2014 Rolling Thunder Cyclocross Race

November 1st and 2nd

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunshine


Today was a "B" race in Beernem, Belgium. I don't know if the town has anything to do with beer, but they sure do like their cyclocross. A big crowd, and big field showed up on a sunny Christmas day to race and spectate. Yep...you heard me...it was sunny!!

Here's a link to some images. Also be sure to check Cyclocross Magazine later in the day for a unique gallery.

That's it for now. Tomorrow is World Cup action from Zolder. Wake up early, brew some coffee, and watch it on the internet.

Merry Christmas from the heartland



After morning training rides yesterday Geoff took myself and a handful of the campers to run up the Koppenberg, followed by a trip to the Tour of Flanders Museum. Pretty cool Christmas Eve for the cross racing enthusiast...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Classroom


One of the undocumented parts of the Euro Cross Camp from my perspective, is what goes on behind the scenes in getting the campers ready to race in Europe. While racing, training and preparation are part of most daily activities, there are daily seminars and discussions that take place in the House. I've been fortunate to be able to attend a couple, one by a sports psychologist who discussed the mental aspects of getting ready to race. The other was last night given by a Pro Tour soigneur, Chris De Vos, aka "Fox". Fox is a full-time sogineur with a pro team. A Belgium, he has served as a part-time sogineur with various teams over the past 15 years, including the US National Team and US Postal/Discovery.

Being full-time is a big deal. Fox just "retired" from his other job as a truck driver, just this week. You might think that's cool, now he only has one job. But during the course of what it takes to be a full-time sogineur, I have to wonder how the hell he had time to do anything else. He gave a brief outline of the duties of the job, including being on the road for 225+ days a year, and the working hours during a Grand Tour that start at 4:00 AM and go until midnight, for four weeks. It's jaw-dropping the time commitment that it takes to work with the biggest teams in professional cycling.

Fox shared obscure details of the operations of a pro tour team, one of which is how many bottles they prepare for a single day during a Grand Tour stage (300 to 350 for an 8-person team). Side note...not all of them are consumed during the stage. While some are used to cool riders off during the stage, others are used just for the "sling." Because riders can't hang on to cars, when the get a "bottle sling", the generally discard the bottle soon after. Another interesting fact about the bottles, none of them are ever re-used. The risk is too high for contamination.

One of the most unique aspects I found of the sogineur is that they are part-time tour guide, part-time masseuse, part-time driver and part-time therapist. While they might not be able to always give advice or insight like a therapist, they listen to it all...most of the time during while giving a post race massage.

And finally, the one eye opener for me of his talk was about the yellow bus in Belgium. I believe I will get this right. There is a little yellow bus that drives around Belgium that randomly stops riders to check their papers, and the occasional drug testing. It doesn't matter if you are a pro racer or amateur. If you are kitted out and spinning around on your bike, you better have ID and your biological passport. If not, they take you downtown.

Today we are taking a field trip to the Tour of Flanders Museum. On the way, I'm going to keep an eye out for the little yellow bus. I'll let you know if I find it.


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Note: Here's a link to a group of images on Cyclocross Magazine

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Training Racing







The training races in Clinton, MT were always some of my favorite racing of the year. Low key, pretty flat, and everybody was raring to go early in the year. Yesterday at the Euro Cross Camp they had a team training race. Ryan Trebon, a staple of American cross racing the last few years (and multiple Euro Cross Camp participant) came over to join in the fun. And the racing seemed just as fun as those Clinton races...but a lot more muddy.

The racers pulled out from the house just before noon and headed to the course that Geoff had set up earlier in the day. In true Euro Director Sportif style, Geoff gunned the engine and passed the racers on the way to the course at Mach II. Great Fun. Also along for the ride was Lyne Lamoureax, a sportswriter from North America who covers cycling all over Europe. She also runs the website Podium Insight.

Geoff had ridden over and set up the course in the morning. It was going to be run down along the canal just on the edge of Izegem, and it was a classic Beligum day from my limited experience here. Wet...just a damp, wet, snowy and somewhat muddy track, with an ultra thick fog hanging in the air. I loved it. From a photographers point of view, it couldn't be much better. During the couple of warm-up laps, a couple of riders fell, and were instantly soaked. The whole ground was a puddle it seemed like.

The riders lined up for the start. It was the first cross race I had ever seen where all of the riders were starting on the front row. The race was to be 30 minutes. The winner of each division (elite, U23 and junior) would get excused from house chores for a day, with the overall winner getting a signed Sven Nys poster.

GO!

Ryan Trebon got the whole shot, with Zach McDonald on his wheel and Ryan Iddings close behind. The riders flew around in the mud, through the trees, up and down muddy hills and 30 minutes later, with a bike throw, Zach McDonald took the victory over Ryan Trebone. Though truth be told, in true training race spirit, it seemed though most riders were taking different routes throughout the whole course. I'm not sure any rider rode the same line for each route. The highlight of the race for me was when Bjorn Fox flew over his bars in a particularly muddy section and slid for what seemed like 20 feet. He bounced right back up (as juniors are apt to do) and said, "Wow...took a wrong line there."

