RECAP OF OUR TRIP TO BELGIUM
2010 UCI CYCLOCROSS MASTERS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
After a seven year absence from competitive cycling, we had the urge to get back into bike racing this year. Competing in New England, we raced in a couple of hill climbs, one mountain bike race and ten cyclocross races. Now we were on a roll and it was off to Cyclocross Nationals in Bend, OR, where Marilyn won her race in the 50-54 age group. Before leaving for nationals, I mentioned that if she won her race I would take her to the Masters Worlds in Mol, Belgium. As soon as we returned from Bend, I started researching the trip to Europe. Before Nationals we had never even flown with our bikes to race before. Since we didn’t start planning the trip until Dec. 16, we were a little behind in terms of booking the trip. Most places we called in Belgium were already booked. When racing in New England, we are accustomed to traveling by camper. You may have seen us at the races in our ’86 VW Vanagon. Because of that, we decided to look into renting an RV for travel in Europe. We were able to find winterized motorhomes for rent just outside of Amsterdam. That ended up working out well since one of the races we wanted to use as a warm up for worlds was in the Netherlands. We flew into Amsterdam on the 14th and picked up our motorhome. Rather than trying to travel more that day, we decided to find a campsite, build the bikes, and get some fresh air in our lungs. We ended up in the summer resort town of Noordwijkerhout on the North Sea. The weather was cold and a little foggy with fresh snow on the ground. On our way to the campsite we noticed an extensive network of bike paths, so we knew finding good riding would be easy. With the bikes built, we were off. We headed towards the dunes on one of the bike paths. Within only a few minutes we found some excellent singletrack just in the woods from the snowcovered dunes.
After a much needed good night’s sleep, we headed north in the RV, parked and went for a bike ride around the city of Amsterdam. After camping out that night on the coast in Almere Muiderzand, it was time to head south for our first race in Bakel, NL. On the way, we passed a huge wind farm and we counted as many as 40 wind turbines through the thick fog. On the afternoon of the 16th, we arrived in the town of Bakel. Upon entering town, we saw a large sign promoting the race, the 9th Annual Robobank Nationale, and that’s when our nerves kicked in. Within a couple minutes, Marilyn navigated us to the race site where construction of the course was well under way. We found a campsite about 200 meters from the start and reserved ourselves a site for two nights. Next, we suited up and headed out on on our bikes to preview the course. The track was very wet with lots of ridable mud, nearly all singletrack in the woods, and no “get offs”. We were excited about the race. We headed back to the camper to clean up ourselves and the bikes and have some dinner. Later that night, after our delicious meal, we heard rain begin to pound on the roof of the camper. Tomorrow is going to be a mess. After a while we noted that the rain on the roof started to sound thicker, yup it was snowing! It snowed about two inches, but by morning it had changed back to rain and melted. Race day started out with intermittent heavy rain showers, so our warm up included full rain gear. At registration, there was no entry fee. The race numbers were made of cloth and they kept our licenses to be returned at the end of the race when we brought the numbers back for reuse. We both raced at 11:30 and the rain had all but stopped. Marilyn & I both ended up with a last row call to the line in our respective races since neither of us had any points in the series and we were the only Americans there. There were 60 starters in my race, master 30-40. I had a good time in my race, enjoyed the technical nature of the course, and passed few riders to end up 28th. After the race we found each other, and from the big smile on Marilyn’s face, I could tell she was happy with her race. She competed with the elite women’s field and placed 10th out of 26. After a massive clean up of the bikes and our race kits, it was off to the showers that were provided by the race organization.
Monday the 18th we headed south to Belgium to meet up with Filip Lauwers of Filip Sport just south of Brussels in the town of Hoeilaart. Filip Sport is the Seven Cycles distributor for the BenNeLux region. On the way, we stopped in Mol to ride the worlds course. The workers were already setting up the course, so it was easy to follow. Before leaving, we made reservations for Friday and Saturday night. After about five hours total drive time, we arrived at Filip Sport at 4:45. We had 45 minutes to meet Filip, eat, and gather our things for our next challenge. Filip wanted to take us to Gent to ride at the Eddy Merckx Velodrome from 8:00-10:00 pm. After a long drive in heavy traffic, we arrived at the track. We had never ridden track bikes or even been to a velodrome before, so we were nervous. Filip introduced us to a track coach from Wielerbond Vlaanderen, Belgium’s cycling federation, named Hugo Suy. Hugo hooked us up with rented track bikes. We went to the locker rooms to “kit up” and then out into the inside of the track. We thought we were nervous before, but when we saw the track for the first time and the riders racing around the 44 degree banked corners in a pack, we were in awe. Hugo gave us a run down on what to expect (his first in English) and sent us out onto the track. After ten minutes of riding along the bottom, Hugo pulled us in to relax a little bit. Then he gave us more advice like “turn off your brain and push!” and sent us back out. Soon we started to feel more comfortable and were all the way up the track in the pack with the other riders. We ended up riding for almost two hours. Before we left that night, Hugo asked what our plans for the rest of the week were and offered to take us for a ride in the Flemish Ardennes on Thursday. We accepted. He told us to be there “rain or no rain”. After the drive back to Hoeilaart, we didn’t make it to bed until 12:45 am.
