But as my mountain bike season comes to an end. I have decided to embark on a journey into unknown territory. The world of European cyclocross is about to open its doors and let me in, the fear of the unknown is so exciting I cannot wait to jump on the plane and arrive at my destination, Belgium. The homeland of cyclocross, the place where numerous world champions and the pioneers of the sport are bred.
I’ve been on my mountain bike for as long as I can remember from riding around my house in the Northern Cape to racing at a few World Cups in Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to claim the SA Junior XCO champs title in 2016 and African u/23 champs this year. So my experience as a cyclist has evolved around a 29er full suspension bike, not a ridged road bike made to race in the mud.
Cyclocross (CX) racing is not a household name in South Africa. The ever-growing market for gravel bikes in South Africa has finally led to one of the first proper cyclocross races, the Steeple Cup hosted by Klein Constantia in September. The test event was to see if this type of racing would grow and create a new kind of series for South Africans to enjoy racing their bike all year round. I was fortunate enough to take part in the test event to get used to the format and gain as much experience as I can. Even though it was a CX event of sorts, the depth and intensity were nowhere near the same spectrum as Belgium CX racing. But at this point, any experience is good enough.
My preparation for my up and coming CX season consisted of me training for and racing the Cape Pioneer Trek. This built a good base for me to go and race in Belgium. This is a common strategy for CX racers, they would usually compete in road tours around Europe to maintain their stamina and form leading up to the season. Weeks before the start of the season they will then resort to sharpening their performance stick with short and intense intervals. The main goal would be to give themselves the explosive power that is crucial for a CX racing. Sprinting out of every single corner seems to be the norm in cyclocross with almost no resting involved in the short one hour race.
Racing format for cyclocross is pretty simple. Think of it as a mix of XCO and road cycling. The race is a lap format taking place on a circuit consisting of portage sections, steep inclines and a whole lot of hairpin turns. The combination of harsh Belgium winter and courses is extremely demanding on equipment. Riders typically have up to three bikes per race and changing bikes up to two times per lap is not uncommon. This gives the rider the advantage to have a clean and working bike for the duration of the race. A big support team is required to be able to wash, fix, and change bikes per lap if need be. Unfortunately, I will not have any of that.
My equipment will be minimal, only one bike and three wheelsets are all I have. This means if conditions get bad I will be disadvantaged compared to the other riders. But the whole idea of this trip is to gain experience, see what is required to race CX in Belgium.
My initial plan for Belgium is, I will head over to Holland in early November and immediately go to European Champions held in Rosmalen. This is a good opportunity to meet a lot of people and see what happens behind the scenes when it comes to cyclocross. This is quite important as I will be on my own for the whole duration of the month.