I've long been warned that Asper-Gavere can be one of the toughest parcours on the circuit. On Friday the course seemed almost innocuous. A couple steep sections here, a big climb there, but nothing to get to fussed up about. One night and buckets of rain later, the relatively safe seeming Gavere course turned itself into a giant slip and slide. Muddy ruts shooting off into fence posts on the downhills while boggy ground trying to suck your wheels under on the uphills. I was torn; will this be terrible? Will it be amazing? Can it be both?
As the race started, a crash began to unfold to the left of me. Tom Meussen broke his chain and took Stan Godrie down with him. Meussen drifted towards me as he headed backwards on the grid. I moved to avoid him but felt a pull as a part of my bike collided with his. Either way, I was upright and in the clear! I started to push down on the pedals, but something wasn't quite right. My front wheel was rubbing on my fork and getting worse with each revolution. Not a fan of catastrophic wheel failure, especially given the speed of these Gavere chutes, I dismounted and began my half-lap trundle to the pits. Welcome to Belgium Michael!
If I sound bitter about that, my apologies. Let me assure you I'm not, this is part of cyclocross. I pushed on for the rest of the race. Riding smoothly at times, careening wildly downwards and into fenceposts at others. In the early going, Meussen and then Godrie made their way by me as I made my way by a British rider and Rob Marion. Shortly afterwards I reached my Canadian compatriot, Mark McConnell, and settled into a welcoming back-race battle with a competitor and friend I've faced so many times before. Perhaps in a perfect race I would have finished up a few spots, perhaps I would have made the lead lap, but I felt myself riding smoother and learning each time around the parcours.
As the race went on, I began to get more and more cheers from the fans. I've realized that as much as they love their heroes, they also love someone who refuses to quit. Someone who will suffer. I think it's safe to say that I'll never get cheers for leading the race, but for the latter, I think I can manage that. At the end of the day, I can say I'm proud to have pushed onwards and, despite some stumbles along the way, landed on my feet in 29th place.
Onwards and outwards, with only six days until we're at it again. This time #lookingfortheleadlap.