Formed in June 09, Here Come the Belgians is a non-elite anti-team celebrating all things cross, cobbled and Belgian.
Seeking a different experience to the traditional cycling club, its aim is to harness the energy of a vibrant internet cycling community with grass roots racing and riding based around Cyclocross and Spring Classics. There is no race programme in the style of a racing team, more a collection of individual experiences through rides and racing, in whatever location a member may be, that all can share in and contribute toward.

Friday, 11 July 2014

City Cross 3


Let me start with a short non cycling related story...  Last summer a famous little Disco beat combo, by the name of Chic, played my local Bingley Music Live music festival.  Now, being a bit of a Disco Diva myself, I was rather excited by this.  The day came and it was simple amazing!  Everyone was up and dancing and generally 'mad for it', and I knew, once the last note had drifted across the arena, and Nile was rather unceremoniously dragged off stage, I had witnessed a life changing event.  I looked around the arena, slightly dazed, and I could see others seemingly experiencing the same emotions as I.  People were smiling, people were crying, people were hugging, talking, laughing... etc.  I realised at that moment nothing would ever be the same again!  No other band would ever make me feel so again!  It was a new beginning, my Ground Zero.  Everything would start from here from now!





So, what's all that waffle got to do with City Cross 3?  Well, many of the emotions I experienced during Chic's gig last year, I experienced at City Cross!  It was just so good, and just such good fun, it's difficult to see an event anytime in the near future coming anywhere near for me. City Cross was my cycling 'new beginning!'  Everything starts afresh from here!


The previous Citycross - No.2 - at Piece Hall Halifax, was good - very good - but this most recent episode - No.3 -  took the fun factor to another level.  Set right in the heart of one of Leeds' essentially run down but in the throws of massive regeneration city center suburbs - Holbeck - the races twisted and snaked around a very compact, flat, and well surfaced course, between buildings associated with the regeneration.  It also took in cobbles, wooden berm and whoops, a couple of little jumps, a run up/wooden scaffold ramp down... and a couple of beer gardens! Clever course design.  The same Moto format was used here as at Halifax.


Morvélo CityCross 3 from Morvélo Bicycle Apparel on Vimeo.

I didn't really make much of an impact during my Moto, and just raced around as fast as I could to a comfortable last place!  It's all about the taking part though eh?  Even with my less than inspiring display in my Moto, I was still able to jump straight into the 'last chance saloon' race immediately after!  Still huffing and puffing and lathered in sweat like a Grand National winner, I was straight back on the start line.... and off! Another lung bursting 20mins of agony!  However, I did a little better this time - but I was racing against a Werewolf on one of those bikes with super fat tyres!


Kit wise, I must say I was very happy with my On One Pompy SS with virtually smooth 28c hybrid tyres this time.  A more or less totally cobbled/flagged/tarmaced lapped negated the need for knobbly tyres, and the Pompy was fantastic in the bends with Guy Martin esqe leans achievable (well, in my head at least!)

I didn't strictly qualify for the final, but the organisers were sweet enough to say I could race it if I wished. But Fathering duties, and a few cheeky beers, and just kicking back were, by now, my over whelming urges... so that's what I did.  I couldn't have wished for a better day out.

I wonder what City Cross 4 will bring......

Friday, 14 March 2014

Hurt at the Haigh

Hurt at the Haigh did exactly what it said on the tin I guess - it was at Haigh Hall, Wigan, and it hurt a bit!

Following news of the demise of the excellent Hit the North, I think everyone was looking for an alternative, so when word spread of a new race of a similar 2hr format MTB/CX format - called Hurt at the Haigh - many jumped at the chance.  It soon filled to capacity once entry was on-line, as the urge to fill the mid winter no racing void was obviously a little too much for many people.  170 entrants apparently.  I'm not quite sure all those tuned up on the day but there was still a bumper line up.  


HtN had built a reputation and delivered a real festival of cycling.  Not sure Hurt at the Haigh was quite there in that department, but it's early days, and the well run event will go from strength to strength year on year I'm sure.