The riders didn't hang around too long afterward, not wanting to cool down, and headed back to the house. About half the crew got their bikes power-washed by the mechanics and then headed out for a training ride. Todd Anderson (former Missoulian, and mechanic at Open Road in the early 90's) jumped in the Team USA wagon and drove while I hung out the passenger window shooting for the first 2k. Danny Summerhill spent half that time riding wheelies for me through the slush of the small Belgium backroads.

Back at the house I hung out for a while as riders washed clothes, watch videos on the internet, and ate food. When the first half of the training ride group got back, we headed into town for pizza, pastries and coffee...led by Ryan Trebon. Ryan is the best leader through crowded streets you could ever hope for. He's so damn tall, that he's easy to follow.

While gaining valuable racing experience in Belgium is the main goal for most of these riders, learning how to train and recover like a professional are also part of the program. The Euro Cross Camp has to be an amazing experience for these folks. I'm just a peripheral element to the camp, and it's an amazing experience for me.

For more photos from today, hit this word to jump to the site.

photos by: tomrobertsonphoto.com

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Downtown Joel Brown

UM Triathlon Legend and Rolling Thunder/Griz Tri Announcer Downtown Joel Brown is moving. He's asked that I don't make a big deal of it.......so obviously I'm going to make a big deal of it.

In honor of my good friend leaving. I'd like to share my favorite Joel Brown memory:

It was holiday time, and the Missoula student exodus had began. Ben Horan was back for the weekend and Matt and JB decided to throw a holiday showcase party. The party would include a gift exchange, and holiday showcase (talent show). I'd heard stories of JB being able to rip it up on the keyboard but I had yet to experience it. Matt welcomed us in an offered us a seat in the living room. I walked around the corner to see Downtown JB in dimly lit room working the keyboard. I noticed right away that he was focused and super into the jams.

JB: Want to hear something?
SR: Sure. (thinking it would be Mozart or something)
JB: Ok, it's Nelly - Hot in Here
SR: Yeah Right

JB proceeded to pump out the early 2000 Club Hit, Nelly - Hot in Here. I'll never forget it.


Photo by John Sieber.

Sorry for the interruption on Tom's Belgium Reports. Great work Tom!

World Cup






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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Frozen Ground




The first race of the Euro Cross Camp was a small local race, a “B” race in Belgium, in the town of Lichtervelde. A couple of exits up the road from the USA house in Izegem, the race was held on, by all accounts, a cow pasture. A few things stood out to me about the race, first off, there is an entry fee of 5 Euros for everyone but racers...even the mechanics. Looking at the course and surrounds, it didn’t seem like it was that much different than racing at Fort Missoula on Wednesday nights, but upon closer inspection, it had everything the big races had. A warm room to change in; a snack trailer that sold frites, brats and the such; an ambulance and emergency personnel on site; crowd control; a podium; two separate pits, and an announcer.

The level of support here for cross racing is really impressive. I expected it at the larger races, but it seems to be case at the smaller ones as well. There was a Masters races going when I pulled up, but I hung out with the USA juniors as they warmed up. The staff of the Camp certainly does provide pro-level support for the campers. A tent was set up to ride trainers to warm up in, bikes were being tuned, numbers were pinned onto the riders as they spun on the trainers, and finally the mechanics took spare bikes and wheels to the pit area.

While the care for the campers is somewhat expected, all of the Belgium racers had their own support, which looked to be made up mostly of family members. From gathering warm-up jackets at the start, to washing bikes in the pit, all of the racers at this local “B” racer were kitted out and fully supported.

I have heard Geoff talk about how Belgium cross courses were dangerous “back in the day”, but that things were a lot different now. This course was flat, with no barriers, and one run-up that could be ridden with some momentum, making it seem pretty boring. But it turned out to be one of the sketchiest courses that I had ever seen. What made it so sketchy to me was that it had ruts that were 3” to 4” deep, and completely frozen solid. I don’t know if it had been ridden during the week when it was damp and then frozen or what, but it was as hard as concrete. When riders crashed to the ground (and they did), it looked like it really hurt (it did). One Belgium Junior rider landed on his face, breaking his nose. By the end the last race of the day I saw racers shouldering their bikes and running through the worst part of the ruts. Seemed like the right thing to do.

Most of the racers from the camp pulled out at some point. This was part of the plan, as there was an early departure time the next day, and a World Cup race to be ridden. The day served as a nice little introduction to some of the campers (and the photographer) to racing in Belgium.

For additional photos, go to the EuroCrossCamp’s website here. Photos will also go up on the EuroCrossCamp Facebook site the day after races, feel free to follow that here.

photos by: tomrobertsonphoto.com

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