Made it to the center of cross racing: Belgium. A few of you have asked for my first impressions of the races here, so here goes. Please remember that these are colored by my North American viewpoint.
One of my first thoughts at the first race was ‘man this is quiet’. It’s one thing to know that most spectators only cheer on the front group, it’s another to experience the sheer silence especially when the ground is covered in snow. And quickly after that, the next thought was ‘wow look at the size of this crowd’.
Two Belgian cross races under my belt. One, Scheldecross as a spectator, and the other, the Kalmthout World Cup with photographer credentials. But the silence was the same in both. The majority of spectators are present to cheer on the Elite Men especially their favorites such as Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Bart Wellens, Kevin Pauwels, and so forth and many will proudly wear their supporter jacket. You know when the front of the race is coming by the wall of noise with fans hitting the boards on the barriers all around the course. But behind, silence as the crowd goes back to eating and drinking and if possible watching the jumbotron. I’ve been told that some heckling does happen but have not been seen it or heard it myself.
The crowd, especially for the World Cup, was huge from 5 to 10 deep in some spots- which as a side note makes it very difficult to move around. Also the crowd is drinking from beer to juniper and a lot of flasks were seen. And of course, frites can be bought in many spots around the course. Traffic jams after the World Cup were horrendous with everyone trying to leave at the same time on small roads, even worse with the current weather conditions leaving the roads unplowed.
The other thing that got my attention was actually the barriers, as I mentioned, the World Cup course was surrounded by them. The only way to cross was through the official crossing gates which are manned, no jumping the barriers here (well unless you can’t be seen but that’s another story).
There were spectators for the Elite Women’s race but just not as many. Also, so far the only rider with a supporter group that I saw was Marianne Vos.
It’s fascinating to compare the crowds here to the ones at North American races. In North America, though much smaller, they cheer on almost every rider. It probably has to do with the fact that the majority are either cyclists or family/friends of cyclists while here they are simply fans, rabid fans – sort of like hockey fans. Now if we could only figure how to bring non-racers to the events without losing the North American flair and flavor. Not easy I know.
As for the racing itself, it was fast, tough and fabulous to watch.
Well more later with races coming up including the Heusden-Zolder World Cup, the Superprestige Diegem and the GVA Trofee – Azencross in Loenhout. As many know I was without luggage for a few days but that’s all straightened out so it should, hopefully, be clear sailing from now on.
And finally to close, crunchy Speculoos is da bomb!