The 4 mile long Hurt at the Haigh lap meandered it's way through the mainly wooded park land of Haigh Hall, and was tough going on CX I thought, and perhaps slightly better suited to MTB.  Indeed the winner, Nick Craig, did his winning on a MTB - I know I got to see him lap me three times!  It comprised mainly loamy soils with some muddy grass and metalled tracks.  It proved a test for many bikes, and some dérailleur groaning and gnashing could be heard towards the end!  Mine thankfully survived!  In fact the X-wing was faultless.


I plodded round in my now time honoured fashion and delivered a top 100 finish and solidly within a group of 3 lappers (approx. 15% of the field) so was reasonably content.  HCtB finishing positions:

Paul Nutton        28th
Emma Osenton   64th
Ali Mills              76th
Ben Parkinson    85th
John Parkinson   91st
Steve Cooper     98th (Mechanical)
(I think that is all....)







A glimmer of a more aggressive attacking me did rear its head at one point during the race.  I got stuck in a group and behind some bloke with his bum crack showing through a bizarre mesh panel in the back of their shorts - quite odd and rather alarming!  It was quickly apparent I was not going to be able to spent much time at all sitting staring at a kinky almost fish net tight clad batty crack - as hypnotic as it was - and summoned the last gasps of air from the bowls of my lungs and elbowed my way by!  Much better - and my reward?  A fully lycra'ed backside.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Playing the Points Game, Lessons Learnt and Todmorden

En route breakfast stop and derailleur in situ.

I wasn't going to comment on my final Yorkshire Points race of 2013 at Todmoden, due it being a rather dismal damp squib of an affair, what with a ripped off rear derailleur and all!  It ripped off at the start of the second lap and my remaining contributions to the race comprised steadily trotting around, stopping and chatting, having breathers and actually watching the race, and eventually crossing the line and declaring myself as DNF.  


However, I've just been perusing the final standings and I've realisied what an idiot I've been!

You see, this was only about 10mins before the winners crossed the line!  In retrospect I'd have been better actually walking more slowly and doing more chatting... or even popping for a coffee and a slab of heavily alcohol laced Jo Allen Tod Brownie (YUM!) before re joining the course and crossing the line as an actual finisher.

Sans derailleur!  Tanks Jo Allen for the Photo
This would amassed me ~50 points (rather than 0) - yes 50!

And would have catapulted me in the final standings from 143rd looser boy/also ran to a top 100 higher roller/mixing it with the big boys finisher of the highest calibre.  The kind of elevated socially acceptable position where I am no longer mocked, no longer pointed at and laugh at, but, instead, people nudge and whisper amongst themselves "hey, there's that John from HCtB... best watch him... he knows what he's doing when he gets his leg over a CX bike... he finished in the top 100 last year!"  That kind of thing!

So the you can go slow and gain lessons was learnt.

Gratuitous and unnecessary photo of a Sweet Centre Chickpea Curry
Breakfast - the breakfast of champions! 
Other useful lessons from the day were:  It is possible to eat a Chickpea Curry Breakfast en route to Tod and not feel wretched for the entire race, and it's best to give it 20mins before driving after eating one of Jo Allen's Tod Brownies!

So not all was lost and remember... Every day is a school day!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dig in at the Dock

Dig in at  the Dock at Bo'ness, Falkirk, Scotland is a race I've wanted to do for a couple of years now.  But is very popular and sells out almost instantly (well minutes), and I have previously been unsuccessful with my application.  Bad times...

However, this year was different... This year I got a place!  Good times...

Belgians Belgians Everywhere...
Dig in at the Dock owes it's success to the hard work of the charismatic organisers - see promo video below.  Facebook, Youtube and Flickr et al are all utilised to the max to generate a real buzz about the event.  They over subscribe each year, and I understand generate a lengthy waiting list in the process! This is painstakingly whittle down to the final 150 or so starters!  However, still pop it the diary for next year you never know:-).



