, which we all realise is a fantastic opportunity. And also, thanks to Sl Carbons for supporting me throughout this season.
1 Laurens SWEECK BEL 36m 51s
37 Alistair SLATER GBR 39:28
46 Hugo ROBINSON GBR 40:12
51 Jack CLARKSON GBR 40:31
55 Joseph MOSES GBR 41:24