Third Impressions

Posted on 10. Jan, 2011 by in news

Kid Friendly

Kid Friendly

Final thoughts on my trip to the heart of cross racing, Flanders.  I’ve already talked about the size of the crowds but one thing to say is that the events are quite family-friendly. Yes, there is alcohol served, and yes the majority of the crowd is male but there are quite a lot of couples and families enjoying the races. In many ways, it felt like a hockey crowd.

How big is cross in Belgium? well the top riders are rockstars. They all have RVs at the races, official supporters club and lots of fans watching them. And they’re not just watching at the races, riders can be seen in print ads, and in TV ads and their lives are in magazines such as Story: Niels Albert’s private life, interview with Zdenek Stybar and his wife, Bart Wellens, …

Why have only one flyover when you can three? The courses are also much different:  7 races, divided into 2 World Cups and 5 C1′s were covered and each offered up its own difficulties. One thing that is different than UCI races in North America is that these events only have races for Elite Men, Elite Women (in most cases), U23 Men which are sometimes combined with Elite Men and most often 17/18 Junior Men. No races for other categories on the same course which means that it can be harder and it is.

  • Fidea Scheldecross C1 (men, women) – Dec 18
  • Kalmthout World Cup CDM (men, u23, junior, women) – Dec 19
  • Zolder World Cup CDM (men, u23, junior, women) – Dec 26
  • Superprestige Diegem C1 (men, u23, junior) – Dec 27
  • GVA Trofee – Azencross C1 (men, u23, junior, women) – Dec 29
  • GVA Trofee – Grote Prijs Sven Nys C1 (men, u23) – Jan 1
  • Fidea Tervuren C1 (men, junior, women) – Jan 2

Each race brings back a feeling. Sunny and cold Scheldecross with its runups on the beach. Snowy, slippery, slick  Kalmthout with its treacherous mud pit. Dangerous conditions at Zolder with deep ruts, steep runup and even steeper downhill that scared a few riders away. Fabulous night racing at Diegem with a lot of climbing and fast descent all in town and a beautiful spire to use for navigation.  The green whoops at Azencross with its multiple flyovers and more bad luck for Nys. Mud, mud and more mud at Grote Prijs Sven Nys. And finally the last race of Cross Holy Week, Tervuren with a tough confusing course that meandered in the woods.

Snow and ice at Kalmthout World Cup

Snow and ice at Kalmthout World Cup

Back to the future. Covering these races brought me back to a few things from the past. First of all, I was often the only woman in the press room and in the photographer scrum, the result were a lot of stares and in the end questions. Most of the races have been established for quite some time and there is a set way of doing things, from rider staging to post-race interviews and of course nothing is written down because ‘everyone knows it’ – so a lot of watching,  and getting unexpected and really appreciated held from Dan (thanks!). By the way, the same issue was faced when I started covering races over here.

After years of shooting races in North America, one understands the flow of a race, where attacks often happen, where the light is good at certain times, but here I was going in blind and hoping for the best. Even though I did my homework and watched whatever I could find on youtube, read reports and looked at the photos, it was all different and tougher in person, tougher, steeper, muddier, more slippery…. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. And then of course, the language issue. Everything, as it should be, is done in Flemish – which of course means the race announcing. You don’t know what’s coming at you while waiting on course to take a photo, is it a group? is it a solo rider? The great things is that many fans on the other side of the barriers were helping me out and telling me what was happening. Many were surprised to see a woman kneeling in the mud and asked questions, a great way to start a conversation.

Snow cold, mud, rain, Belgium threw it all at me in combination with having no luggage for a couple of days, being sick, having to re-locate twice but not only did I survive, I was having fun at the end and found the ‘it’ while shooting the races. Heck, the final week was as tough if not tougher than doing Amgen Tour of California but to paraphrase, ‘Belgium I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship’. I’ll be back!

All the stories, photos from the Belgium trip:

Beautiful Belgium

Beautiful Belgium

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