So to race day.  After a recent run of poor performances in Yorkshire - due to general lack of ability, a total disregard to any form of training or healthy lifestyle, and mechanicals - I was a little worried come the morning of Dig in at the Dock.  I hadn't put in a decent shift on the bike since Temple Newsam at the beginning October.... three months ago!  In addition, I'd done little in the way of other cycling activities either!  Dig in at the Dock could hurt a bit... if not a lot!

The course looped around the back of the Bacon Butty Stall - Criminal
When gasping for air!
Allied to the general nervousness was a slight hangover from the previous nights antics at my Bro's house in Glasgow - not a biggy by any means - but it was there nagging at me non the less.  So signed on, had a quick natter to fellow HCtB rider Andy Bell (No not or Ride fame... or Erasure fame for that matter - who was marshalling on the day - Thanks.  Big thanks to all the helpers too), bacon buttied up and dressed for action I went for a pootle.

The run up - a great noise from the crowd and cowbells here
An excellent riders course around the old dock opened up before me.  Phew!  Essentially flat with the odd little bank here and there (one a forced dismount) and not too muddy either all things considering (Scotland + winter = MUD... not this time!).  The ground felt a little odd in places - a little squelchy on top but rock hard underneath? Perhaps the industrial history of the area had played a part in this?  

Silky 'skillz' riding the little barriers
The race went well.  Super fast!  The gun went and we launched.  A fast start saw me maybe a third from the back - pretty good for me.  However, the this didn't last and for the first lap or so I slowly went backwards!  Eventually, once the tunnel vision, palpitations and faintness kicked in big time I just had to slow down.  However, I eventually settled into my rightful place about 10 from the back and dug in to hold my place.  Lapped several times by the leaders (as per normal if I'm fair) I churned away - fending off those behind me, even if I lacked the omph to chase anyone down - to 107th.  I was spent by the end - 11.7miles seems a long way in a cross race to me.


I had a wail of a time.  Dig in at the Dock was well organised, had a great course and was a great race.  A special mention should go to the supporters who made an absolute racket with cowbells ets - and even a trombone - oh and a Salsa band, for the entire race.  All credit to them, they created a right atmos.

I can't wait until next year now!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Ilkley Charity CX and North of England Championships

Well I think it's official - I'm getting slower!  To be fair, the realisation has been creeping up on me for a while, but I've essentially chosen to ignore the fact and bury my had in the sand.  So... why?  Well, a number of factors have contributed over the last couple of years, but I guess the main two are:  Family/new babies, resulting in lack of miles basically, oh and sleep and life in general, and a free and easy attitude to eating and drinking equalling weight gain!  Probably weak excuses I know...

Pleased with my new frame but silly slippy down seat post spoilt my day a tad

Yesterdays North of England Championships in York really emphasised my current lack of any fitness, and was allied to a lack of machine prep! Although excited by the purchase of a new frame, some frantic last minute and late night spannering and corner cutting, in order to get the new whip ready, produced an untested, and perhaps less than race ready, machine!  Lap one, and the partly botched cost cutting wrong sized seat post, and I think wrong sized shim, slipped drastically! My saddle ended up on top of the cross bar and swivelling about!  Pedalling away with my knees under my chin and bum wiggling in the breeze was a killer!  It didn't really matter because I was already drifting off the back of the rather rapid pack due to the aforementioned total lack of ability!  I suppose in retrospect I should have popped into the pits - I'm sure someone would have lent me an Allen Key - but I didn't, so plodded away to the end, burning thighs and all.  I didn't really have anyone to race, so not really much to report on that front, but it was a nice little circuit non the less, on the typical York geology soft to firm brown 'is it sand, is it clay, is it silt' glacial deposits - not very muddy really.  And of course the Here Come the Belgian crowd are always on hand for a chat, make you laugh, comfort and generally cheer you up, so not all was lost.

Photos here.

Prior to the North of England Champs, it was Ilkley Charity Cross:

And, following a gap year, it returned with a BANG!

