The big day has arrived for CW’s Stu Bowers in a cold and icy Tabor, but it’s unusually quiet for the GB mechanics in the pit lane.
Sunday: The day I’d been looking forward to for ages and it came and went in the blink of an eye. It was really a day of just getting on with the job. When riders are only moments away from the most intense cyclo-cross battle of the year, tensions obviously run high, and as a mechanic you’d be lying if you said there weren’t times when you felt like strangling a rider for the umpteenth change of mind on tyres, to-ing and fro-ing, on pressures and often ending up back where you started anyway. You just keep a smile and do what’s asked; that’s the role your there to play.
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Amongst the favourites, there’s an entirely separate competition going on before the race has even got under way – who can have the biggest and most bling motorhome. Sven Nys is renowned for his, and plenty of others were out to strut their stuff too. Stybar’s is something else, and we’d lost count at thirty or so pairs of wheels racked in the back, with half a dozen spare bikes. In this playground, CX has an almost F1 feel about it.
The weather decided a fresh dump of snow was the order of the day, so life in the pits was, by all accounts, going to be a breeze compared to what could have unfolded in a sea of mud. Bikes stayed much cleaner in the frozen conditions and really the only need to pit was for frozen components. There’s two ways of looking at it; Pete’s way…relief that we weren’t going to be rushed off our feet and under pressure, or my way…mildly disappointed we weren’t going to get the full blown frenzied pit experience. At least it meant more of an opportunity to observe what goes on amongst the other teams, and actually keep an eye on the bike races.
The atmosphere was incredible for the Elite men’s race. Local boy Stybar, being the hot favourite, meant the Czechs were out in force to make their presence known. He didn’t disappoint them either and he was vigorously cheered all the way to the rainbow jersey. It’s hard to put it into words, but the wave of noise that followed him must have been like riding with a tailwind. I’m certain he wasn’t able to hear himself breathing.
All told the feeling in the Brit camp was upbeat. We’d had a pretty good showing. Especially the ladies; Annie Last and Nikki Harris impressed, starting from way back on the grid, in Annie’s case the second to last spot. She made it up to 11th, with Nikki hot on her heels. Ian Field was first Brit back in the Elite race in 35th position.
So what we’d been working towards all week was suddenly done and dusted, which meant the start of a race of a different kind… the mechanics race. Not on bikes, as such, but more like everyman for themselves to pack up the team trucks and get the heck out of there. Mechanics literally barging through the crowds, bikes on both shoulders, wheels in hands, frantic jet washing and dismantling. The team parking area – which was, shortly before, a bustling colourful, blur of activity – was reduced to a few white vans and a couple of campers in next to no time. The CX circus had left town. Just a two-day drive home to look forward to now…