Photography by Dave Hayward
For a long time I've wanted to get over to Belgium to see some world class cyclocross. Cost and time has always hindered most opportunities until recently. At a recent local cyclocross it was mentioned if I would be interested in going over to Belgium to watch and photograph a Belgian cyclocross race. I said I would and could we talk it over later. Later on I contacted Liam, for whom I've know for a few years, who is studying to be a coach for British cycling. We had a good old chat online deciding on which events to got to. So it was agreed that we would go to the UCI World cup at Namur Belgium for the Telnet Coupe du Monde Cyclo-cross Liam being in Dartford, and I'm near Maidstone, made sense that Liam picked me up on route, trouble was it was going to be a very early start, 3am! In the murky morning darkness we got underway to meet our Eurotunnel train at 04:20 for Calais. Then the 2 hour drive to Belgium. We arrived at 09:10 just in time for the first event which was the junior race. The early morning mist was still hanging in the air giving a real winter feeling without the cold temperatures. Much to our delight a young britain was leading the race, Thomas Pidcock who extended his lead to win, showing off his wheeling skills on crossing the line. We had a look round during the under 23 race checking out the trade stands and some of the pro team setups in readiness for the afternoon races.
The Afternoon kicked off with Elite women's race, it was at this point my rider knowledge was very poor, luckily Liam was on his game and advising me of who was who and their abilities with past performances. Watching the Big TV Screens that were dotted around there was a bit of a battle between series leader Sophie De Boer, NED , and Katerina Nash, CZE . By this point the crowd was building to something familiar to a football match, with Belgium, french, and english supports, and many more from near by countries. Eventually S0phie De Boer succumb to a puncher loosing her battle with Katerina who eventually road her way to victory. Walking around during the women's race I had to laugh at the amount of photographers running around snapping anything that moved, fighting for a view popping up letting off a few frames then disappearing again, bit like a mad paintball session in Surrey. Thinking about that, thats probably how I am at a local cross event.
It is nice to be able to wander around an event without much idea of what I was going to do or how I would take some photos. Watching the other photographers running around finding opportunities firing off their flashes to trying and bet the gloomy light from the cloudy overcast day. Once midday had passed light wise it was down hill for any decent natural light pictures, so it was time to swing into action with a little off camera flash. Liam who was in his element was happy to help out with a spare flash that I had. I was hopefully going to try and light the passing riders from the side with the flash that Liam had. I new it was going to be a little hit and miss as the riders would be using different lines as the approached for a smooth fast passage.
Mens Elite Race got underway, I knew these guys would be quick, but blimey they were not far off road race speed. The off camber sections were not giving to much trouble, and the up hill sections although steep were not slowing other riders down, event when they were running. The battle soon began between Van Der Poel and Van Aert. Every time Van Aert gained the lead over Van Der Poel the crown cheered as if a goal had been scored, as soon as Van Aert had an issue and lost the lead a massive Ouh rained out, then an big cheer as Van Aert regained the lead. This went on for the entire race, have to say that was fantastic feeling when a cheer went out. Trying to get a good picture was fading fast as the race drew to an end. For Van Aert it was going to be one mistake to many for a win for him, but maybe one mistake for VanDer Poel to profit from as he crossed the line ahead of Van Aert.