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Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year from Belgium: Luke Gray flies the flag for GB!

"Once again this year I have been spending the Christmas period in Belgium racing cross.

December 22nd I raced the GP Rouwmoer at Essen a round of the Bpost Bank Trofee Cyclocross series (this race series was formerly known as the GVA- Gazet van Antwerpen). There had a been a lot of rain in the days prior to the race so I was expecting a course similar to last year, with a lot of wet mud and running. There is also a lot of flat with only a handful or short banks but even these were not ride able.
I was in the U23 race and had an average start racing down the tarmac straight, but it was still dodgy as ever with a right angled corner shortly after the start then another tighter corner leading onto a steep sand bank. One of the three Sweek brothers in my on the straight leading onto the off-road as the riders slowed down, so I had to avoid him. Everyone was soon spread out in a line and gaps appeared. On the second lap I caught a couple of riders and dropped them, but on the next lap they caught me again. But there were quite a few running and dismount sections on the course, where I found I could make time up on the others. I didn't make a lot of bike changes in the pits because the mud didn't stick or clog the bike too bad, it was just like rivers of muddy water standing on the course. Although sometimes I was forced to ride different lines and in some places you never quite knew how deep the mud was, or what lay underneath.
Some sections were very nearly axle deep in black runny mud ! You also had to watch out for the hidden ditch in one place. I was pleased with my race and the 25th place after the hard training I had done over the last few of weeks.

This is the link to the action of the last lap of Elite race which ends in a crash on the finish straight, just so you know what it was like for me.

Boxing day was the 6th round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup at Heusden- Zolder in Belgium for the Elite riders. Although it was the 4th round for the U23 riders as we do a couple of rounds less. My parents made the trip over as my usual helper Gregg from the ChainStay house in Belgium was unavailable, Holly his wife was expecting any day. That happy day came on Christmas eve, for new Baby Evelyn.
The cross race was held at the the Zolder Circuit, a former track used for formula 1 car racing. My parents had arranged for us to stay in a house at Maasmechelen, in the Limburg region where much of the area around here is National Park. We were not far from the Dutch boarder and not to far from Maastricht either.
Christmas day was the practise day, so instead of eating Christmas dinner I was doing laps of the course. Luckily the rain held off as I rode the course. It was very varied and had some similar terrain to which I am used to back home, a bit like Wareham forest with some very steep off cambered drops, a few steep climbs, sandy sections, and a huge stepped bank that was like climbing a cliff !

I was ranked mid pack along with fellow U23 Great Britain Team riders Hugo Robinson and Jack Clarkson. At the start of World Cup races its just like formula 1, we have to wait for the lights, then its go, go, go as we race down the long start straight to the first corner. We all got round safely only a couple of bikes between each other as we jostled for positions. After the first lap I was the leading Brit in 28th followed by Hugo in 35th and Jack in 47th. Half way round the next lap I had a mechanical, unable to change down gears I pitted for a fresh bike, that cost me places and I lost the small group of riders I was with . I was now back with Hugo at the end of that lap in 36th and 37th place. We both pushed on hard the next lap and I managed to make 3 places up, but Hugo said the pace was too much and couldn't hold onto my wheel. On the forth lap Hugo pushed to hard on one of the steep off cambered drops, and crashed into the big crash pads that ran the length of the drop. Summer saluting the two barriers still on the bike he landed in the crowd. Feeling beaten up, and knock out of the ring he threw the towel in on this Boxing Day. In the meantime Jack was having steady ride in 46th place.
Over the remaining 3 laps I swapped places many times getting up to 32th at one time, I even hit the crash pads myself spinning 180 degrees, but come the last lap I was in 34th chasing Frenchman Fabien Doubey. Whilst I was crossing the wooden bridge I sped up seeing Fabien was taking it easy. Seizing the opportunity I gave it full gas and as Fabien glanced over his shoulder to see me come like an express train, he got the saddle just too late as I flew past to take 33rd place.
Jack was pull out with 1 lap to go under the 80% rule, but gained another place and and given his finishing position of 45th.
I like a fast race like this, the course was good too, and I'm pleased with 33rd being my best result at a World Cup cross race so far. In fact its the best U23 World Cup result by a British rider for several years.
My next planned race is at Baal on New Years Day."


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