Chris Parker and I dish out a tri-podding
master class
As a home coming race, it's pretty sweet.  And as I stood in the field adjacent to the Outdoor Pool, I could gaze up at the town and more or less see where I was born, where I lived and played, where I went to school, where I worked, etc.  I was very lucky to grow up in Ilkley and it filled me with pride.  And also, glancing over my shoulder at Middleton Woods, I could reminisce my early cycling days.  Days of hammering the woods on Raleigh Grifters and Burners was how I spent a lot of my childhood.  Happy days.

As opposed to the also excellent previous Ilkley CX, which was held just down the road at Nell Bank, the grounds of the Outdoor Pool and adjacent cricket pitch and woods provided far more scope for a decent and varied lap.  The organisers made full of their opportunity and utilised all the all the terrain available to create an almost 'old school' course, with some rather demanding sectors within the woods.  Logs, streams, bogs, unridable assents, it had it all.


Great Team enjoying a well deserved Leffe.
My race was a steady plod.  The vicious climb was a brilliant feature but was too much in my current state, and knocked the wind out of me every lap. Garmin/Strava say I'm pretty much trying may hardest, with the likes of 75% at threshold and 25% anaerobic being the kind of figures I'm achieving - I don't know if that's good or bad - but I don't feel like I can go much faster during a race.  However, post race, I seem fine. No aches or pain - essentially I don't feel spent?  Again, having the team around me is great. Very supportive and encouraging during these feeling sorry for myself times. So, a massive overhaul needed I feel - try to get back on track....  I seem to remember saying that in a Blog last year.  TUT!

Photos here.

Thanks to Jo Allen for the majority of the photos.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Central CXL Round 8 Harlington, Bedfordshire

Seven rounds to count, seven rounds have taken place and seven rounds have been raced. The hard work has been done, leaving three more remaining rounds left to improve your overall standings. So today is round eight, a brand new venue and possibly a chance to do well.
I have arrived at the new Harlington circuit feeling like I've shaken off the bad cold I've had. i take a walk up to the circuit and I'm delighted with what I see, well clipped grassy off camber banks, a long hill... longest I've seen in a cross race actually and two Somme like run sections. I walk back down to registration feeling pretty good.
However looking at the sign on sheet I see what is the biggest field of the year so far. darn. Number in hand I  go to get ready. I huddle behind the car quickly putting on my kit, I don woolen gloves and rain jacket and apply warming oil to my legs to fend off the freezing wind before making my way back for a practice lap or two. On my way to the circuit I meet Neil and Alan from my old club the LBRCC, they've just completed the novices race. I'm in a hurry and all I can say is 'Hi' and 'it looks grippy' All I hear in reply is hmmmm.
I dip under the tape and set off.  Feels okay, a little windy perhaps, but my tyre pressure feels spot on. Around what is the trickiest bend on the circuit and onto a long stretch of off camber zig zags, awkward but okay. Along a fast flat and into some very 'mountain bikey' ups and downs. Out of those and into a series of muddy drops followed by muddy climbs that call for a running dismount. Another drop into a waterlogged field. I can't help think of the 'fast Shows' 'bottom field' then a final dash to the long climb before hitting the finishing area. Phew, not easy going.
In trying to force out my cold I did a max heart rate session on the turbos the day before and my legs feel dreadful. Double darn.
We just all LOL'd

Nothing left now but to race. I get gridded which gets a round of applause after being left at the back the previous week. We get held up at the start waiting for the electronic timing system to sort itself out. We're freezing and soon the race faces disappear, and we start to fool about to keep warm. the Commissaire gets some stick and Chris slopes off to join the Juniors race. We talk about the start, is it a gentlemen's start?   are we having drinks pre or post race before Christmas? All to soon we're given the thumbs up, then we get the ten seconds to go, lips have gone dry and chests are heavy with pent up energy.
The whistle goes.
It's fast and single file right away. I hit the first and trickiest bend in fourth and come out fourth. There's chaos behind me at the corner with riders on their feet. If I was a good rider I'd have a great lead, but I'm not and all too soon better riders are on me. My legs are heavy and a group of seven are pulling away on lap one, but I'm still ahead of a few of my peers. I haven't got the legs to go hard, and by the second lap Tony is on me. I have to race a canny race from now on.


