The Ridley Experience
When I was at interbike this year I stopped by the Eddy Merckx booth and after the filming of the little promo video the president of Ridley came up to me and said You need to come to Belgium. I said sure. He then said no really you need to come to Belgium.. I kept saying sure and after about the third exchange I assured him that we would come and visit. A couple of weeks after interbike I got a email and a invite to the Ridley Experience. The invite stated that we would have the opportunity to see and ride the newest Ridley X-Knight SL cyclocross bike and ride it on the Telenet Superprestige Gavere course. Then have VIP passes to the race the next day. After looking over the PDF I could not pass up this opportunity to go to the cyclocross Holy ground and have that experience.
Planes, Trains & Autos:
So after a extensive flight and stay in Italy. We jumped on another plane and flew into brussels. Ridley Sent us train tickets so that we can catch the train from the airport to Ghent. Navigation in the airport to the train was interesting. And because of that we missed our train to Ghent. But luckily there was another one 30 min later. We loaded all of our stuff onto the train and headed to Ghent. When we arrived we found out Ridley guy Michel waiting for us with the Ridley Van.. Unfortunately it was rush hour and we could have ridden to the hotel faster. But it did give us a chance to take in the city a bit.
As a journalist we are always going to trade show to cover the latest and the greatest stuff. It's not often we get a personal invite to go to something that is somewhat exclusive. This event I would call selective. Apparently Ridley only invited 10 journalist from 10 different countries. We were lucky enough to get one of the invites. Besides the obvious of being the only American I got the opportunity to spend quality time and get to know some people from around the world. Usually this is not the case when we go to events. There is a reason journalist call it the Scrum. We are fighting for position and time with the manufacturer to get pictures and our questions answered.
Presentation & Toys:
So eventually all of os go there and we went into the presentation room where they had all of our gear ready for us. We came in and each one of the company reprs stood up and gave a slideshow on the gear that we were to receive and review. Some of the things that we got was a full kit from Bioracer and Gripgrab. Shoes were provided by gaerne and some cool wellies from Telenet. The new camera from Cycliq was also part of the kit. Not to mention that we were gong to get to ride the new Ridley cyclocross bikes.
Walking the course:
It was only a 20 min drive from our hotel to the course. We got there that am and was going to get to ride it in the afternoon. The course is set on a military base outside of town. Typical rolling belgium countryside. And true to Belgium fashion the weather was perfect for cyclocross. Grey drizzle and 40 ish. We all climbed out of the van and took in the construction that was going on. There was forklifts, pallets of equipment, electronics, sound systems, Pallets of food and drinks being unloaded and moved to where they need to be. The stage was being built. So basically everything that would happen at any major event was going on. Only it was a cyclocross event. We headed out on to the course and I could tell right away that this was a power course. It had been raining in Ghent for several days and even though there was plenty of grass every time I took a step my foot sank 1-2 inches. I knew there would soon be no grass on the course. Just walking around was causing the course the deterate. The course had a mix of everything terrain wise. There was a bumpy flat section, fast pavement, fast down hill, up hill off camber turns a long uphill slog with some sand in the middle, a treacherous high speed down hill and several short power climbs. Epic.
3 months in the making I had some questions about the course and lucky our guide was able to help me out. He knew the guys that put the course on. Apparently the head guy starts to work on that particular race course in planning and prep 3 months prior to the event. Once that is done all of the equipment is delivered so that construction can begin the Thursday before. To be ready Sunday Morning. Te cours is on another level when it comes to construction. They put in 3” post in the ground with an agger and a hammer that looks like it came from Valhalla. Once that is in the ground there is a 2” nylon strap that connects it all together. This is what prevents the rider from going through the course and into the crowd. Then the safety tape is put up. Which at this point it seems to me tha safety tape is just for marking the course. So it turns out there are 2,000 of the post that go into the ground. This does not include all of the metal barriers that are on the course as well.
So after a quick lunch back at the hotel all of us headed up to our rooms and changed into our new bioracer kits. When we arrived back at the race course Ridley had set up a tent with all of our bikes ready to go. They had brought a power washer and a mechanic to help us out with any problems that we may have. I rolled out nice and easy because walking the course and riding the course are two different things all together. I was right about the course, the conditions were changing and it was treacherous and epic. Unfortunately, vittoria did not have their new mud tires available at the time. And so the bikes came with their arrow all around tread pattern. I have always said this and I'll keep saying it. “You can run Mud tires in the dry, but you Can’t run dry tires in the mud”. So when in doubt put the mud tires on. I think I’m going to just carry a spare with me any time I go to any of these events. Because of that I would pit every lap and get my bike blown off. And take a minute to recover then go back out there and do it again.
The race experience:
Race day is here! To the average person it's ok to a cyclocross fan who has never been to a big belgium race it's like christmas morning for a 12 year old. Getting to the course on race day is a tally different experience altogether. There is way more traffic and there are rider and team cars and RV’s there. Before the course was full of workers and construction. Now there is a race announcer speaking belgium talking about the jr.s that are out on the course. I don't speak belgium but I could hear one name on a regular basis “Nys”.
I headed out to cover the men's elite race and the place was packed. There was a ton of people there. I had to run to the start to make sure I could get to the line and take some pics. The press credentials that Ridley had provided me got me access to anywhere on the course and I mean anywhere. Let me tell you there is nothing like being on the other side of the start line where all of the best cyclocross athletes in the world are 12 inches away from you. All the while a couple of thousand people are looking at you wanting to be where you are. Wout, Van Der Pol, Pauwels, Sweek,etc..
After the gun went off I found that TV does not do it justice on how fast these guys are. They launched into the course with what I would call reckless abandonment to them it's just another day at the office. There is nothing like being there and having them ride where you could not bring your ego back to reality of why those guys are pros and your not. The crowds were 2-3 people deep all the way around and because of the rain the its were the busiest other than the beer tents. Again my press pass allowed me to go anywhere I wanted to. However, some places don't want to go because they were so busy that it just was not a good idea. Again Epic. After the race there was plenty of action still going on. There was after race parties. Wout and Van Der Pol have these huge tents (30X50) where VIP’s are treated to food and drink and time with their rider.
What a weekend! Being able to come to belgium and pre ride the course was pretty cool. Having one of the biggest names in cyclocross put me up and let me ride their latest bike priceless. I would like to thank all of the people that made the weekend possible for me, Olivia and Inge. Also i want to thank the people at Ridely did everything on the highest level of organization and were very professional in their presentations of all of the products.