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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cyclo-Cross World Cup;Koksijde

Cyclo-cross World Cup, Luke Gray rides & writes………………I was given selection for the third round of the Cyclo-cross World Cup at Koksijde. The course is run on the huge sand dunes on the Belgium coast in the corner of a military air base near the sea. This is one of the hardest cross courses in the world, and despite this being my third time here it doesn't get any easier. Its kind of like racing over the sand dunes at Studland only much much bigger. This time I was joined by 4 other Team GB U23 riders, Adam Martin, Hugo Robinson, Steve James, and Ben Sumner the only one who had never ridden at Koksijde before.

The race started on a nice stretch of tarmac with the rain lashing down, this was going to be a tuff race for me and with all that wet sand in the gears it’s a killer for the bike, not to mention the brake pads grinding into my nice Bontrager carbon wheels. The first 30 seconds of a cross race can be very dangerous, everybody wants to be first into the first turn, and its very easy to get carried away with every one sprinting for that same spot. Luckily I had a good start rounding the first corner rubbing shoulders with Steve James. Ok I was leaning on him a bit, but it gets a bit tight in the middle of nearly 60 riders, and he's a big lad at well over 6 foot so he would have hardly noticed me. Plus I had to avoid the first turn crash, unlike Ben Sumner who I saw unavoidable plough straight into Dutch rider David van der Pole who was lying on the ground with a few others.

Having been here before I knew I needed to go hard just before the sand sections, and take the speed across the top of the sand pushing hard all the way. Then once out of the sand I could recover in time for the next sand section. I was careful not to try to bridge the gap to the next rider before the sand. That way you have nothing left for the sand and you sink down into it and end up running which just puts you further behind. A couple of times the front end dug in and I came off but manage to stay upright and keep the shifters out of the sand. By the 4th lap I made my second change of 3 changes for a clean bike with my pit helper and sponsor Gregg of The ChainStay ( A cycle house in Belgium where I stay) keeping my bikes nice and clean.

The atmosphere here was incredible with many 1000's of cross fans under a sea of umbrellas shouting at you all the way round, and the wafting smell of Belgium beer and chips coming through the cold wet afternoon. So I was glad when the end of the race came 1 lap sooner than I had planned. I was pulled out under the 80% rule, it stops riders interfering with the race should the leaders catch you, but you are still given a finish. The first time that's happen to me this year and hopefully the last. So I was glad to get dry again, although from past experience it will be a couple of weeks before I get rid of all the sand from my car, wheel bags, bikes, shoes, helmet, tool box, you name it, sands in it. My finish of 40th was the best I have done here, I was also the best of the U23 Team GB rider and with this being a big power course I knew it would be hard. Hugo finished in 41th and 2 laps down, the same as Adam in 44th, Steve came in 3 laps down laps in 48th and Ben 4 laps down at 50th.

The next Cyclo-cross World Cup is in Belgium again at Heusden-Zolder on Boxing Day, but the next 3 weeks I will be in GB for a couple of National Cyclo-cross Trophy rounds

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