Run Oldgit run

During  a race isn't the time to think about ifs and buts, am I still carrying a cold, am I loosing fitness, are the others getting stronger? they've certainly turned the tables on me these last two races.All I can do is the best I can, which I know isn't the best I can do. Get every corner right. Get into the drops on every straight. Run like hell on every run section. Doing my best stabilizes my position roughly halfway  through the race, though with vets now on the course I have no idea where I lay.

I see a bunch of fellow V50 riders behind me, and I vow to stay ahead of them. Over the last lap the pressure of holding them off causes me to flap and I put in my most messiest lap of all. My Mojo has gone and I rely on brute force to keep ahead. I trail in to finish towing ten metres of barrier tape behind me.
I think I've done a lot better than the final results will eventually show. New riders caused me to get a little confused. Peers like Tony who beat me last week were just ahead. Chris I last saw in trouble sat on the track side, and multiple series winner Steve has just come in ten minutes later carrying his bike. Pete has won his first race fresh from  breaking his ribs and puncturing his lung at the 3 Peaks, staggering.
The results later show I was 15th, the worst finish ever. I now have three weeks to sort myself out, sort of make or break time. Looking back I was far too cautious, too worried about staying upright when less P.S.I and more risks would have paid dividends. Three weeks time we'll know when we are back in London.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

CityCross 2


Now for something completely different - CityCross 2.


All set inside the Piece Hall in Halifax, it was totally unique experience comprising a mostly cobbled/flagged, tight, twisty and punishing lap, with a little foray onto some small grassed sections (surprisingly muddy!). There was a 12 ton sandpit, bermed corners, flyover bridge, good food, beer and step climb onto the DJ stage, where said DJ seemed hell bent on blowing his smoke machine right in your face every lap!  Didn't really matter to me because I was blowing through my backside for the majority of the race!  It was intense - so intense it was difficult cast an eye sideways to smile and thank the abundant spectators, who all seemed to love seeing a struggling HCtB!




All this madness took part over a series of 20min Moto heats throughout the day and finals in the evening. The idea being to finish top 50% and progressed to the final.  However, everyone did get chance to race a second 'last chance saloon' race in a bid to make it to the final.  So basically everyone got at least two races if they wanted for the entry fee.  As an incentive the Final took to the covered walkways of the Piece Hall on two levels.  Must have been exciting.  Alas, due to family commitments, my race day was restricted to only one Moto.


Now, I don't know why but, after much Facebook discussion and chats over a pint or two during the build up to CityCross, I opted to give single speeding a go, and to race on 28c hybrid tyres.  This was based on a presumed mostly flat cobbled/flagged lap.  And we all know what they say about presumption don't we?  It being the mother of all @#*£$~<!

So here I am lined up as the only single speeder in my Moto, on a very wet - and now very muddy - day, on virtually smooth tyres in a remarkably slopey Piece Hall!  The prospect of a very hard race dawned on me.  This indeed was confirmed once Garmin uploaded to Strava indicated Points in Read = Suffer Score!  Basically couldn't have gone harder without dying!


For most of the first lap I managed to cling onto the back of the pack, before they eased away from me. The single speed aspect of my chosen whip was ok - darn hard but ok.  My tyre selection was where things started to fall apart somewhat.  Fair enough, the mud was muddy, but perhaps surprisingly, rear wheel traction wasn't as big an issue as I suspected, it was front wheel wash out on the tight turns that caused most head aches.  But I plodded on.

So last - yes dead last - in my Moto.  And it's been a good while since I came dead last I can tell you!  But as a fellow HCtB team mate commented, I was the first single speeder on slicks!  Yeah baby!


 Thanks to Emma Osenton for organising a fab event, and Jo Allen for the photos.