Another racing block: Ian Field's cyclo-cross blog

What have I been up to since my last blog? Six races in three-and-a-half weeks, along with 2,300 miles in a car, while trying to fit in enough training to compete at the highest level of cyclo-cross in the world – and to top it all I went into this block with jetlag.

A fine balance is needed, which is why I find myself turning down two contracts to race this weekend in Belgium. I hate turning down contracts not just because of the financial reasons but because if an organiser of an event is willing to pay me to ride I like to reward them by turning up. However, a weekend off is very much an integral part of the bigger picture. The season ends at the end of February and two of my goals for the year are in January. If I am going to make it to then with my sanity and fitness where it should be I have to be sensible now.

The six races were in three different countries and pretty much went according to plan apart from the obvious mishaps along the way. First race back [from the USA] was the Superprestige in Ruddervoorde, Belgium, and a shockingly bad start left me a lot to do with jetlagged legs. I ended up 23rd; a respectable position all things considered.

Next up was the opening World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic. The nine-hour drive wasn’t as bad as usual as I had the company of ex-US Postal pro and all-round good guy Jamie Burrow with me riding shotgun and occasionally helping out with the driving duties. However, for the sake of my van it was best I did the majority of driving! Jamie had never driven a right-hand drive vehicle until it was pitch black somewhere in the middle of Germany, and the gears were an issue. The travelling left me lacking something come race day and I ended the race pretty disappointed in 35th place.

On reflection this is probably where I should have finished after a hard week’s training and long drive, so I shouldn’t have expected too much. Each year the standard at World Cups definitely increases and this year is no exception, with more and more riders focusing on ‘cross; maybe not at the very top level but that next echelon of riders is getting faster and faster.

The next week was spent in the Czech Republic in a rented apartment in literally the middle of nowhere. The training was awesome and the weather really helped our cause, apart from one day where [multiple women’s national champion] Helen Wyman and I were caught out in a hail storm trying to do our sprints session and needed to stop in a café for coffee to warm up. All week I had felt pretty good in training and had been going deep during my efforts, which is usually a good sign I’m fresher and going well.

Tabor, in the Czech Republic, was the second World Cup and a course I really like; it’s hard. Unlike the previous week, the race is over at the end of the first lap, so I relaxed and just concentrated on holding my position. It worked perfectly and it left me feeling good come the second and third laps where I was able to pick people off who had gone too hard. I worked myself nicely into 23rd place, where I made the first mistake of the day. I didn’t carry on driving hard at the front of the group I was in and instead ended up getting in a battle as opposed to racing as fast as I possibly could. This is just a confidence thing of not caring some big Czech is sat on your wheel and getting on with the job, knowing you are better and will eventually drop them. Come the last lap and I made my second mistake, I didn’t lead into the climb where I had been strongest all day and instead found myself getting swamped by the rest of the group and finishing 27th knowing I should have been better. However, in terms of how I rode, this was a vast improvement on the previous week. This is my third season of World Cups and I am still learning so much about how to race them – it’s crazy. I can’t imagine I will ever stop learning something while racing against the best guys in the world and I love it.

About five hours driving straight after the race to a hotel somewhere in Germany wasn’t ideal but it had to be done as I was racing again Tuesday night in northern Holland! Monday was spent in the car finishing off the rest of the 12-hour journey.

Nacht Van Woerden is now a regular on my race calendar, so it’s not now such a big deal starting at 9.45pm – but my body still doesn’t like it much. This year it had rained all day and the course was unbelievably slick. I tried so many different tyre pressures and kept up sliding out and feeling like an amateur. In the end I opted for the lowest pressure I think I have ever run during a cross race. Something around 15psi. The first corner was on tarmac and at 40kph it was interesting to say the least, but on the off road corners I felt so much better and comfy in the line of riders on the first lap. I was in 13th and moving forward. However the travel and World Cup just two days earlier took its toll on the majority of riders who had been there and I was no exception. I slipped backwards and eventually ended in 17th. Another top 20 for the palmares but, once again, it could have been better. This is beginning to sound like my school reports – could do better!

I had the luxury of four days to recover before the  next race and that’s exactly what I did, and a few easy days was just what I needed if I was going to achieve my goals of another top 20 at Zonhoven and a top 15 at the legendary Koppenberg. Both courses are so hard, physically and technically, which is why I like racing them so much.

This year they had made Zonhoven even harder with more sand sections and more height gain per lap. It kind of ruined it a little bit from a spectator’s point of view because after only a few laps everyone apart from the front three were on their knees and riding the majority of sections pretty slowly. No-one wants to watch riders come through minutes apart and going slow; that sounds like an old school mountain bike race! I paced myself well and with a big effort on the last lap managed to get myself a top 20 finish, coming in 18th.

Day off.

Koppenberg cross, anyone who has been to this before or who has even seen the pictures of the crowds at this event each year knows it a biggy! It’s approximately 3km from my front door in Belgium and I often train past the infamous climb, giving it a quick glance thinking all the time about racing the Cross there come next season. Good start, great second lap and I was on for a top 15 in 12th position. I got caught by a slow starting Bart Wellens on the fourth lap and went with him on the off-road climb, comfortably pulling away from his team-mate and regular top 15 finisher. I was living a boyhood dream flying down the Koppenberg on Wellens’ wheel, even thinking to myself I can beat him as he looked on the limit.

Big slide, I held it. In hindsight I wish I had fallen off because by managing to keep it upright the rear wheel gripped again and popped the rear tub off the rim. It’s the first time I have ever rolled a tub and hopefully the last. My mechanic was more distraught than me. For me that’s ‘cross racing; if things were plain and simple (easy) the sport really wouldn’t appeal to me. I’ll eventually move on and put it behind me but for the moment it still hurts. Wellens went on to finish 11th, and I truly believe that would have been my finishing position. But hey, we will never know.

For now I’m throwing myself hard into the next phase of training in Belgium and hopefully I’ll deliver when I am next supposed to.

My next actual race is the Superprestige in Hamme Zogge. It’s not a goal of mine but whenever I put a number on my back I always want to do well!

Until next time…

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