World Cup Cross Country races are something really special. Ask any rider who has experienced what it is like on the day of the race leading up to when the gun goes off and words like antagonising, nerve-wrecking, stressful and long are bound to be some words used to describe it.
For me, my morning leading up to the start of the 3rd round of the World Cup Series in Val di Sole, Italy went something like this. Wake up around 8am, toilet, force down breakfast, try relax on bed but it doesn’t really work, toilet, prepare race bag, prepare bottles, eat again, toilet, try relax some more, then FINALLY suit up at 12 30pm, and head down to the course by bike before our 2pm start.
The warm up is even worse due to a mixture of adrenaline and caffeine pumping through your veins. After a good 45mins with a few sprints included all the riders enter their start pens according to your ranking before call up. This time around I had the no 72 plate, with a 66th place call up to the start line. Not bad compared to some of my previous call ups. Soon enough you are all line up and ready to go. We get a warning for 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds(everyone falls dead quiet), 15 seconds, then bang!
What ensues is almost everytime is wildly dangerous. People sprint as is their lives depend on it, not caring who is to the left or right of them, shouting screaming, and then almost always when starting near the back, there is the sound of screeching brakes, carbon and aluminium colliding and then a bunch of cyclists sprawled on the ground in front of you groaning and crying.
Luckily I managed to avoid going down, but getting stuck behind the crash meant that I lost my great starting position and had to give the chase. Amongst the starting chaos one is always able to spot one or two front row starters that had an unlucky start. One of these was European Champion Moritz Milatz, who remounted his bike after removing part of someone’s shoe from his disk brake. Another rider that was not so lucky was Giant Off Road Racing’s Fabian Giger, who’s shock completely pulled out of his frame after snapping his steerer tube. Just a normal World Cup start.
Unfortunately for me, my recovery from last week’s 4 Peaks stage race wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The combination of the hot humid weather as well as the incredibly steep climbs that this course has to offer meant that I was on my back foot, and really suffered throughout the race. I pushed against the temptation to pack it in and squeezed out every last bit of effort that I could under the circumstances, but the result was inevitable, and after making 4 laps I was pulled by the UCI commissaire to make way for the leaders. Only 45 out of 120 starters completed all 7 laps.
Our tope Elite rider, Philip Buys was unfortunately not among those top 45 after also having a really flat day and finishing up 71st just 9 spots ahead of me, perhaps still a little tired after his 5th place finish at the XC Eliminator on Thursday.
Up in the front it was a 2 horse race between current World Champion Nino Schurter vs two times Olympic gold medallist Julien Absalon, with Shurter just getting the better of Absalon in a sprint finish. Specialized’s Jaroslav Kulhavy, the current Olympic Champion was a distant 3rd.
This weekend sees me taking a little break to assess what my next races are and how to go about training for them.
Until then, keep doing the ride thing…