Once again, I forfeited sun, sea and sand this Christmas week for mud, sand, and….mud. My friends think I’m weird. Maybe I am. Anyway, I spent a week at The Chainstay in Oudenaarde for the second winter running and attended four cross races (GVA Loenhout, Sylvestercross Bredene, Fidea Classics Leuven and GVA Baal) with the gang. The Chainstay houses foreign racers over in the Holy Land to try and make their way on the toughest stage of all, and also caters for hangers on like yours truly. I made friends with them all last year and had such a great time that I couldn’t stay away! My housemates were Gabby Day (GB…you know her of course), Jeremy Durrin (USA), Craig Richey (Canada) and British U23s Andy Hargroves and Luke Grey, and I travelled to the races with them, waving a soigneur’s pass of power. I won’t bore you too much with words, as pictures speak louder, right? In this instalment I will cover Loenhout and Bredene. I have way to many photos to fit in one post, so please indulge me!
GVA Loenhout (Azencross)
Not long after arriving, I had a wander around the campervans of The Bigs. I always grin when I see, in real life, the cross guys I normally only view on a little box on my computer screen. Hello Niels!!
Parking at Loenhout was a nightmare. We ended up miles away in our unmarked van. Kevin Pauwels on the other hand had had the forethought to hire someone's drive.
The first slice of action I saw in Belgium was the U23 race, which was won by home favourite Wietse Bosmans. Here, though, is my housemate Andy Hargroves, making his way through the slop. He had a good race.
I loved Sanne van Paassen's Big Black Bobble Hat.
Daphny and her legendary braids
The ever smiling Bartje Aernouts obliges the TV dude
The women are gridded
Vos and van den Brand look way more relaxed than I do before racing. That's Vos' brother Anton with the camera
Styby Styby Styby! Happyface.
The calm before the storm
Egoitz Murgoitio. I shouted AUPA, much to the confusion of those around me.
Zlamalik and Stybar have a Czech Czinwag
His Svenness shows how it's done. But Nielske did it better!
Sylvestercross Bredene (the one where Styby lost and I was annoyed)
Bredene is a rather quieter race. Look who I met looking all relaxed like! I asked a mechanic if I could have a picture and he yelled 'Niels! An English girl wants your photo!' I blushed. He came trotting out all smiles and one of his entourage took charge of the camera. He couldn't work out how to use it, so Niels sighed, grabbed it off him, and gave him a tutorial. He was really quite delightful and super relaxed!
Guillaume van Keirsbulck (above) showed up for some fun by the sea and provided priceless entertainment. He followed Stybar round in the pre-ride, trying to copy him and follow all his lines. Stybar powered into the sand but poor GvK fell off. Ach, whatever, thought he, and got off an walked. He had a nasty moment on this hillock too, just after Stybar had roared up it.
But he was clearly having a fabulous time, laughing raucously with Wilfried Peeters on the rollers. He wasn't THAT bad in the end either, beating some 'proper' crossers!
I was a proper soigneur in Bredene, and went onto the startline to collect Craig's jacket and tights. I was so close to everything! Very exciting! Here's Craig getting ready. To my right was Mrs Stybarova, doing the same for her son.
In Part 2, Albertina and Her Camera will be in Leuven (minus the ailing tgsgirl. Sadface) and Baal!