Tuesday, Filip made sure we had a good training ride by calling one of his friends, local pro Paul Hoskens. We were ready to go by 11:00. We left Filip Sport and headed into the forest. Paul, on his ridged Seven Sola and the two of us on our cross bikes rode into the Foret de Soignes. Paul took us on a very scenic ride, a mix of carriage roads and singletrack that looped around a large castle in the fog. We were out for about two hours. Later that night, Filip and his wife Daniella and son Bert had us over for a wonderful meal.
Wednesday we decided to take a rest day and go into Brussels for some sight seeing. We visited the Grand Place and the Museum of the City of Brussels. We walked around the city for several hours. It didn’t end up really being a rest, but we saw some mind blowing historical sights and had a great time.
Thursday morning we left Filip Sport and headed to Geraardsbergen to ride with Hugo. We met Hugo at 2:00 and rode around on some of the famous roads of the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France. The ride took us over some of the more well known climbs like the “Berendries” in Michelbeke, “Ten Bossch” in Brakel and the 20% cobbled “Muur”. While rolling through a village we saw the name of the late Frank Vandenbroucke painted on the road. We ended up riding about 37K. After the ride Hugo invited us back to his house for dinner. When we arrived at his house his wife Marie and son Nick had already begun cooking an incredible dinner. After dinner Hugo showed us his books documenting his many cycling accomplishments, such as riding a loop around France in two, fifteen day stretches, and riding from the coast of France to the top of every major climb of the Tour.
Friday we headed for Mol. After a two hour drive, we arrived in town, hit the supermarket for some supplies, and then to the race site. We went out and put in some “hot laps” on the course and dialed in our bikes one last time. Marilyn’s start time was 9:47 am, so it was early to bed. On race day we got up at 6:45 to start our race prep and register for the event. It was still dark out at 7:45, but you could tell it was going to be a cold, but clear day. Before Marilyn’s warm up, I went over every nut and bolt on her bike just to be sure. At 9:30, we went over to the start. All of the women were lined up for a race of three laps and the gun went off. After the first sand section, Marilyn was in the lead with the others close behind. American, Lillian Pfluke, was in third. As last year’s silver medalist, we knew she would be a factor. On the second lap, coming through the fast start/finish pavement section, Marilyn was down in the drops in an aerodynamic tuck with Lucia Pizzolotto of Italy right on her wheel, hardly pedaling. Now this was scary! Coming off the beach on the final lap, Marilyn rode a section of sand that none of the other women were able to ride, and she dropped her rivals. She went on to win by seven seconds passing all but one of the women from the 40-50 year old category.
I ended up with a back row call up, but it didn’t matter to me since I was honored just to be there racing for the USA. I ended up 38th out 53 finishers. There were riders from 13 different countries in my race. I was so relieved that we had accomplished what we set out to do. Congratulations to fellow New Englanders, Kevin Hines & Jonny Bold for making the podium in their races.
Sunday morning we got an early start. We are off to Hoogerheide NL, to watch the Grand Prix Adrie van der Poel. Neither of us have ever been to a world cup. We were so excited to be there and have the opportunity to cheer for our fellow Americans. The size of the course amazed us and the race organizers had two large jumbo-trons broadcasting live footage of the race, so we didn’t miss a minute of the action. We ate some excellent bratwurst subs and frites. After the race, we drove back up to Noordwijkerhout by the sea to camp for our last two nights.
Monday was a busy day of preparing the RV for return to the rental company. We had to fill the propane and diesel tanks, clean the entire unit, go for a bike ride, and dismantle the bikes. We managed to make it out for a bike ride at 1:00. I was excited to head toward the singletrack that we had learned about the previous week. We started on the bike paths, then into the singletrack, along the beach north 11k to Zandvoort and then back into singletrack. After a 2.5 hour ride, it was time to go back to camp, tear down, and pack our bikes. The next day we would fly home.
Tuesday, another early start. Final clean up, packing, and returning our motorhome. We had the RV back to the rental company by 10:00 and were in the taxi headed to the airport by 10:45 for our 2:00 flight. At the baggage check, the airline had a surprise for us. We had to repack the bike bag to distribute the weight, no big deal. After that we were on the plane headed for Boston. The last leg was the drive back home to Vermont. We ended up driving the RV 1,032 km, camped for 12 nights and 13 days.
Although this trip came up really fast, it was a dream come true. It would not have been possible if not for the help of many. Jennifer Miller at Seven Cycles hooked us up with Filip Lauwers at Filip Sport who helped us make our trip a success. Paul Hoskens for taking us on a great training ride in the forest and supporting us on race day. Hugo Suy for his insight into track riding and taking us on that awesome ride in Geraardsbergen, and his family for their hospitality. Seven Cycles for the beautiful and reliable bikes. The employees at Seven for their help with parts, support, and clothing. Stan at Notubes for the tires and sealant. Thank you to both of our families for their love and support. Thank you to all of the friendly and helpful people that we bumped into during our travels throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to all of the Belgian breweries for all of your excellent beers!
Adam Whitney, (Seven Cycles) Husband of 2010 Masters World Champion Marilyn Ruseckas