Starting date – September 7
Time period – 26days
Goal – To score 150 UCI points over the course of six (of which five count) C2 races and one C1 event
At the end of last season I knew to move forward as a cyclo-cross rider I had to change things.
Last season if I made a good start then I pretty much always got a good result, if I got boxed in at the start and had to try and work my way through it was game over. It’s not because I was riding poorly, it’s just the strength in depth at races means when you’re lying in 40th at a World Cup you might think the riders are of a poor quality. They’re not. It’s hard to overtake and even harder to drop them.
How could I guarantee a good start at every race? Better gridding, and this meant a points chase. It’s not a strange thing to me coming from a MTB background where the same problem exists for up-and-coming riders at World Cups. So I needed to find races where I would be scoring points on a regular basis, either coming home [to the UK as Ian is based in Belgium – ed.] once a month for National Trophy races or go to America for the start of the season and hopefully bank a load of points before the actual season really kicks off in Europe.
No offence to the National Trophy races but America sounded a bit more glamorous and the points scored would kick in straight away after the first update to the UCI world ranking after the opening round of the World Cup series in Plzen, Czech Republic.
With the extra backing from Hargroves Cycles this season, thanks to the addition of Specialized to the team sponsors, I got the nod to go ahead with the plan. Without Stefan Wyman and the help of some many people in the US, the trip would have never got off the ground let alone have gone as smoothly as it did. Thank you.
So here goes then, 26days in a few paragraphs.
Bed, café, car, airport, plane, airport, air-train, taxi, hotel, taxi, bus, car, hotel, arrive, first race in the US – Nittany Lions in Allenstown, Pennsylvania. Day one was a C2 event so a possible 40 points up for grabs for the win.
Having travelled so far I didn’t know what the competition was going to be like until I turned up on the line to find the infamous Jeremy Powers of Rapha-Focus, Tom Van Den Bosch of AA drinks and Fabio Ursi of Italy. All three guys I know pretty well from Europe where they compete a lot of the time. The first race of the season is always a bit of an unknown but I knew I had put in the hours of training needed and set about my job.
Second place behind Powers was a good start to the trip – 30 points in the bag. The following day was a national event but it was a good chance to get another hour in on my new Specialized Crux Elite at high speed. With Powers having gone home I was in the lead with half-a-lap to go when some loose course marking tape jumped into my cassette making it impossible for me to pedal with any kind of wattage without the chain skipping. Another second place, this time behind Tom VDB.
The following weekend was my favourite of the trip, at Charm City ‘cross, Baltimore. With a C2 both days a possible 80 points could be had. First day one and second day two, 70 points secured and my first real experience of American racing. The fans added a real something to the event with their heckling of riders during the race.
Both days I had felt really good on the bike and my convincing win on the Saturday probably was my downfall Sunday. Having ridden away easily on day one I was happy to ride day two with Tom VDB on my wheel however, after 5 laps of him sitting on, he attacked and I was left trying to close a 10 second gap until the end. You live and learn.
The third weekend was going to be tough. Day one was in Burlington, Vermont, and day two was Rochester, New York, about seven hours away by car. Add to this the fact that Nicolas Bazin of France was on the start sheet for both days I knew I had my work cut out. Bazin is a regular top 15 World Cup finisher and has come most years to a National Trophy event and wiped the floor with everyone.
The setting for the first day was out of this world on a sandy beach overlooking a lake the size of Wales. It was a great setting for an epic race. Heavy overnight rain had turned the course from a fast sandy affair to a deep mud slog where in parts running along the flat wasn’t uncommon. In past seasons I have struggled with these conditions through lack of deep-down strength so wasn’t particularly looking forward to the prospect of getting my head kicked in.
In the end I had nothing to worry about and dominated the race from start to finish, more or less always leading the front trio of riders until the final lap where I managed to get rid of Bazin first, then Tom VDB. Winner.
After the heavy race and super-long car journey my legs didn’t enjoy the first lap the following day. However, I nearly did the double and, if it hadn’t of been for Bazin’s superior road strength and a small slip from me, I would have. In a long drawn out sprint for the last half-a-lap he got the better of me. These two days of points scoring had taken me to 170 points with a whole weekend of racing to go.
After a midweek win in Lancaster, Massachusetts, at a national event it was onto Gloucester. The first race was the C1 of the trip, meaning big points on offer and a real chance to make a difference as I doubt I will have many podium opportunities for the rest of the season in Belgium at this standard of race.
Being a C1, all the top Americans apart from Ryan Trebon were there, plus Christian Heule of Switzerland, Ben Berden of Belgium and, again, Bazin. Continuing the theme of the trip I got a good start and set about making a race of it. No names being mentioned but some guys obviously didn’t want to race for the full hour and so wouldn’t work with me when we had a gap early on. This only frustrated me and wanted to beat them even more. I ended up third, ten seconds behind Powers and Heule in a sprint finish with Berden. Forty points scored – happy days.
The following day was another C2 so I had to score the win to improve on my points tally, as I had already scored in five C2 events on the trip. I put everything in early on to close a gap that had opened up and paid for it big time by three laps to go. I was in a safe sixth and still pedalling circles when a kid ran out into the track just as I was sprinting out of a downhill corner. I knew from a long way out what was going to happen but it was still a shock to actually hit him and end up on the floor. It took me a while to get up but when I did I told the young lad exactly what I thought had just happened and why it had happened. I got back on my bike and continued round to the pits but my knee was swelling and as only the win would improve my points tally I decided not to risk anything and stop. It was a disappointing way to end the trip but I guess just one of those freak accidents that I hope I never experience again.
Car, airport, plane, airport, train, car, home. 210 UCI points collected. Mission completed.
Next up – my return to Belgium and the start of my European campaign.