Luxembourg Cyclocross National Championships
By Christian Helmig, ELBOWZ Racing
Last Sunday most countries held their national cyclocross championships. It’s usually the most important weekend of the whole winter for most riders and it wasn’t any different for me and the other guys in Luxembourg. As in most European countries (as well as in the US for that matter) the weather changed from wet and cold the week before the race to freezing and snow on race day. I had checked out the course on Thursday and it was still pretty muddy and deep in spots – after talking with some of the other guys we were pretty sure that a little sub-zero temps would not change the course too much and that it would still be muddy. Well, when we arrived at the venue on Sunday morning the whole course was snow covered and frozen solid… a little unexpected to say the least.
After riding over the course another couple of times after the first races were finished the situation started to change a little, the snow was gone on the course itself and the mud was starting to reappear. I still opted for the Challenge Limus tires over a faster tread as I thought the course would only get worse after the next couple of races and by the time we would start. About one hour before the race I got on the trainer and started to warm up. There was a lot of traffic at our tent as the media had hyped me up as the top favorite and there are always a lot of spectators out for the national championships. Still, between signing autographs and giving interviews to the press I still managed to get a good warm up in and by the time I lined up at the start I felt ready to go.
Together with one of the U23 riders. Lex Reichiling, we had planned on setting a blistering pace right from the gun but when the whistle blew all of my planning went out the window. Right at the start I missed my pedal, slipped my foot off it and into my front wheel and found myself on the ground before we had even covered 10 yards… not the start I had planned for. Fortunately, nothing on the bike was broken and so I picked myself up, banged my shifter back into place and set out dead last, chasing the whole field with about a 10 second gap.
While I was still laying on the ground Lex had a great start and was putting the hammer down – only to rip off his derailleur in the sand pit, only 2 min into the race… what a start! I managed not to panic and picked my way thought the pack pretty smoothly. By the time we were done with the start loop I had worked back up the around 20th place and kept going. On the climb on the backside I passed another bunch of riders and by the end of the first lap I had the lead group of 4 back in sight. I was surprised how fast I was able to catch up but when I got to the lead group they were practically standing still. The course had some wide open areas and none of the leaders wanted to do the work and pull the others around so the pace at the front had dropped a lot and allowed me to catch back up.
Once I made it back up there I took a short breather and attacked right away. I knew I had to get rid of at least 2 of the 4 who had a stronger sprint then me and I wanted to make sure I made the race as hard and lose them as soon as possible. The attack strung our group out pretty good and by the time we had climbed the hill on the backside it was down to only 2 of us. Still not the situation I wanted so I kept the pace high and accelerated out of every turn, hoping I could get just a little gap so that Vincent, the other rider, would have to work just as hard on the flats as me and not get too much of a draft. I was pretty confident that I was in top condition but didn’t know how much my early chase hat cost me – still, I stayed on the gas and we hit the climb for the third time – and suddenly Vincent had to let go. I quickly opened a 20 sec gap on him before backing off a little and starting to control the gap. I was able to hold the gap and extend it slightly – but with 3 laps to go one of the U23 riders had attacked in order to win his race and was rapidly closing the gap to me. Unfortunately for me he had picked up Vincent and was pulling him along and closer to me in the process. It took me a while to realize what was going on but once I saw the two get closer I had to dig real deep for another lap – and managed to expand my lead back a bit. We hit the bell lap in that order and I knew I had to stay focused and not make any mistakes in the final 7-8 minutes of the race. I gave it all I had the last time up the climb and when I saw that the gap had gone up at the top I really focused on not crashing or making any other stupid mistakes before I realized I had a big enough gap and that I should be able to hold it to the line. With about 300 meters to go I finally started to relax and enjoy the last couple of meters. I crossed the line with a 30 second gap and finally got to celebrate my first national cyclocross title.
After coming so close last year only to lose it in the last 500 meters after a crash, this win was absolutely amazing. Huge thanks to everyone who made it possible, the whole crew from the Specialized Concept Store Trisport Echternach for manning the pits and the for great bikes, Gigi Clothing, HED Wheels, Challenge Tires, Zevlin and Source Endurance. And of cause friends, family and all the fans.