December 23, 2012
Of all the people that I talked to that have made the trip across the pond to race cross, Diegem is the across the board favorite. I think that the best comparison I’ve heard is “It’s like CrossVegas on steroids”. My roommate Ryan Knapp fittingly compared doing final openers up and down the starting straight to warming up for a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. The amount of energy in the air was impressive to say the least. Bright lights, LED lit billboards lining the course, tens of thousands of spectators combined to create what is considered cyclocross’ biggest stage.
To me the thing that stands out the most about the culture here in Belgium is how much bike racing is ingrained in everyone. This is what Belgium’s live for. In the US if you were to shut down side streets so you can put on a bike race chances are you will have some very angry residents and quite a few towed vehicles. Even in the cycling hotbed of Boulder, Colorado you have to rotate venues every other year to keep the local residents happy. This year Diegem took place on a Friday evening. The last work day before the Christmas Holiday. So, many folks were more than happy to start their weekend off with a little world class cylcocross action and beer drinking.
We got to the venue plenty early and as we were getting ready to jump on course, the current World Champion, Zednik Stybar cruised by. What better wheel to be behind to check out the fast lines, right? The course was centered around a soccer complex and worked it’s way through the surrounding streets and alleys. The level of competition at this race was easily the most impressive field I have every raced. I was able to get a good start but never really found my rhythm and ended up riding most of the race by myself. I may have been feeling some residual fatigue from the stomach issues I had earlier in the week. I had two goals going into this race. One was to stay on the lead lap but first and foremost was to try to absorb as much of the experience as possible. I wasn’t able to keep the speed up long enough to not get pulled, but I’d say I did my best to drink in whole experience.
The moment that stood out in my mind the most was after we got off the trainers and headed over to the start. After weaving our way through the streets and around all of the caravan’s of the superstars. The officials directed me onto the course and into the start chute. I found our soigneur and asked her if she knew what time it was. With a slight nod of the head and an upward look with her eyes she gestured toward the clock at the top of the Cathedral right in the center of town. It was then that it hit me that they have been racing this race for over 30 years, and they’ve probably used that same clock to start this race every year since the beginning. I will never forget that moment and the energy that was present in the starting grid. As far as this being my favorite race, well, my time here is not over yet, but I have to say it would take a lot to knock Diegem off the top of my list.