Thursday, January 30, 2014

Memories of Koksijde Cyclocross World Championships

© Duncan Rimmer
With the 2014 UCI Cyclocross World Championships on this weekend in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, I thought it was time to finally write about fan Duncan Rimmer’s experience at the World Championships in Belgium, 29 January 2012. 

The frites' redolence floats gently around the Koksijde air force base and pauses to dance blithely with the sounds wafting from the beer tents. Fans shout along to a Flemish version of Sex is on Fire and boisterously inhale beer to fill the three hour wait between the women’s and men’s Cyclocross World Championships races.

Duncan Rimmer knows abstinence is futile. He enters a beer tent and swaps two food/drink tickets for a bottle of Jupiler. "Aaagh," he sips "that's more like it." Later, he will scoff two servings of frites and mayo.

© Duncan Rimmer
Duncan’s journey to watch his first cyclocross World Championships began at 4am when he cycled over to a Mordern Cycling Club mate's place for the drive to Ashford and the channel crossing. But his journey arguably began when he was a kid, with a July soundtrack of Phil and Paul supplemented by camping in France and riding any and every bike he could. He took to road racing a few years ago and soon after came his foray into cyclocross.

“I saw a cyclocross race at Herne Hill Velodrome (London),” he described. “I decided to give it a go on an old roadie with some cyclocross tyres I just about squeezed on.”

Cyclocross tightened its muddy grip on him. He was hooked.

“I bought a ‘cross bike and now race in the London and South East Cyclocross League whenever I can,” he said.  “Cyclocross as well as road means I don’t get bored with either and cyclocross practice means no traffic lights, traffic, just dogs and walkers.”

Lidl car park © Duncan Rimmer
With this passion, Duncan and his entourage arrived in Koksijde just before the women’s race. After a few laps of the Lidl car park where the national teams hung out, Duncan spotted Australian cyclocross rider Lewis Rattray. He shook his hand, the same hand that writes the cyclocross blog Duncan loves. He told Lewis he loved his story about a Belgian’s alcoholic shot hand up to him in a recent race. He wished him luck and moved with the burgeoning throng to watch the women’s race.

Helen Wyman and view across base © Duncan Rimmer
After cheering on Britain’s Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman and experiencing the joy of watching Marianne  Vos’ otherworldliness to take the win, Duncan laps up the noise from the cowbells and the drinking Belgians. With a national strike the next day a great incentive, the Belgians drink quite a bit.

Marianne Vos © Duncan Rimmer
The friendly crowd grows to 61,000 just before the men’s turn round. The drab air force base transforms into a rill of colour; the Lion of Flanders standing proud among the numerous flags waved about by fans from Germany, Japan, the UK, the Netherlands, the USA and the Czech Republic. Duncan finds two vantage points he can still manage to run between and grab photos. He cheers everyone, especially Ian Field, now the only Brit rider after the others pull out of the race due to food poisoning.  

Ian Field © Duncan Rimmer
An hour later, Duncan says, “I really enjoyed it, but it’s over far too soon.” 

"Watching the best cyclocross racers in the world was something else. Their strength, speed and skill at riding especially through the sand was something to behold," he continues. 

While amazed by the crowd as much as the races themselves, it comes as no real shock given the popularity the sport enjoys even in Duncan’s London.

“There are often over 100 riders in the races I do and there's also well supported kids' races. I raced at Alexandra Palace in the Rapha Supercross and there were lots of cowbells and cheers from the crowd."

Now, Duncan and his mates, one a good cyclocrosser back in his day, must return to England, reality and work. And while Duncan would've loved to jump on a bike and tried a lap of the course at Koksijde before his long journey, he will still enjoy the last leg home.  

“I will ride in the dark dreaming of being as good as Niels Albert.”

For now at least, his job as an asbestos surveyor can wait. 

Niels Albert in the sand © Duncan Rimmer

(Tourdecouch: You have to check out Duncan's video in the beer tent here and also check out more of his great shots from the Championships here)  

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