The ‘Telenet Superprestige Merksplas Cyclo-cross (C1)’ is a bit of a mouthful, so in these parts it’s best known as the ‘Vlaamse Aardbeiencross’ – the ‘Flemish Strawberrycross,’ the area being famous for the cultivation of the sweet red beauties.
And there to greet us was Flanders’ biggest strawberry, that boy is going to need a few gallons of cream to go with him.
It’s not a proper weekend in Belgium if you don’t take in a ‘cross; we used to go to the Koksijde ‘Duinencross’ in the sand dunes beside the North Sea but that was moved to another date, then it was the Hasselt ‘cross where we saw the great Svn Nys win – but this year we headed north to Antwerp and beyond to get our fix of mud and sand.
The good thing about crosses is that you’re free to wander among the camper vans, mechanics and bikes – heaven for equipment geeks.
The first man we came across was Eli Iserbyt, ‘doing the pro thing’ and getting his picture taken with a delighted young fan.
Iserbyt’s Ridley’s top tube carries the motto of all good ‘crossers.
And whilst on the road and even the boards the talk is all of ‘tubeless,’ just about everyone in the ‘cross world still run those beautiful Dugast tubulars.
In 2002 Richard Nieuwhuis took over the A. Dugast brand from the French founder and all the tyres are now hand made in The Netherlands.
At the other end of the scale they also do very light, super-fast, gorgeous pink coloured track tubulars.
A ‘cross mechanic’s lot is not an easy one, they have to clean the bikes twice, once after the warm up and then again after the finish.
On a course like this, with clinging mud it’s no fun.
One of the major attractions at Merksplas was the appearance of rainbow jersey, Tom Pidcock – seen here collared for the inevitable ‘selfie.’
His Pinarello was looking a tad dishevelled after the warm up but the mechanics would soon sort that – note the curved ‘carrying’ indentation in the top tube, a feature Pidcock himself requested from Pinarello.
1 x transmission is gaining ground in the ‘cross world, especially on a fast parcours such as this – it also attracts much less mud, front changers really gather the muck.
We spotted the neat chain guide to prevent the chain bouncing off the chainring on rough surfaces.
That said, this was one mucky course so bike changes every lap were a ‘must.’
One piece of trickery I’ve never witnessed in the pits before was the mechanics meticulously drying every inch of the bikes – including the chain – with compressed air after cleaning them.
[We’ve seen this before in a workshop setting – remember the gentleman working with Alberto Masi under the banking of Milan’s Vigorelli velodrome; he took 20 minutes to dry the chain, blasting every link. ed.]
And no ‘cross is complete without a trip to the frîtes caravan; Dave’s brother Hugh also models the strawberry snoods freely distributed around the parcours.
In the ladies’ race Dutch World Champion, Marianne Vos looked the part but it definitely wasn’t her day, finishing in an uncharacteristically lowly 10th position.