So there I was in Gent for a meeting a back in early November, I cleverly had built in two days at the end of the trip for bicycle based shenanigans, fortunately my long lost pal Jeff was living in nearby Antwerp and up for said shenanigans. On Saturday I planned on hitting the Soudal Classic Jaarmarktcross Cyclocross race in Niel Belgium. I hopped on on my fixie bike friday early saturday morning and rode 5 rainy kilometers to Gent Sint Peeters station and hopped on a train to Antwerp.
Once in Antwerp I hopped on the bike and rode a couple of km to Jeff's abode. Where I discovered he secretly is the man behind the evil society of the Ned Van Vlanders Flag. We talked bikes and stuff and set up a road bike for me for the next day's cobbly adventure on the RVV course. Finally, due to a cancelled ride, Jeff graciously offered to accompany me down to Niel to watch the race.
We rode down on a very confusing yet well marked bike routes down toward the race. I am glad Jeff had some local knowledge and was able to steer us more or less directly down to the race. The routes varied from separated bike lanes, to sidewalk routes, to suburbs then on to skinny farm roads that eventually dumped us in Niel. The ride down featured varying levels of driving mist and rain. It was clear that it was getting increasingly crossy out there. Once in Niel, we followed the trail of welly wearing superfans, paid our fee and got into the race site just before the start of the women's race. We immediately got tiny beers in plastic cups and frites.
The atmosphere was a bit sparse at the Start-finish line, so fortified with more beers, we went in search of mud. It was found. The course was pretty flat with one impressive off camber muddy chicane. Some of the flat sections were more or less unridable. There were sections where the mens field were running for what appeared to be 1/4 mile or more on pancake flat ground. Impressively mucky.
Jeff and I set up camp at an area with a great view of the muddy chicane and with a turn of the head, we could watch the big screen following the race. We watched the end of the women's race, went on a dangerous mud mission to get more beer and returned to our original watching spot to watch the rider's introductions on the big screen. Sven Nys got the biggest cheer. Niels Albert got boos. Jeff and I were probably the only people at the race who cheered for Jonathan Page. The vinyl jacket wearing superclub supporters (Vantourenhout, Nys and Pauls) in front of us, smirked at our homerism.
I really enjoyed watching the top Euro's fight it out. There was a pretty big pack at the front initially with a couple guys turning themselves inside out to stay with Nys, Albert, Aeronauts and the reanimated corpse of Bart Wellens. As the race progressed and the field split up we had ample opportunity to cheer on Jonathan Page and watch the big four duke it out. Some mild gamesmanship occured throughout the race, often playing out on the slick climb right in front of us.
Nys cleans it
Chicaney Goodness, I think Albert with Nys behind him
We spent the race cheering Page on as he slowly moved his way from a position in the 20's up to his final position of 18th. The battle between the top four guys spread out over the mud in front of us and the big screen behind us was pretty cool. At the end, much to the disappointment of nearly everyone there, Albert just plain old ran away from Nys and Aeronauts on the long muddy flat run. He opened a 20 second gap there and finished easily ahead of the rest at the line. Aeronauts jumped Nys on the finishing stretch and Wellens tailed in for fourth.
After the race ended, Jeff and I wandered around the pits and checked out the mechanics cleaning the bikes, the cool giant buses and the riders warming down. Nys had a giant personal camper, a big tour bus for VIP's to drink and meet people and a small camper selling Nys branded crap. I bought an ugly ass Nys hat. Other highlights were checking out the Toyo bike and the amazing multi team battle jitney.
Finally, if you are still reading and are trying to figure out where the title comes from, Jeff and I left the circus of Neil and started riding home on the bike path out of town. Right at the edge of town a camper van passed us and as we looked over at it, Jonathan Page stuck his head out of the passenger window and gave us a hearty heckle or cheer. It was pretty cool that he not only heard us, but recognized us, especially given his intense focus during the race. I am pretty sure there was no one else on the course cheering for Page that day, but it was still pretty cool. Later, Jeff forwarded me this twitter exchange:
I was smiling about this for at least a week. After getting the cheers, we then rolled back through the fields and dales back into antwerp and shared some road beers on the way among the cows and misty fields. Rolled in to Antwerp, grabbed some dinner and then I folded up the mud and cowshit smeared bike and headed back to Gent. A perfect bike adventure, even including the extra few miles I rode in Gent in the dark and rain as I got pretty lost on the way back to my hotel from the train station.
So I recommend going to watch some cross somewhere big, whether it is Nationals or a Supercup like event or pretty much any race in belgium or upcoming worlds or something else. It is awesome. More photos from the race here. The entire set from belgium is here