Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Daniel Sharp
There was a point, early on in last weekend’s ‘cross race, when the penny dropped. Picking myself up for the second time in quick succession, my team-mate Graham, held up yet again by another’s impetuous behaviour and poor bike handling, issued the following advice: “Calm down!”
It was aimed at me. He was quite correct. A bad start in a ‘cross race is not the end of the world, especially when there is snow on the ground and mistakes to be made. Allow others to make the mistakes while staying loose, focussed and (most importantly) upright. Just because somebody shoves it up the inside on a hairpin bend, doesn’t mean to say you have to shut the door, causing you both to hit the deck. And losing one place approaching a technical section should not raise the hackles unduly. Keep calm, carry on and wait your chance – as opposed to getting riled, tightening up and crashing. Again.
Had I seen the previous day’s excellent GVA Trofee race in Lille (thanks to Dave Haygarth for pointing it out) perhaps the first lap mayhem would have been avoided. The closing stages, with eight men – including Pauwels, Nys, Albert and Stybar – still in contention for the win are some of the finest racing I have seen all season. It certainly knocks the procession of the World Championships at Koksijde into touch.
The winner was Tom Meeusen and the winning move was genius. Nys takes the inside line approaching the right-hander into the woods, pushing Meeusen wide and off his line, with Stybar leading. Tom simply dismounts immediately, sprints round the trees and has the momentum to emerge from the section in the lead, and the power to take the sprint from the front.
It is an object lesson in thinking on your feet – literally, in this instance. The vastly experienced Nys played his ace; the youngster reacted in a split second and got the upper hand. They call him The Iceman, apparently, because of his ability on frozen courses. He’s certainly a cool customer, and that quick thinking and calm under pressure are attributes we could all make use of.
I met Meeusen a few years back at a Fidea team training day in Belgium. Reigning world champion at the time, Erwin Vervecken, pointed out the teenager to me as being one to watch in the future, so I have always looked out for him. Truth is, he blows hot and cold, but when he’s good – like in Lille – he’s very, very good.
Should you have an hour and a half to spare, settle down and watch the whole race. It’s worth it. If not, forward to 1hour 20mins and watch from there. You might learn something. I did.