I drove an hour and a half north early Sunday morning to the town of Kalmthout, just south of the border with the Netherlands. Thank goodness for the GPS navigation system. I don't know how visitors navigate these roads around here without those. I had been in touch with the press officer for the race beforehand and pulled right into the parking lot, walked into the press room and got one of those PHOTO vest. Just like the photographers at all the big races. With this vest, I could go anywhere....and I did...just because I could. You know those guys that are always just past the finish line at the big Euro races, who seem like they are in the way. Well, I was one of those folks. That's the best spot in the house!
There were four races on Sunday and I was out there for all four. The Juniors started it off, and I couldn't believe how fast they were going. I talked to one of the USA Juniors afterwards, and he said that he's usually one of the fastest in the States, and it blew him away. That, and all of the flying elbows, made it tough. One of the campers is a German national, Yannick Eckmann, though he lives in Colorado. He was leading for much of the Junior race, and ended up 6th. It seems as though a lot of these races, there is a lead group of 5 or 6 that develops after a lap or two, and they just keep pulling away. The track was narrow for the most part, really single-tracky, and it made passing challenging. There was one pavement section where you had to make a go of it. So basically it seemed that if you weren't up front after the first half lap, you were resigned to finishing about where you were.
As fast as the Junior race was, the lead group of the U23 race was blazing. Danny Summerhill and Zach McDonald seem to finish 1 and 2 in most of the US races, and even crack the top 10 in the Elite at National races. They were going good, and finished in the low 20's. They both started on the third row, and it seemed as though they held their spots well, if not moving up a bit. I was at the finish line for the sprint, and it was an all-out sprint, with the leader actually getting a little gap, turning around and blowing a kiss to the two folks he just beat. The sprint at the finish is pretty heart stopping, especially in Belgium when their national racers are involved. The whole crowd starts banging on the barriers and it feels like it's actually shaking the ground. The top two were Belgiums and the third guy was Dutch. Those Belgiums do have a pretty good grasp on things. It's really cool to see the Juniors and U23's racing in their National kits. As a photographer, it's easy to pick them out.
I watched a lot of the women's race, but just shot a few images. There are no women campers, so there wasn't a need to shoot. But one thought from the women's race..... Katie Compton. She was the first one called up, but halfway through the first lap three other gals had a 10 second gap on her. She made that up by the end of the lap, and then for 3 laps, she just sat on. I could see that she wasn't really working that hard, but when she attacked on lap 4 she immediately got 30 seconds. It looked like she was just going so so so much faster than everybody else.
Between the women's and elite race I hung out in the press room. Wow...that's sweet. I mean, the accommodations are not that special, but to get inside with seats, wifi and free drinks is hard to beat. The drinks were all lined up on a table in the front of the room... Pepsi, coffee, OJ and whiskey (with little plastic shot glasses beside it).
The crowd for the elite race was out, as were the banners, supporter jackets, and a santa claus band. Like the other races, the fast guys moved to the front and just kept pulling away. You know at Rolling Thunder on the hill on the backside, where folks scream and yell? That's kind of how it was over the whole course there. You could always hear where the leaders where because the roar of the crowd just seemed to follow them wherever they went. During the elite race the snow started to lightly fall, and just got heavier as the race went on. It was somewhat surreal, being in a forest, with screaming fans and bike racers flying between them. While it was hard to tell how much faster the Elites were going than the other groups, I could really notice it on the technical sections....they just didn't slow down through there.
While the racing was the main attraction, there were all sorts of other pieces that I was enamored with. The food carts (I did get frites, though I opted for ketchup instead of mayo); the crowd (and so many people wanted to talk to me); the signs; the support jackets; those cameras on those moving cranes that can are up in the air; and did I mention the crowd. Everyone seemed just so happy and festive. I noted a few times how encouraging they were, even to the folks towards the back riding solo.
I was exhausted afterwards, and not looking forward to my hour and a half drive back. I learned though, that the Belgium people are used to driving in the dumping snow. The main highways were quickly accumulating snow and it was slow going for over three hours home. I think I did pass the one snowplow in the country....and it was just sitting on the side of the road.
For more photos from the World Cup in Kalmthout, go here. And for more photos from the small Saturday race in Lichtervelde, you can go here. Thanks for reading. More to follow.
photos by: tomrobertsonphoto.com
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